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Veterinary Teaching Hospital
Three-legged happy dog outside in the grass.

Can surgery cure my pet of cancer?

Cancer is a scary diagnosis for any pet owner, but there are often surgical treatment options that can improve your pet’s quality of life and, in some cases, even eliminate the cancer.

Is my pet a candidate for cancer surgery?

Whether your pet is a candidate for surgery depends on numerous factors, including the location, type, and grade of the tumor.

The behavior of tumors varies significantly depending on the type. Some tend to grow very invasively, like a plant growing long roots in all directions. Others tend metastasize by spreading to distant places and organs.

An invasive tumor type is ideally removed with at least 1-inch margins in all directions. Sometimes that means surgery often entails amputation if the tumor is located on or near an extremity, such as a limb or a paw. A tumor on the head might require removal of parts of the jaw or an eye to achieve clean margins.

How are tumors diagnosed?

Tissue samples, or biopsies, are often used to diagnose the tumor by histopathological examination before surgery, and diagnostic imagining is a valuable tool in determining the location of tumors and if they are growing close to or even into important organs. X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are frequently used.

From a biopsy, the tumor type can often be clarified and given a grade, or an estimation of the tumor’s aggressiveness.

There are several types of biopsies:

  • Incisional biopsy – One or several little pieces of the tissue are obtained for histopathological examination.
  • Excisional biopsy – The entire tumor is taken out for examination, without or with limited surgical margin. This is in general only done if the likelihood is high the tumor is benign or the tumor is very small. If the tumor turns out to be malignant with a high likelihood of cancer cell invasion beyond what was removed, it can be much more difficult to define the appropriate margins in a follow-up surgery.
  • After tumor type is diagnosed, these surgeries are considered based on how much margin the surgeon can remove:
  • Intracapsular resection (cyto-reductive surgery or debulking) – A portion of the tumor is removed but some visible tumor is left behind. This is in general done due to the presence of important, non-resectable organs close to the tumor. Radiation is usually recommended after or before an intracapsular resection.
  • Marginal resection – The tumor is removed without margin, leaving microscopic tumor behind. Additional treatment is usually necessary.
  • Wide resection – A margin of visibly normal tissue is resected together with the tumor to minimize the risk of leaving behind tumor cells. This is the most common type of surgery when surgery is used as the only treatment for cancer. Many cancer types of low or intermediate grade can be successfully removed this way. A wide resection often entails wound reconstruction to enable closure of the wound or to ensure normal function.
  • Radical resection – The entire structure the tumor is growing in is removed. This is commonly the case when amputation is an option, but it is difficult when located in areas other than extremities.

This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.

Determining the Prevalence of Hypersomatotropism in a North American Cohort of Diabetic Cats

Purpose of the Study

Diabetes mellitus is common in cats and its prevalence appears to be increasing in the United States. While the prognosis for cats with controlled diabetes is generally good, there is a population of diabetic cats that receive insulin and still have persistently high blood glucose levels. Cats that receive an insulin dosage greater than 1.5 units/kg/dose and still have high blood glucose are considered insulin resistant.  One potential cause of this insulin resistance is a pituitary tumor (often benign).  A mass on the pituitary can cause the gland to overproduce growth hormone, a condition called hypersomatotropism (HST).  HST can lead to diabetes and acromegaly, a term used to describe physical characteristics such as broad facial features, a protruding lower jaw and enlarged paws or legs.  A recent study showed that 25% of diabetic cats in the United Kingdom have HST and, of those cats, approximately 90% have a pituitary tumor.  The goal of this study is to determine the prevalence of HST and pituitary tumors in insulin-dependent diabetic cats in the Pacific Northwest.


Enrolled cats will receive free fructosamine and IGF-1 blood tests.  Cats with an elevated IGF-1 will receive a free CT scan +/- MR imaging.  If their cat is found to have a pituitary tumor, owners will receive a free consultation with a boarded specialist to review treatment options.

Enrollment Requirements

Enrolled cats must be insulin-dependent diabetics that are healthy enough to undergo sedation and/or general anesthesia for diagnostic imaging.  Cats that have received steroids within 6 months of blood tests will not be eligible for this study.

