Cancer is a terrifying ordeal for anyone, but when a pet receives a cancer diagnosis, owners may not know where to turn for help, or even what they can do. Fortunately, pets (and their owners) can receive compassionate cancer care at Vale Park Animal Hospital, with help from Dr. Bill Donohue!
Being a veterinarian was always in the cards for Donohue, from a very young age. “It’s a crazy story,” he laughed, sharing that after watching his sister’s cat heal from extensive injuries after being hit by a car, he was amazed at how the body was able to restore itself and wanted to learn more. “This medicine is pretty cool stuff!”
Donohue continued to work at that vet clinic that helped his sister’s cat in high school and eventually went on to graduate from Purdue’s veterinary program in 2006.
“In vet school, I knew I was going to go on to become a general practitioner,” he said. “I tried to find something that interested me and something that reflected the human-animal bond, to help strengthen that both from a medical and emotional supportive standpoint. Oncology mixes all of the avenues of that, where you help not only the patient feel better but you help the owner feel better about making the right choices for their pet and knowing that sometimes there is not a right choice. It’s about helping the owner feel comfortable to make the choices that are difficult and guide them along the way.”
“The most rewarding part is helping the patients that you can help, put their cancer into remission and make them feel great, and also help the owners realize that they can do that and that they’re doing right by the dog, that it’s not always a death sentence.”
Donohue has seen dogs with lymphoma live up to 2.5 years when treated with chemotherapy; those results aren’t always the case. “It’s variable,” he said. “It all depends on the type of cancer. Some of them you may get a couple of weeks out of them.”
The biggest goal for Donohue is making sure his patients have a good quality of life, even if the time left to end of life is short. “Being able to take each case individually and guide the owners to what their abilities are, what my abilities are, and come to a situation where we all feel that we’ve helped the pet, that’s reward in itself and I think every case offers the potential for me to do that.”
Donohue has been able to treat a couple dozen dogs in 7 years, “which is more than I thought I would ever treat when I was in vet school,” he shared. “I thought to myself, ‘Am I really ever going to use any of this oncology training in real world practice?’ and honestly I’ve used a lot more of it than I thought I ever would!”
A common misconception among owners is that dogs react the same way to chemotherapy drugs as humans. “Everyone assumes that they’re going to get sick, their hair is going to fall out, that they’re not going to do well. But honestly, that’s not the situation with most dogs.” Donohue will adjust doses and offer other medications to make them more comfortable and manage side effects.
“My goal with chemotherapy is to have more good days than bad days. If I can give them three weeks of good days for every two days of bad, to me that’s a winning situation. The dog is still with them, the bond is stronger with the owners; owners still have the pets with them and that’s important.”
Vale Park not only offers the ability to treat pets with cancer locally, but offer the benefit of having a close relationship with the university and the teaching hospital. Donohue is able to work in conjunction with world-renowned oncologists. “I’m able to follow through with some of the treatments they start down there,” he stated.
One of the biggest points Donohue wants to emphasize is that not every cancer is a bad cancer. “Pets typically do better than what we anticipate,” he said. “Some of the cancers are more frustrating than others but not every cancer is going to require major treatment and diagnostics. It’s a different case with every patient.”
For more information on the oncology services offered at Vale Park Animal Hospital, call 219.462.5785.