Uga VIII could live for years after treatment for a kind of cancer called lymphoma and feel well enough to perform his mascot duties at University of Georgia football games.
But most dogs only live about a year after treatment for the cancer, veterinary cancer specialists say.
UGA officials said last week that Uga is responding well to treatment – a good sign that treatment will be successful.
Uga, whose registered name is Big Bad Bruce, was diagnosed with lymphoma late last month after he came down with a gastrointestinal ailment.
Veterinarians usually can tell after only a week or two of treatment whether a dog will respond well to chemotherapy, the standard treatment for lymphoma in dogs, said Nicole Northrup, a veterinary oncologist in the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Northrup is helping to treat Uga, but would not comment on the English bulldog’s case specifically without permission from the Seiler family of Savannah, which has cared for the line of Bulldog mascots for decades.
Typically, dogs get about five months of weekly chemotherapy, Northrup said.
If the treatment is successful, the dogs then go three or four months without further treatment – a period of remission when the dog feels fine – before a second round of chemotherapy with a different mix of drugs.
“If they’re in remission, they’re essentially normal dogs. They can do their normal activities. We recommend they do what they like to do,” she said.
“If he responds like the normal dog, he can be at a lot more football games,” said Terry Hamilton, a veterinary oncologist with Georgia Veterinary Specialists of Atlanta. “As many as 75 percent go into remission.”
Even during treatment, Uga could feel pretty chipper.
“Dogs tolerate chemotherapy way better than we do,” said Hamilton, who is not involved in treating Uga VIII.
But most dogs relapse, this time with cancer that is harder to treat than the original cancer cells, the specialists said.
The average dog lives about 12 to 15 months with treatment; about one in four lives two years or longer, Hamilton said.
“I have dogs who are alive five and six years later, but it’s not the most common (outcome),” Northrup said. “For the majority of dogs, what eventually happens is the tumor cells become resistant to the chemotherapy.”
But the treatment can give the dogs a good life for a while, Hamilton said.
“It makes no sense to treat them if they can’t enjoy life,” he said. “Ultimately, most of them will relapse. Ultimately, they’ll lose the battle, but hopefully that’s after a lot of good quality time.”
Veterinarians have seen a growing number of cancer cases in dogs in recent years, but aren’t sure why, Hamilton and Northrup said.
Studies have linked increased dog cancers to some of the same culprits seen in studies of human cancer, such as pesticides, solvents and paints – even electromagnetic fields.
But dogs are living longer nowadays, and just as with people, the older we get to be, the more likely it is we’ll have a cancer, Hamilton said.