He was quiet and lethargic, his appetite was reduced, he was losing weight and he was almost continually straining to pass faeces but could only pass small amounts of blood and watery stool.
At only 4 years old, the most likely cause was either an infection or a dietary sensitivity but he had failed to respond to treatment for either of those conditions so one of my colleagues asked me to investigate the cause.
X-rays showed multiple firm swellings in his abdomen but it was only on exploratory surgery that it was confirmed that these swellings were actually multiple tumours in the lining of the small intestine. I was immediately very concerned because, although it is uncommon, we occasionally see a tumour in the intestines of young dogs called an Alimentary Lymphoma. This is an aggressive malignant cancerous tumour and I was concerned that the gross appearance in the abdomen was consistent with this potentially fatal condition.
After discussion with the owner, I took some biopsy samples from the affected areas.
We arranged for the samples to be processed urgently and a courier was organised to take the samples to the lab in Norfolk. By 5pm the next day I received an email report confirming my worst fears – Harvey did have Alimentary Lymphoma.
As Alimentary Lymphoma is the type of tumour that spreads out to multiple sites, surgical removal would not be successful. Chemotherapy, while successful for other types of Lymphoma, is very challenging in the alimentary form…… the tumour has a tendency either not to respond to medication, or to respond so fully that the cancer cells within the tumour are killed so quickly that the wall of the intestine ulcerates leading to leakage of intestinal contents into the abdomen and death.
Harvey’s owners were understandably devastated. It seemed so unfair that it should happen to such a lovely young dog. After weighing up all the facts, Harvey’s owners decided that they could not give up on him and so we agreed to try with medical treatment.
A treatment protocol was devised that tried to balance the need to kill those cancer cells without risking intestinal perforation and Harvey was admitted for treatment.
We used a combination of drugs including some that were given by a drip and some in tablet form. Initially he was seen weekly and then the frequency was decreased to once every 3 weeks.
I am delighted to say that, 6 months on, Harvey is continuing to respond incredibly well. All of his signs have completely resolved and the lumps in his intestines have completely disappeared. He continues to visit us one day every 3 weeks for treatment and has tablets to take every day but otherwise lives the completely normal active life of a 4 year old Springer Spaniel.