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Cat Cancer - Prevention, Diagnosis, & Treatment of Cat Cancer

What is cat cancer?

Cat cancer is any cell in the body that decides it will proliferate unchecked, so an abnormal population of cells.

Dr. Ashly LaRoche
Animal Hospital of Statesville

How will cancer affect my cat's health and quality of life?

Cancer in kitty cats will often decrease their eating, and they start losing weight rather rapidly, stop grooming, and hide. Those are some things that a cat might show. However, many different syndromes and diseases in cats will also show those signs.

What are some of the most common types of cat cancer, and what would their symptoms be?

Lymphoma is a common cancer in cats, along with squamous cell carcinoma, sarcoma, tumors of the mouth, and things like that. Soft tissue sarcomas are very common in kitty cats, and those are tumors of connective tissues. Squamous cell carcinoma is something we'll see in lighter-colored cats on ear tips. It may be UV radiation, solar radiation-induced, and those types of things. Those are the more common tumors of cats.

Are the symptoms of cat cancer weight loss and not wanting to eat?

Correct. And sometimes, with lymphoma, it seems to prefer the intestinal tract of cats. So you'll have vomiting and diarrhea with that.

Why is early detection and diagnosis important for cats?

Early diagnosis is critical for cats. The earlier that you can diagnose cancer, the more apt we are to be able to remove something if it's removable. Also, the cat hasn't lost as much body condition. Early on, they're feeling their best. They'll tolerate surgery, chemotherapy, or whatever treatment is chosen much better early on. And they might respond to it better because it's early.

Why is it so important to avoid self-diagnosing your cat with cancer?

Because kitty cats hide everything until the last minute, and they show similar signs in pretty much every kitty cat syndrome. So it may be something like an anal sac abscess or something simple like that, but you still shouldn't try to diagnose cancer on your own. You should have your cat evaluated and looked at. Blood work is essential yearly, at least, and those sorts of things.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

Cat Cancer - FAQs

Dr. Ashly LaRoche
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What are the first signs of cancer in cats?

Cats tend to stop eating, hide, stop grooming, and they vomit when almost anything isn't making them feel well. Whenever you see those signs, you know that you should have your cat examined and see; chances are, it's probably not cancer and something like a fever or something else. But those are the signs you're going to see. And so basically, have your cat just examined to make sure that we're not finding evidence of it.

What are the main symptoms I should look for if my cat has cancer?

Sometimes a lump or a bump, but not necessarily.

My cat has stopped eating. Could they have cancer?

Yes, they could, and they could also have many other things that are not cancer. But that could very well be a sign. They just start not feeling well.

And my cat has been less social and has been hiding. Could that be cancer?

Yes, that very well could be. Or it could be just a behavioral response due to some stressor in the environment too. The best thing to do would be to have them examined if your cat is exhibiting atypical behavior.

What will you as a veterinarian be looking for when testing my cat for cancer?

I'm going to be looking at your cat's weight to make sure it's stable. When I pet your kitty cat, I'm going to be feeling their backbone. If the backbone is more prominent, that tells me, oh, we've lost some muscle back there. This cat may have a chronic disease. I will be feeling your cat's belly to make sure I don't feel any lumps, bumps, or pain in there. I'm going to listen to your cat's chest to make sure the lungs sound appropriate and clear and that the heart sounds right.

How will you make that final diagnosis that a cat has cancer?

We'll often take X-rays and ultrasound to find out if we see tumors, things like that. Sometimes we can find cancer based on a physical exam, finding lumps and bumps inside and outside. On the outside, we'll do what's called a fine needle aspirate. I'll stick a needle in something, in a tumor, and look at it under the microscope to see. Is this a malignancy? Is this benign? Sometimes on the inside, we'll do surgical biopsies. Sometimes we can even do needle biopsies on the inside with sedation and an ultrasound.

Why is early detection of cancer in cats so important?

Well, catching things at the early stages and before things have spread, surgery might be more apt to be curable. Whether it's surgery or chemotherapy, you want to treat things before they have spread, so the early stages are probably the most important. And they're more likely to respond to therapy and have a more extended response to therapy if things are caught early. And it's difficult sometimes to catch things early in a cat because they hide it for so long. And then, all of a sudden, they're not doing well.

Can my cat's cancer be cured?

It can be sometimes. Or for instance, lymphoma in the intestines is a chemotherapy disease, but they can go into remission for long periods a lot of times. So maybe not necessarily cured, but they have quite a longevity.

How long can my cat live with cancer after treatment?

It depends on the cancer, the treatment, the individual cat, the cancer stage, and things like that. Cats can live anywhere from weeks and months to sometimes years in some cancer cases, so it depends on the individual case and the age of the cat.

How long can my cat live with cancer without treatment?

It depends. Certain cancers, like sarcomas, can be slower growing. So they'll do well with palliative therapy for months to years. Cats, in general, tend to hide everything, and it seems like we find things when they are more advanced. Cats tend not to do as well as dogs in some cases.

How do I know if my cat is nearing the end of their life due to cancer?

A cat's going to stop eating, despite appetite stimulants and things like that. They're not going to eat. The cat will be in a weakened, debilitated state where they don't want to get up and move around a whole lot, and they won't have any social interaction with their people anymore. Those are some things that the cat's condition might be advancing, and it might be getting close.

What should a cat owner know about end-of-life care with cancer?

We don't want the cat to feel nauseated. We don't want them to feel pain. And there are appetite stimulants available to try and keep them eating, so they have a nutrition point. We have many pain medicines available that are safe to make them feel as good as we can make them feel. So there are many end-of-life, palliative, hospice-type things available for the kitty cats now. We want their last days, weeks, months, or whatever it's going to be, to be as peaceful as possible.

What are some options when it comes to treatments for cats?

Surgery for certain tumors is an option. Chemotherapy is also an option. And then there's radiation therapy in some cases as well. For instance, in soft tissue sarcomas, removal of the sarcoma via surgery or sometimes amputation are options if they're in the legs. Those are probably the three main options in kitty cats, depending on the tumor and the advancement of the type of cancer.

If my cat has a tumor, how would a veterinarian decide whether or not you can remove that?

We usually do a fine needle aspirate first to characterize it. And then often we'll take a biopsy and look, and determine: How aggressive is this mass? Is this a mass that we can even get reasonable margins on?

What should I consider before choosing a treatment for my cat with cancer?

The age of the animal is always a parameter. Budget is sometimes a parameter that we look at, and the owner's schedule, so many factors are involved, and none of them is right or wrong.

How would you know if my cat's cancer treatment is working?

Usually, the cat feels good. They're purring, rubbing up against you. They're eating and exhibiting the typical behaviors they did before the cancer, which is the primary goal.

Can diet be used to treat a cat's cancer?

You want your cat to have good, balanced nutrition and good weight, so keeping a leaner body weight is helpful. Is it a treatment? No, but they may be less represented than in the cancer group with lean body weight.

How long do cancer treatments last?

It depends on the surgery. Sometimes it's curative, so once the cat has surgery and heals from that, their cancer treatment is done. Sometimes chemotherapeutic protocols are weeks to months, so it depends.

How frequent are those cat cancer treatments?

It depends, as there are multiple protocols. It depends on what the owner chooses based on their budget and their schedules. Sometimes they're weekly, sometimes they're a couple of times a week, and sometimes every other week, so it just depends.

Is my cat going to experience pain when it goes through cancer treatment?

Most oncologists and veterinarians, in general, don't want them to feel any pain, so we try to aggressively manage that. Very few are going to exhibit pain. We want to make sure we're addressing that as best as we can.

How do you know if your cat is suffering during cancer treatment?

The signs of suffering would be appetite loss, and behavioral interaction with the cat's people will change. When cats don't eat, they don't feel very well. When they hide all of the time and do not interact with their people, they don't feel very well.

What are the biggest contributing factors to a cat getting cancer?

I would say early detection is critical. So twice-yearly veterinary exams, I think, are excellent. We're not going to prevent cancer, but we can detect it early and intervene early to have our best outcomes. Well-balanced nutrition and leaner bodyweight also are some things that we can do to prevent cancer. And just as with humans, avoid secondhand tobacco smoke in the house, pesticides, and herbicides outside, those sorts of things. Limit those exposures to things like that, as these things could potentially enhance the prospect of getting cancer.

How do you help prevent cancer in cats?

If you have a white cat with white ears or something like that, consider avoiding bright sunlight outside, those sorts of things, because they're more apt to have some skin cancers on their ears and things like that. So that might be a simple thing if you have a light-colored cat.

Are there any other environmental factors such as cleaners and chemicals that contribute to cat cancer?

With cat and dog cancer, repeated exposure to chemicals can come into play, so try to limit that the best that you can. Good air and water quality are essential. So if you're drinking filtered water, maybe you should do filtered water for your pets as well. Have your water tested, what's in it, and those sorts of things.

Can the vaccines I get for my cat cause cancer?

That's been a considerable debate for a long time. So basically, any genetically susceptible cat, and there is no test to know, and there's no specific breed, that gets anything that causes an inflammatory reaction in the cat's body under the skin can potentially develop a tumor at that site. So that can be anything from any vaccine to a cat bite. And so are the vaccines themselves causing it? No. No, and the vaccines that we recommend are all very safe. And when we recommend vaccines for cats and dogs, we're looking at lifestyle and if they need them and things like that. So are they causing it? No. Anything in that particular individual that causes an inflammatory reaction could lead to a tumor at that site years down the road.

Can good cat nutrition help prevent cancer?

Yes. Good, well-balanced cat nutrition and leaner bodyweight might decrease your cancer risk as your pet ages. But these things also affect other diseases, for instance, diabetes and urinary diseases.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

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