Koda has not slowed down much since his cancer treatment at the WCVM. Submitted photo.

Radiation therapy buys time for beloved husky

When Scott Vosper brought his Siberian husky Koda in to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) Veterinary Medical Centre for radiation treatment in February 2017, he knew he was only buying his much-loved companion some extra time.

Still, Vosper is grateful for a treatment option that keeps the time and stress to a minimum.

“I’m thankful I was able to do all I could for him,” he says.

At the WCVM’s pet radiation therapy centre, Koda’s radiation treatments were delivered using the new RapidArc technology. It requires just three consecutive days of treatment compared to the usual 20 to 25 treatments that previous technology takes.

Thanks to the generosity of two anonymous donors, the WCVM was able to purchase and install the new software in its pet radiation therapy centre earlier this year. The WCVM is one of only a handful of locations in Canada where this therapy is available.  

Vosper and Koda live on an acreage with Vosper’s other two dogs, about an hour’s drive northeast of Winnipeg in Seven Sisters Falls, Man.

Vosper first noticed something wrong in the fall of 2016 when an occasional drop of blood would fall from Koda’s right nostril. The issue stopped after a couple of weeks, but still, Vosper thought something was potentially lodged in his pet’s nose. He took Koda to a veterinarian, who told him to monitor the situation.

About six weeks later the blood drops reappeared, and this time they did not stop. In January 2017, Koda underwent a rhinoscopy in Winnipeg and a biopsy sample was sent to the WCVM.

 On Vosper’s birthday in early February, he received the diagnosis: his dog had nasal carcinoma. Vosper immediately asked what the options were, and his veterinarian told him about radiation therapy. The WCVM was the nearest available oncology treatment centre, with the next closest centres being in Minneapolis and Guelph.

 “I said how quickly can we get him to Saskatoon?” recalls Vosper.

 His veterinarian immediately referred Koda and Vosper to the WCVM’s radiation oncology team. Vosper drove Koda to Saskatoon, not wanting to risk flying because of his pet’s breathing issues. Koda had his first of three radiation treatments on Tuesday, Feb. 7. By Friday, the treatments were finished and they were on their way home to Manitoba.

 Vosper was told the average life expectancy for dogs following treatment for Koda’s type of cancer was another year to a year and a half.

 “Unfortunately his tumour is quite aggressive,” says Vosper. By July 2017, the bleeding had started again — very slowly at first. A CT scan done in Winnipeg showed that the tumour was significantly smaller than it was before radiation therapy. It was suggested the bleeding could be from the tumour or something else — the only way to tell was to wait a couple of months and do another CT scan.

 In October 2017, Vosper and Koda returned to Saskatoon where clinicians performed another CT scan and rhinoscopy. He learned that Koda’s tumour was growing again. Koda underwent a second course of radiation in mid-October.

 It’s a stressful procedure at the best of times, and Koda had to be anesthetized for each of the three treatments. Vosper recalls being called to come pick up Koda as soon as his husky started waking up because he would be “quite vocal.”

 Being repeatedly put under took its toll on Koda. “He’d be out of it for the afternoon or the rest of the evening only to wake up the next morning. And of course, he doesn’t get any food overnight [and in the morning], and then he’s got to do it over again.”

 After three days of treatment, “[Koda] was ready to go,” Vosper recounts.

 The procedure was hard on Vosper too.

 “The big thing for me: every time they put him under there’s always that risk of something going wrong,” says Vosper, who had to consider whether he wanted clinicians to try and save Koda if something went wrong while the dog was under anesthesia.

 “That’s always at the back of your mind.”

 Koda’s bleeding stopped completely after the second day of treatment. But sadly “it will be back,” Vosper says, because the tumour is malignant and aggressive. For that reason, a third round of radiation isn’t an option, says Vosper.

 Koda – now about seven and a half years old – is expected to live perhaps another six months. Vosper says the measures taken to gain that time were worth it.

 “They extended his time with me, and I’m quite thankful for that,” says Vosper. Before his first round of radiation in February 2017, Koda’s life expectancy was only three months.

 For now the two are spending time as they normally do, playing and going for walks. A typically active and sociable husky, Koda has not slowed down much. He’s still eating and still has his personality, Vosper says.

 As long as his dog remains comfortable and not in pain, he’s willing to do what it takes to keep him going.

Share this story