Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge takes care of tiger with rare cancer

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

BB King, a 12-year-old tiger at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, was recently diagnosed with lingual hemangiosarcoma after a routine veterinary exam.

Lingual hemangiosarcoma is a rare form of cancer generally diagnosed in domestic cats and dogs, and there are no recorded cases of the disease presenting itself in a tiger until now. Oddly, pathology shows the cancer is localized to BB King's tongue even though it typically presents in larger organs such as the heart in domestic animals.

When the rare tumor was diagnosed, TCWR veterinarian Dr. Kellyn Sweeley consulted with Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine faculty members Dr. Sara Gardhouse and Dr. Sam Hocker. After the consultation, Dr. Sweeley performed multiple radiographs and ultrasounds to ensure there were no tumors elsewhere in BB King's body. When the results confirmed that the cancer had not metastasized and that BB King was in otherwise perfect health, the team decided to pursue intravenous chemotherapy (IV chemo) treatment.

BB King will receive the chemotherapy drug, doxorubicin, every three weeks for about five doses. By applying the medication intravenously, the TCWR animal care team feels that the odds are in BB King's favor to beat lingual hemangiosarcoma. However, there are no records of a sanctuary ever treating a tiger with IV chemo. If BB King has a negative reaction at any point during the treatment, the TCWR team will discontinue the process in favor of palliative care, which could result in having to make a quality of life decision for the beloved tiger.

Treatment will take place at the Jackson Memorial Veterinary Hospital at TCWR. BB King and his brother, Mack, have been temporarily relocated to an adjacent area known as Rescue Ridge. It is much easier to maneuver a roll cage on the flat ground at Rescue Ridge and the relocation makes for a shorter trip to the hospital. This accommodation and keeping the brothers in close proximity to each other should help reduce stressors on BB King, allowing him to focus his energy on fighting the rare disease.

The minimum cost of BB King's initial medication is projected to be $2,000 and ongoing care costs are certain to follow. This is a small price to pay for a happy, pain-free life, and anyone who wishes to donate or learn more about BB King's fight with lingual hemangiosarcoma can do so at www.TCWR.org/BBBattle.

The TCWR will be updating BB King's progress on their social media platforms and they intend to host exclusive live-stream content on Facebook during his treatment days. Proceeds from the paid live videos will go toward the tiger's treatment costs, as well as other animal health related initiatives at the sanctuary.

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