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Posted By: Greg - Vet

Vets Diary - Rhenish is the joint August Pet of the month

Cancer can be a scary word – we are all aware of how cruel the disease can be, but fortunately treatment is improving all the time. Our pets are also at risk, and a diagnosis does not necessarily mean that they need to be put down. Treatments are available, in the form of surgery, but also chemotherapy. Chemotherapy for pets is not as intense or severe as it may be for humans, and is instead aimed at extending good quality life rather than achieving a cure. Although not necessarily suitable for every case, people shouldn't be put off by the idea and have a right to make an informed decision for their pet, as they really can benefit and respond well, as Rhenish the six year old Airedale terrier has shown us.

Sometimes a disease can be found in an unexpected way, either during a routine examination, or whilst investigating another condition. It was the second option that led to Rhenish’s diagnosis, because her owner was initially concerned about a snorting noise that the terrier made at rest. X-rays were inconclusive so she required a referral for a specialist rhinoscopy (a procedure where a small camera is passed through the nostrils or flexed backwards from the back of the mouth to view the inside of the nasal cavity). Rhenish had vomited a few days before this appointment, so at the same time a quick ultrasound scan was performed of her intestines to check that nothing was out of the ordinary. Whilst this was confirmed, by chance an enlarged kidney was picked up on the scan, of which some biopsies were taken at the same time.

Whilst the rhinoscopy had revealed a small lump at the back of the nose, tests revealed that this was in fact a benign polyp, but the kidney results uncovered an unfortunate shock – cancer; lymphoma to be specific. This form of cancer is common but can be very aggressive. It was totally unexpected, as Rhenish seemed very well in herself, had not lost any weight, and blood results had not shown any apparent problem. Ironically, by now Rhenish’s snorting had stopped – presumably the sample taken for testing had reduced the obstruction in her airways, but Rhenish was facing a much bigger problem as this lymphoma cancer was life threatening.

After discussions, Rhenish’s owners opted for chemotherapy to try and manage her condition. She was the perfect candidate, as she was otherwise in good health, was still relatively young, and had a lovely temperament so she would tolerate repeated visits to the vets. A chemotherapy plan was drawn up that consisted of 4 weekly cycles – one week would involve a small amount of special drug injected through an intravenous catheter, another would consist of administration of a couple of chemotherapy tablets, the third would involve a chemotherapy infusion into her blood, and the other week would be a ‘rest’ week where no drugs were given.

Before each chemotherapy session, Rhenish require a blood sample, and sometimes a urine sample, to make sure her body was ready for the drugs and was coping with any possible side effects. For instance, some chemotherapy drugs can lower the number of white blood cells in the body, leaving an animal vulnerable to infection. If low numbers were noted on the blood test, Rhenish’s chemotherapy would be postponed until her figures returned to normal. This happened occasionally, but the treatment did not impact on her quality of life, as generally every day she remained quite bright; any other side effects were managed successfully  by anti-sickness tablets. Her lovely nature meant she did not mind any blood samples or placement of catheters, and every time she arrived at the practice we could tell she was still really enjoying life, and was not showing any signs of her diagnosis.

After the first few cycles, Rhenish had her kidney scanned again. To everyone's delight, the tumour had shrunk and Rhenish was now in remission! She is now undergoing a more relaxed rota of therapy and continues to go from strength to strength, so Rhenish really is a success story in the face of such a nasty illness.

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