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Owners Weigh Options for Pets with Cancer: Part 2Choices When the Cancer Keeps Spreading


Pet Column for the week of September 28, 1998


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Sarah Probst
Information Specialist

Charlie, a ten-year-old golden retriever, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of seven.
"Charlie's cancer started with a limp," says Stan Hardwick. Stan and Barb Hardwick first
suspected hip dysplasia because the disease is associated with many large dog breeds.
When they heard Charlie had cancer, they thought Charlie's life was over. Then they
realized they had many choices; the first was to amputate Charlie's hind limb or let the
disease take its course.

"Veterinarians at the University of Illinois (College of Veterinary Medicine Teaching
Hospital) let us talk to other people who had made the decision to have a three-legged dog.
We saw that Charlie could go on leading a normal life," says Mr. Hardwick. "So it was
either take off a leg, or watch him die. Once you realize amputation is your only choice, the
leg means nothing."

Charlie's owners found the amputation a difficult adjustment though. "Charlie walked a
couple hours after surgery, but that was really a tough weekend with the leg gone," Mrs.
Hardwick recalls.

Charlie soon made his owners happy about the decision. "One day I took Charlie for a
walk and my neighbor yelled, 'Hey, someone tell that dog he only has three legs!'" recollects
Mr. Hardwick. "Charlie doesn't know he's different. Taking a leg didn't affect his quality of
life at all. As long as he's happy and not in pain, my decision was worth it."

Charlie, however, had to come back for further treatment. When the Hardwicks heard that
Charlie had developed lung cancer, once again, they thought it was the end. "We didn't
know what he was going through. We had already taken off his leg. We thought maybe we
had done enough to him.

"Dr. Barbara Kitchell, medical oncology expert at the teaching hospital, explained to us that
chemotherapy wasn't as hard on animals as it is on humans. There was something we could
do." During the first month of chemotherapy, the Hardwicks questioned their decision, but
when they got into the second month of treatment, they started to see results. "It was scary
giving chemotherapy to him, but for us the alternative was worse."

Tumors in the lung are very receptive to chemotherapy. The drugs used in this type of
chemotherapy, cisplatin and doxorubicin, are well tolerated and are not debilitating to the
patients. Most dogs go through chemotherapy without adverse reactions.

Lung cancer was not Charlie's last fight however. "The jaw was bad," Mr. Hardwick says.
"Before Dr. Greenfield did the surgery, she showed us pictures of dogs without lower jaws.
I had never heard of taking off a dog's jaw. I couldn't figure out how the dog could live. We
really debated whether to do the surgery, but again the alternative would have been worse."

"When you think about cutting off a part of the
face, initially it is a very shocking idea. But
dogs, having the head shape that they have, do
very well with removal of a portion of the
upper or lower jaw. They look very good and
function very well," explains Dr. Cathy
Greenfield, veterinary surgeon. Charlie needed
part of the lower jaw removed.

"The adjustment period for the jaw was longer
than the leg. He stayed in the hospital longer
and that upset him. His first couple days at
home were very miserable. He ate gruel, which
they had us blend up for him, and he didn't like
that even though we put steak in it," reflects
Mr. Hardwick. "We thought that we'd gone
too far, but one day he snapped out of it. We
were supposed to have gotten rid of all his
toys, but we missed one buried under the snow. He dug it up and drug it into the house,
wanting us to play with him. We then knew he was on the road to recovery.

"People aren't appalled by the money we spent but they do make comments like, 'How
could you do that to your dog? How could you put your dog through that?' I just don't get
it. Charlie's not complaining. He's had three extra years of happy existence. Theoretically,
there would be a line that you would draw, but you don't know until you get there. We've
had success with our treatments. If they wouldn't have been successful, we would have felt
differently and maybe wish that our decisions were different," says Mr. Hardwick.

Dr. Greenfield comments, "If my pet needed it, would I amputate my pet's limb?
Absolutely. Would I remove part of the jaw? Absolutely. But that's me. Someone down the
street might not want to do that to a pet, and I would respect that opinion. Many owners
have limited finances, which can come into the decision-making process. Or the owner may
have other reasons for not wanting to pursue treatment. Treating cancer is often expensive.
I truly feel it is an individual owner's decision, but people need to know that there are
options."

For some owners, the fight with cancer may end with helping their pet die. "There comes a
point when you can no longer give a beloved pet a quality life and you have to think about
providing a quality death," says Dr. Ehrhart, veterinary surgeon at the College. All owners
should realize that the gift of euthanasia is a gentle, humane way to end the life of a
cherished animal friend. You, the owner, will know what is best for your pet when the time
comes.

Remember, when your pet has cancer, you have many choices. Research these options
with your local veterinarian.