Treatment Methods

Once enrolled in this study, you will take your cat to your family veterinarian for a routine blood draw. This blood will be submitted for two blood tests: a serum fructosamine level, to help us determine how well your cat’s diabetes is controlled, and an insulin-like growth factor level (IGF-1), to help us determine how much growth hormone the pituitary is producing.  If the IGF-1 indicates that your cat has an elevated level of growth hormone, we will make an appointment with you to bring your cat to the Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital (WSU VTH) in Pullman, Washington for a CT scan to screen for a pituitary tumor.  On the day of the CT scan, your cat will be sedated and an IV catheter will be placed so we can administer a contrast agent for the scan.  Your cat will be monitored closely while the CT scan takes place.  After the scan is finished, we will review the imaging.  If your cat’s pituitary does not look enlarged on CT, then a magnetic resonance (MR) image will be done on the same day.  If an MR image is needed, we will take your cat directly to the MRI where s/he will receive general anesthesia. Your cat will again be monitored very closely during the MR imaging process.  The CT scan and MR imaging are both outpatient procedures, so once your cat is awake, s/he will be released to go home with you.

Owner Responsibilities

Owners are responsible for the costs associated with travel to WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Pullman, Washington for diagnostic imaging IF testing shows that their cat has an elevated IGF-1.  If imaging shows their cat has a pituitary tumor and they decide to treat, owners are responsible for the costs associated with treatment of that pituitary tumor.

Contact Information

Valorie Wiss
Clinical Studies Coordinator
cell: 509-432-5345

Close up of Wazzu, the Indian runner duck.

For ducks, pennies don’t bring much luck — a one-cent coin could actually cost them their life.

That was the case for Wazzu, an Indian Runner duck who showed up at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital this spring struggling to walk, losing weight fast, and feeling ill.

“I did my best to treat her, but she wasn’t making much improvement,” Wazzu’s owner, Heathear Bloom said. “I saw online someone said their duck had similar symptoms and had swallowed a metal washer. I thought an X-ray may reveal the cause of her condition.”

So, Bloom hopped in the car and the two drove from Latah, Wash., to WSU.

“Sure enough, there it was as plain as day,” Bloom said.

The radiograph showed Duck, later named Wazzu for the work of WSU veterinarians, swallowed a coin and it was stuck in her gizzard.

Due to her symptoms and knowing the foreign body was likely a coin, Dr. Marcie Logsdon, the lead veterinarian on the case, suspected the culprit was a post-1982 penny.

“She was showing signs consistent with zinc toxicity and pennies minted after 1982 contain high levels of zinc,” Logsdon said.

Despite efforts by WSU’s Exotics Team to remove the object via endoscopy, Wazzu would ultimately require surgery to have the item removed.

Bloom said at that time she wasn’t sure if she could move forward with the procedure.

“As much as I wanted to save this silly bird, I just couldn’t afford the estimated cost,” she said.

Logsdon recommended WSU’s Good Samaritan Fund,  which was setup by WSU veterinary students in the mid-1990s  to help animals in need of special care.  Since that time, more than 1000 caring people have given to support the Good Samaritan Fund.

“I got a call later that they had approved $350 to be put toward the surgery,” Bloom said. “I was thrilled because I didn’t have high hopes. Most people don’t think of poultry on the same level as the family dog or cat, so I assumed she may be turned down for the surgery.”

Wazzu received the surgery the next day.

“We made a small incision into her ventriculus (gizzard) and were able to remove it,” Logsdon said. “It was a penny, but it didn’t look much like a penny anymore.”

The penny was black, corroded, and riddled with holes from an estimated two to three weeks of Wazzu trying to digest it. There was no sign of any writing, copper, or Abraham Lincoln.

“There was really no telling it was once a form of currency,” Logsdon said.

Logsdon said the more Wazzu’s body continued to digest and break down the coin, the more toxic zinc she became exposed to, and the sicker she became.

She said, ultimately, the swallowed coin would have killed her if it wasn’t removed.

A radiograph shows a penny inside of Wazzu’s gizzard. Wazzu required surgery to have the coin removed.
The penny after it was removed.

Besides a small scar now hidden by feathers, the two-year-old is living the best days of her life now.

