Vets put cat back on track

Hilary Wright poses with HoneyBee, a 10-year-old Maine Coon, on June 11.
Washington State University neurology resident Hilary Wright poses with HoneyBee, a 10-year-old Maine Coon, on June 11. WSU veterinarians removed a tumor from the pituitary gland at the base of HoneyBee’s brain in early June. The tumor was producing too much growth hormone and was counteracting insulin, resulting in unhealthy blood sugar levels.

A rare brain surgery performed by Washington State University veterinarians is giving one retired Japanese show cat a chance at a longer life, free of diabetes.

That cat is HoneyBee, a 10-year-old purebred Maine Coon. Some say she looks more like a miniature bobcat.

HoneyBee was admitted earlier this month at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital with a pituitary gland tumor at the base of her brain.

“She was on death’s doorstep,” Mollie Mansfield, HoneyBee’s owner, said. “We weren’t sure if she was going to live to her tenth birthday.”

HoneyBee’s health troubles started in November when she was losing hair as well as peeing and drinking excessively.

She was later diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, a condition when blood sugar levels are high and not enough insulin is produced to regulate those blood sugar levels.

However, she required a dose of insulin more than 20 times the regular dose.

“Like many pituitary tumors, this tumor was secreting too much growth hormone, which was counteracting the insulin,” said Tina Owen, pituitary surgical specialist who leads WSU’s Pituitary Surgery Service. “With the tumor removed, we hope over time HoneyBee will require very little to no insulin and potentially be cured of her diabetes mellitus.”

Owen was one of the first veterinarians in the U.S. to routinely perform pituitary surgery. To remove a pituitary tumor, veterinarians gain access through the roof of the mouth.

Owen has now performed more than 75 of the surgeries. This is her first performed on a Maine Coon.

Since the tumor was removed on June 3, HoneyBee only requires a regular insulin dose, about a half to one unit. Mansfield said some days she doesn’t require any insulin at all.

It’s a massive decline from the nine units she originally required twice a day, she said.

Mansfield thanks veterinarian Maggie Spath of Tumwater Veterinary Hospital for recommending the Pituitary Surgery team at WSU.

“Dr. Maggie really did save her life,” Mansfield said. “If it wasn’t for her, I would have never known about this amazing pituitary team. She told us ‘WSU is where you want to go.’”

WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital was the first university and now one of three hospitals in the nation that provides pituitary tumor surgery. The three-woman surgical team consists of Owen, neurologist Annie Chen-Allen and critical care specialist Linda Martin. Neurology resident Hilary Wright and fourth-year veterinary student Ryley Carman also assisted and cared for HoneyBee during her 10-night stay at the hospital.

Back at home, HoneyBee is growing back to her healthy 15-pound self. Despite the surgery, the retired show cat from Tokyo featured in cat shows up and down the West Coast isn’t coming out of retirement.

She’s staying right at home in Olympia, Wash.

“They are magic, this pituitary team,” Mansfield said. “HoneyBee is eating well, her coat looks good, she looks alert and her legs are getting stronger and she is starting to do her jumping again. It’s a miracle.”

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