HorseChemoJoe Davie is 27 years old and that makes him a senior citizen.

Joe is an American Quarter Horse. Calm, sturdy, and athletic, Quarter Horses are best known for competing in rodeos and riding off into the sunset in western movies.

Just like an old cowboy, Joe is unsentimental and no-nonsense. “He’s not the most affectionate horse,” says owner Julie Davie.” He’s a bit of an independent guy. But he has good common sense, thinks about things and stays out of trouble.”

Davie has been riding Joe for nearly 20 years, exploring the Oregon countryside together. “He’s not spooky; he will go ahead through things. He’s a super trail horse,” she says.

Last year, Joe was off his feed and obviously not feeling well, so Davie took him to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital thinking he had colic. Doctors ordered a series of tests and found cancer cells in his stomach fluid. A clinical pathologist in the OSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory identified the cells as lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that is rare in horses.

A cancer diagnosis for a loved one, human or animal, is scary. OSU veterinarian Dr. John Schlipf explained the disease and treatment options to Davie then recommended a chemotherapy plan that had proven successful with equine cases in the past. Still, Davie went home feeling sad. “He’s an old horse. I figured it made the most sense to put him to sleep. But when I told my husband about the chemotherapy, he said, ‘Why don’t you try it?’ I was so relieved!”

Advances in veterinary care have led to longer, healthier lives for our pets. Just like humans, when animals live longer, they are more likely to get cancer. In the past, chemotherapy was a very expensive treatment option for horses because the drugs were so expensive. Also, many owners were concerned about putting horses through the side effects.  Today, lower-cost generic drugs have made cancer treatment for horses more affordable and anti-nausea medication keeps them comfortable.

Dr. Schipf designed a treatment plan for Joe that required regular intravenous doses of three cancer drugs plus anti-nausea medication. Joe also received a corticosteroid to help shrink the tumors in his belly. Surprisingly, he tolerated the chemo drugs with almost no side effects. “He occasionally felt a little under the weather at first but overall has handled it very well,” says Davie.

Now in remission, Joe’s one-year exam found him “bright, alert and responsive” with no sign of cancer cells in his stomach fluid. He continues to receive monthly chemotheraphy from his local veterinarian. “One day he rolled uphill and then downhill and I thought, ‘Oh my God, there is something wrong with him,’” says Davie. “But he got up and started bucking and running. He’s amazing.”

Equine oncology is a young specialty and most veterinarians agree that more research into the causes, diagnosis, and treatment is needed. Julie Davie’s decision to treat Joe provided one more case to add to the compendium of knowledge that is needed to save future lives of horses.

“Some people might not spend the money on an old horse, but he gave me a lot of good years and great trail rides,” says Davie. “It’s worth it just to see his perky face every day.”

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