“She is doing very well,” Bloom said. “She did a lot of her recuperating in the front room where she watches TV with me from her bed.”

As for the penny, it sits on a shelf in Bloom’s home.

“I show it to people when I tell the story of my coin-consuming avian friend and the crazy predicament she got herself into,” Bloom said.

Cushing’s Disease, also known as pituitary dependent hypercortisolism, is caused by a non-cancerous pituitary tumor that triggers excessive levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Left untreated, a pituitary tumor could grow large enough to press on the brain and cause neurological symptoms such as difficulty walking or seeing, or other conditions, including diabetes or seizures.

Smiling dog sitting on grass, looking at camera.

When functioning normally, the pituitary, a pea-sized gland at the base of the brain, produces adrenocorticotropic hormone, or ACTH, which stimulates the adrenal glands near the kidneys to produce cortisol. A smaller percentage of dogs with Cushing’s disease have a tumor that may or may not be cancerous in one of the adrenal glands. This form of Cushing’s is called adrenal dependent Cushing’s (ADC) and results from a direct increase in cortisol production.

How common is Cushing’s disease?

Every year, roughly 100,000 dogs are diagnosed with Cushing’s disease in the United States. Most dogs are 6 years of age or older when diagnosed, but it can occur in younger dogs. The disease is rare in cats.

What are the common symptoms of Cushing’s disease?

  • Hair loss
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased drinking and urination
  • Bruising
  • Thin skin
  • Obesity
  • Lack of energy
  • Bladder infection
  • Difficultly walking
  • Vision issues
  • Diabetes
  • Seizures

How is Cushing’s disease diagnosed?

There is no single test to diagnose Cushing’s disease. A patient’s history, physical exam, and results of initial blood and urine tests often provide a strong suspicion for the presence of the disease. One of the first tests for Cushing’s disease is the urine cortisol/creatinine ratio test. Dogs with normal cortisol/creatinine ratios likely do not have Cushing’s.

Dogs with high cortisol/creatinine ratios will require a low-dose dexamethasone suppression test. Dexamethasone is used to suppress cortisol levels. If a dog’s cortisol levels are not suppressed it is likely the dog has Cushing’s disease. Patients with Cushing’s disease may also have an enlarged liver or enlarged adrenal glands. Your veterinarian may take X-rays or use ultrasounds to check the liver or adrenal glands, as well as an ACTH stimulation test to determine if the adrenal glands are functioning properly.

How is Cushing’s disease treated?

Lifelong oral medication is often prescribed for pituitary dependent Cushing’s disease to help manage the symptoms. The most common drugs used to treat Cushing’s disease are Trilostane and o,p’-DDD (also called Mitotane or Lysodren). For pets with adrenal dependent Cushing’s, these drugs are not as effective in reducing symptoms.

Radiation may also be used to shrink the size of a pituitary tumor. This treatment is most effective on small tumors to help reduce the symptoms of pituitary dependent Cushing’s disease.

Adrenal dependent Cushing’s disease is treated by surgical removal of the affected adrenal gland. Adrenal gland tumors, if cancerous, can spread to other parts of the body if the cancer is not removed by surgery. Surgical removal of the tumor generally eliminates the need for lifelong medication.

What is the prognosis for an animal diagnosed with Cushing’s disease?

The prognosis for pituitary dependent Cushing’s disease with treatment is usually good. Some signs will disappear quickly and others gradually. Appetite and water consumption usually return to normal in a few weeks, but full return of fur lost may take several months.

With pituitary surgery, roughly 85 to 95 percent of dogs who have the tumor removed no longer have a hormonal imbalance or neurological symptoms. For dogs with adrenal tumors, surgery can be potentially curative. Treatment of one type of Cushing’s disease, either pituitary or adrenal, does not prevent the development of the other form of the disease.

What should I do if my dog is showing signs of Cushing’s disease?

If you are concerned your animal has Cushing’s disease, consult with your veterinarian or schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians by calling 509-335-0711.

WSU is one of only a handful of veterinary hospitals in the country performing transsphenoidal hypophysectomy, a pituitary surgery used to treat Cushing’s disease in dogs. 

This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.