- The Washington Times - Monday, December 30, 2002

Dr. Bill Bush cradled the weak, little cat in his arms and spun around in a circle. When he stopped moving, Buffy's eyes didn't. They continued twitching in the direction of the spin.
That simple clue showed Dr. Bush what weeks of increasingly frantic and expensive visits to other veterinarians had failed to find: Something bad was happening in the back of Buffy's brain, not in her liver, like other doctors had speculated.
A nighttime visit to an MRI machine that by day scans sick people uncovered a large and very rare type of cancer pressing on Buffy's brain stem, poised to kill her.
Only a few years ago, Buffy's owner would have had just one option: euthanasia.
In Lenore Gelb's quest to find out what made her cat too weak to stand, other veterinarians brushed aside her inquiries about an MRI, those scans so crucial to human medicine but still very hard to get for an animal. Don't waste the money, one advised, because nothing can be done if it's a brain disease.
Brain surgeons for cats still are rare there are 100 veterinary neurologists in the country, and not all operate but that they are out shows something can be done for cats like Buffy.
Pet owners are urging veterinarians to push the boundaries of animal medicine, and no pet is too small. A goldfish just received radiation therapy for cancer at Tufts University's School of Veterinary Medicine, a treatment costing thousands of dollars.
Americans spend about $11.1 billion on veterinary medicine each year, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Most is out of pocket. Fewer than 1 percent of the nearly 60 million households with pets have insurance for their animals.
When pet owners do track down rare specialists, a lack of animal-appropriate equipment and infrastructure can still limit treatment options, said Dr. Steven Rowell, director of Tufts' veterinary hospital.
"People say to us, 'I'll pay anything,' but that still doesn't mean we have the ability to do whatever they want," he said.
There's little research proving which treatments work best for which diseases and which species, research important in guiding pet owners on when to pursue cutting-edge therapy and when to let go.
The $10,000 kidney dialysis that vets had hoped would save pets who drink antifreeze, for example, is producing mixed results, Dr. Rowell said.
And most owners want some guarantee that brain surgery, which can cost up to $5,000, will work. But "the hardest part of the job is predicting the outcome," acknowledges Dr. Bush, the Gaithersburg neurosurgeon.
So was it worth the gamble for Buffy? Unable to hold up her head, the 14-year-old cat was deteriorating fast and Dr. Bush suspected she had a highly unusual cancer, called a plasmacytoma, growing through her skull into the brain.
So Dr. Bush tried a trick: a dose of a drug called Mannitol. The next day, he greeted Miss Gelb "like a kid in the candy store," she recalled, gleefully opening the door to reveal Buffy running around.
The drug had temporarily eased tumor-induced pressure on Buffy's brain, simulating what would happen if Dr. Bush could cut out the cancer. Miss Gelb immediately agreed to surgery.
A day after the surgery, Buffy was playing, a bald spot her only sign of sickness.
"I'm getting quality time," Miss Gelb said. "That's what I was looking for, as long as it lasts.

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