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Bearded Dragon Offers Insight Into
Cancer Treatment

Sometimes reading the articles on the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine website pays off in unexpected ways.

That’s what happened to the Weiher-Getty family of Durham, the owners of an especially laid-back 6-year-old bearded dragon named Citrus, also affectionately known as “Ditty.” Five years ago, 9-year-old Deanna Weiher-Getty was involved in an informal pet share program that helped kids learn about different kinds of animals. Deanna was given the the opportunity to care for a bearded dragon, which piqued her desire to have a pet.

Unfortunately, Wendy Weiher, Deanna’s mom, suffers from allergies that make it impossible to have a dog, cat or even a bird in the house. Wanting to accommodate Deanna’s love of animals, the family explored alternatives. That’s how Citrus became a part of their family.

“She’s a great first pet,” Wendy Weiher says. “Lizards actually have different personalities and Citrus is very mellow. My daughter used to dress her up and she was fine with it.”

At the time the family adopted Citrus they noticed an unusual spot on her back. It was small — about the size of a pencil eraser‚ and didn’t appear to change as time went by so they didn’t think it was anything to worry about. But last year the spot began to get perceptibly larger. By the time it doubled in size, they took Citrus to a local veterinarian.

It appeared to be sarcoma, cancerous tumors seen in connective tissues like bone, muscle or fat cells. The recommendation: surgical removal.

The family was faced with a difficult decision. They were concerned about putting Citrus through a surgery and found the cost of the procedure daunting.

That’s when Wendy Weiher started researching other options. “I found an article on the NC State website about another bearded dragon with cancer,” she says, “and it mentioned the grant from Petco.”

The Petco Foundation has awarded a generous grant to the CVM to help defray the cost of treating cancer in exotic animals like birds, reptiles and small mammals. Pet owners often decide not to treat an exotic animal because of the expense. As a result, not only do the owners lose their pets sooner, but veterinary medicine loses a valuable opportunity to gain more insight into how to treat these cases most effectively.

After determining that Citrus was eligible for the grant, the family brought her to NC State in February. The mass was surgically removed the next day; the tumor was in muscle tissue and had not spread. Citrus is recuperating at home.

“The grant from the Petco Foundation helped us to make decisions and develop a plan,” said Wendy Weiher. “It gave us a certain peace of mind.”

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine