Diagnosing and Treating Cancer in Cats
At La Jolla Veterinary Hospital, we understand that feline cancer is a devastating diagnosis. It is natural to feel highly emotional. However, a cat cancer diagnosis is not necessarily a hopeless one. Depending upon how early it is identified and the type of cancer involved, there are certainly options that can lead to very positive outcomes.
Our veterinarians and support staff are well trained, highly empathetic, and understanding of the fact that it is necessary to focus on both the emotional and medical aspects of treating cats with cancer. We are here to work with you to make sure you have a good understanding of your cat's illness and to help you make decisions that will be best for you and your cat.
How Common Is Cancer in Cats?
Similar to human beings, cancer in cats is a leading cause of death among older felines. Although the specific causes of cancer in cats are currently unknown, many experts consider the feline leukemia virus to be a contributor. Other factors that might increase cat cancer include toxins from the environment, second-hand smoke, and environmental toxins.
It is important for you to understand that depending on the specific circumstances of your cat's condition, feline cancer may be treatable. Medical advancements have provided us with more treatment options for cats with cancer. However, the best way to prevent cancer in cats is to emphasize a healthy lifestyle and adhere to a preventive health care regimen. This includes scheduling regular wellness checkups with your veterinarian.
Spotting Cat Cancer Symptoms
First and foremost, fighting cancer in cats begins with spotting symptoms of the disease while it is still in the early stages. However, this can be tricky because cats are very good at hiding illness. Many forms of cat cancer can have external signs. Therefore, periodically inspecting your feline friend is key to spotting cancer symptoms. Some of the more common cat cancer symptoms include:
- Any lump that changes shape or size
- Any sore that does not heal
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Difficulty urinating or defecating
- Unexplained bleeding or discharge from the body
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Chronic weight loss
- Difficulty breathing or coughing
- Oral odor
Should you spot any symptoms, we urge you to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian immediately. Only then can they perform the necessary diagnostic tests to determine whether or not cancer is present, and to what extent. Cat cancer can be aggressive and requires immediate intervention. If cancer is diagnosed early, the prognosis for recovery increases significantly.
Types of Feline Cancer
There are various types of feline cancer. We have compiled a short list here, meant only to serve as an introduction to some of the more common types of feline cancer. If you suspect your cat may have cancer, please schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians.
- Ceruminous Adenomas are small tumors that are dark blue, brown or black, and are usually confined to the external ear canal.
- Lymphoma- lymphosarcoma (LSA) is common among cats with feline leukemia virus infections. It affects the intestines and other lymphatic tissues in the abdominal area. Symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stool, and constipation. LSA can only be formally diagnosed through medical procedures your veterinarian can administer.
- Myeloproliferative tumors are genetic and can be passed on through reproduction. They affect bone marrow and blood. Symptoms include weakness, labored breathing, pale mucous membranes, and a loss of appetite.
- Melanoma tumors are basal cell tumors. They are not very common in cats but can occur nonetheless. They usually are found around the cat's neck, head, ears, and shoulders. They are mostly benign and form as solid lumps underneath the skin.
- Squamous cell carcinomas affect areas lacking natural pigmentation, such as the oral cavity, tonsils, lips, nose, eyelids, external ear, limbs, toes, and nails. They can also occur in areas under constant irritation or trauma. Diagnosis takes place by performing biopsies.
- Mast cell tumors appear as skin nodules that are ulcerated or pigmented. They can be located anywhere on a cat's body and must be biopsied to diagnose.
- Osteosarcoma tumors affect the bones, joints, and lungs. These tumors can lead to swelling, lameness, coughing, and breathing difficulties. Diagnostic tools include X-Rays and biopsies.
- Fibrosarcomas tumors occur in the fibrous tissue just beneath a cat's skin. They can appear as solid, irregular masses underneath the skin. A biopsy is the most accurate diagnostic tool.
Lumps underneath the skin do not always indicate cancerous tumors in cats. The symptoms described above may also occur without the presence of cancer. Therefore, if your cat is exhibiting any of these symptoms, we recommend making a veterinary appointment immediately and avoiding the temptation to make your own diagnosis. Only your veterinarian can accurately diagnose cat cancer or other potentially dangerous illness or condition that might be developing in your feline friend.
Cancer Treatment for Cats
The first key to cancer treatment for cats is a proper diagnosis. At La Jolla Veterinary Hospital, we begin with a full physical exam. We commonly look at blood work and, when necessary, employ the use of diagnostic imaging such as radiography or ultrasound. We also perform needle aspirates, which is a form of biopsy in which a needle is inserted into the tumor to collect cells for use in determining tumor type. This is a non-painful and minimally invasive method used for diagnosis. Some tumor types require a core biopsy for diagnosis. In certain cases, cancer specialists may be employed for further diagnostic testing (such as MRI and CT scans) and as part of our team in treating your cat's cancer.
Communication with you is important throughout the process of diagnosis and treatment. This includes discussing all possible cancer treatment options for your cat, and the various possible outcomes. Our number one concern is the best interest of your cat. We also evaluate the costs involved, your expectations, possible lifestyle changes, and any possible side effects of treatment to ensure that you are able to make informed decisions.
Treating cancer in cats varies greatly depending on the location and stage of the disease. Traditional cat cancer treatments may involve:
- Oral medication
- Intravenous chemotherapy
- Radiation therapy
- Surgical reduction or removal of the tumor
- Ancillary pain management
Complementary treatments may include immunotherapy or nutritional therapy.
Fortunately, for all the unknowns when dealing with cat cancer, we do know more about cancer in cats now than we ever have before, and because of this, you now have more options than ever when pursuing cat cancer treatment.
If you suspect cat cancer - whether you find a lump or notice behavioral changes - please contact us immediately to schedule an appointment. Our veterinarians and veterinary support staff will provide you and your feline friend with compassionate, comprehensive care and support services. Although cat cancer can be frightening and painful, we are here to help ease your cat's pain and suffering and eliminate cancer by providing the best veterinary care available.