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A Tale of Two Dragons

Brandon Hinds and Cristian Burris with their bearded dragon Ramsey
Brandon Hinds, Cristian Burris and their bearded dragon Ramsey wait to begin a chemotherapy treatment. Photo by John Joyner/NC State Veterinary Medicine

A beloved animal companion is a family member, and a diagnosis of cancer can be wrenching. Fortunately, advanced cancer treatment for pets is available at world-class facilities such as the NC State Veterinary Hospital.

But less is known about the most effective ways to treat cancer in exotic pets. That’s why the Petco Foundation and Blue Buffalo have created cancer treatment funds at leading veterinary hospitals like NC State. The treatment funds help pet owners defray the cost of treating companion animal cancers. These generous investments help pet parents focus on providing the best possible care for their pets rather than the cost of care.

Atlas and Ramsey were both brought to NC State by the same owners, Brandon Hinds and Cristian Burris. Hinds and Burris are especially interested in reptile rescue.

When Atlas became lethargic and wasn’t eating well, Hinds and Burris brought him to the exotic animal service at the veterinary hospital in September 2018, and he was diagnosed with lymphoid leukemia. The preferred therapy involved treating Atlas with several rounds of chemotherapy, which would have been a significant financial burden for the owners. With the help of the Petco Foundation and Blue Buffalo Cancer Treatment Fund however, they were able to begin treatment.

Sadly, Atlas’ health had already deteriorated, and he died a short time later. Hinds and Burris were back at NC State with Ramsey last January. Initially, they noticed Ramsey had a toe on a rear foot that was sticking up strangely. When they took him in for medical attention, in addition to discovering that he was suffering from gout, they also learned that Ramsey, too, had lymphoid leukemia.

The coincidence of two bearded dragons belonging to the same owners developing leukemia provided a unique opportunity for comparison.

a bearded dragon receives treatment
Bearded dragon Ramsey receives treatment for his lymphoma. Photo by John Joyner/NC State Veterinary Medicine

The differences between the two are striking. Unlike Atlas, who had been lethargic when he came to NC State, Ramsey was alert, responsive and very mobile. He was spunky, as Burris describes him.

Tara Harrison, CVM assistant professor and clinician who was in charge of Atlas and Ramsey’s cases, said learning from one case to the next is one of the major goals of the Petco Foundation and Blue Buffalo Cancer Treatment Fund’s grant program.

“I think what we learned from them is to make sure to adjust and watch for secondary infection,” she said. “So we had Ramsey on antibiotics, and we also did more blood work monitoring.”

As a result, Ramsey’s results improved compared with Atlas, and he survived through the end of the year. The disease still took a toll, though, and eventually he also passed away.

Nevertheless, the opportunity to take lessons learned from Atlas’ case and apply them to Ramsey results in considerably improved survival time. Harrison hopes that she and NC State clinicians will continue to learn more thanks to the continuing support of the Petco Foundation and the Blue Buffalo Cancer Treatment Fund.

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine