Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pet Hospice for Feline Lymphoma

Owner turns to Pet Hospice
when his cat is diagnosed with cancer

Young Healthy Romeo
It was the middle of May 2011 when I was fighting South Florida traffic and my cell phone rang. It was a gentleman from my town of Lighthouse Point asking me about Hospice Care for a cat that had been recently diagnosed with cancer.  I remember clearly his tone. I could tell that he cared so deeply for his kitty and that he was not one to give up so soon on his buddy.  He told me that his sweet cat Romeo was doing okay for now but between a decreased appetite and increased vomiting,  he was losing weight at a fast pace. But Romeo still slept on his chest every night and was enjoying getting loved by everyone in the house.  Clearly it was not his time to say goodbye; they just wanted to know his options.

So, I headed to Romeo’s house to meet his dad, Anthony, and see if there is anything I can do to help him.  Little did I realize that that visit would turn into a great friendship and a good story!

I was greeted at the door by three dogs – all characters!  Indy and Sadi were little yorkies that would not let me pass without being pet and alongside was a gentle beagle named Kobi.  Later I learned that Kobie, recently adopted, was completely blind.  Even I, as a veterinarian, couldn’t tell that Kobie was blind at all – he didn’t miss a beat!

Then a tangerine cat, Juliet, jumped to the back of the couch to give me some crazy love right about the same time that I heard squawking from a bird cage. CLEARLY this family loves pets.  Finally I saw a skinny little grey tiger cat meander in our direction. Romeo was not looking so great. Obviously he didn’t care about cleaning himself too much and I could see his facial bones really well.  He didn’t mind me petting him but this was not the 'lovey' Romeo I was expecting… he was tired.  And then to my surprise, I noticed that he was missing a back leg.   This cat has really had a few major medical issues in his life but he also lucked out by landing this family!

Romeo after first surgery
Romeo was adopted as a kitten in December 1997 and when he was 9, he was diagnosed with fibrosarcoma of his left-rear foot.  The first surgery only removed a portion of his outer foot to remove as much tumor as possible while leaving the foot fully functional. However, the pathology reports came back that the tumor had not been fully removed and so it resurfaced a few months later. So Romeo had a second surgery to amputate the full limb at the hip on January 16th 2007.

Romeo stayed at the hospital for 3 days and then returned home where he recovered FAST! Anthony said he was functioning normally his first day home and fully recovered within a few weeks. (Note to the public: 3 legged animals do GREAT!)

In March 2011 Romeo started to experience chronic vomiting with sudden bouts of diarrhea. After two months of testing to rule out diabetes, thyroid and other possible causes, an ultrasound was performed on May 2nd, which showed thickening of his intestinal walls, swollen lymph nodes and other visible signs that led to a diagnosis of intestinal lymphoma.  His prognosis was 3 months and the family was told there wasn't much that could be done for treatment.  After consulting with 2 other veterinarians, each confirming the findings and giving little hope, Romeo was prescribed medications to treat the vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite

Romeo at time of first Hospice visit
“We then started looking for someone to help us with at-home hospice care.  In the middle of May we contacted Dr. Mary Gardner, who came to our home to look at Romeo's current state and help us understand the process.  Immediately we were greeted with a compassionate presence and felt a great sense of relief knowing that we now had a partner to help guide us through what we thought were the final stages of Romeo's life,” Anthony stated.  “Dr. Gardner prescribed a regimen of fluid therapy and B12 shots to help maintain quality and comfort and would also stop by to monitor his health.”

As a veterinarian, we keep in mind when treating pets with diseases that there are a variety of opinions, treatment options, and most important emotional and financial budgets.  Having recently gone through chemotherapy with my dog Neo just 6 months before, I really wanted Romeo to see an Oncologist.  Lymphoma in cats responds well to chemotherapy and I wanted him to have that chance.  I always tell my clients about all options so that they can make the best decision for their family. I knew from the bottom of my heart that Romeo’s dad was not ready to give up without a fight and I also knew sending him to an oncologist was the best thing for him.  However, Anthony and his wife were not easy to convince!

  “Dr. Gardner had advised that we seek a cancer specialist to see if there were any treatment options.  She had to push us twice to do so since the advice of the three other veterinarians was that there was little that could be done based on the broad coverage of the lymphoma across all of his organs.  Finally in June we were seen by a cancer specialist clinic (, who told us the condition was treatable in cats and we immediately started a chemotherapy treatment schedule.” Anthony said.

Romeo NOW! On Chemo

 YAY!  Romeo was getting treatment -- and there was hope!  Even if it only gave the family 6-12 months more, there was more time! And GOOD time with Romeo!   To date, Romeo has returned to his normal weight of 11.7 pounds -- all the way from his low point of 7 pounds.  After an operation to gather tissue samples from all affected areas, it has been determined that no lymphoma is present.  The vomiting, diarrhea and all other previous symptoms have disappeared.

Romeo Now - doing great!
Romeo is currently on maintenance medications to hopefully prevent any recurrences.  He is taking prednisolone and Leukeran, a low-dose chemo drug, and is doing GREAT!  Romeo and Anthony still enjoy their night time snuggling and are completely out of Hospice care!  Now I just visit Romeo to say hi and Anthony texts me monthly to keep me posted.  He looks like a new cat from when I first met him!  Very handsome, perfect weight and well-groomed.  It is now exactly 6 months from getting that phone call on the road.   

Posted by:
Vet Mary Gardner
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and Euthanasia

Lap of Love - - was founded by Drs. Dani McVety and Mary Gardner to provide at-home veterinary hospice and euthanasia care and services. Veterinary hospice is an adjunct service provided to clients, and is not designed to replace the care of a general veterinary practitioner. Lap of Love currently operates in Florida, North Carolina, and Tennessee with planned expansion to additional states in the coming months.

Drs Gardner, Simons and Sabo help families in Broward, Miami Dade, Palm Beach Counties including North Miami, Aventura, Hollywood, Davie, Cooper City, Coral Springs, Weston, Davie, Ft. Lauderdale, Plantation, Pembroke Pines, Tamarac, Wilton Manors, Lighthouse Point, Pompano Beach, Deerfield Beach, Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Palm Beach, and Jupiter. 


  1. hurray!!! when my own FeLV+ 4 year old cat developed renal lymphoma (in his kidneys), we did chemotherapy. He did great with the chemo, loving on the techs at the hospital during the IV's. He went from severe kidney failure to remission and normal kidney function within 10 days of starting chemo, and lived another 4 months (kidney lymphoma is much more wicked than GI lymphoma). This gave our family plenty of time to come to terms with the end of his life and they were truly a joyous 4 months.
    Dana Lewis, DVM

  2. This is such a wonderful story. I am so happy for Romeo and his family. This is a big eye opener to veterinarians and pet owners. Never give up on a pet with cancer. Always provide a pet owner with options or referral to a specialist. As for pet owners, get a second opinion when you are told nothing can be done.
    Feel good Romeo!!!
    Dr. Kim
    Lap of Love


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