Veterinarian Reviewed on July 24, 2014 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Cat Cancer (Feline Cancer)
Signs and Symptoms
It’s a cat owner’s worst nightmare to find out that your beloved pet is sick, especially when the illness is as serious as cancer. This disease can be devastating and is one of the major causes of death in older cats. The best defense when dealing with cat cancer is to catch the disease as early as possible, before it completely takes over your pet’s body. Since early detection is so vital, it’s important for pet owners to know what symptoms to look for so that a veterinarian can be alerted at the first sign of trouble.
The symptoms and warning signs associated with cat cancer vary according to the type of cancer present. For example, oral cancer may cause excessive drooling, trouble with eating and swallowing, and bleeding from the mouth. On the other hand, labored breathing may be a sign of lung cancer while stiffness and difficulty with movement can be symptoms of bone cancer. Since there are so many different types of cancer, each with its own set of typical symptoms, it can be overwhelming to try to become familiar with all possible warning signs of cancer. Yet, it’s still possible to get a general idea of what to watch out for, as there are some common signs and symptoms of feline cancer that may be present with several different forms of this disease.
Many cats that develop cancer suffer from weight loss and loss of appetite. You may also notice that a cat with this disease has difficulty eating. Lethargy and a loss of interest in exercise and daily activities often accompany a case of cancer as well. Stiffness and lameness are also common symptoms of this disease, as are an offensive odor and unexplained bleeding from any body opening. Other signs to watch out for include vomiting and diarrhea, or difficulty with urinating or defecating. Sores that do not heal can also be symptomatic of feline cancer. In addition, lumps or swelling can be indicative of this disease, especially when firm or warm to the touch. Finally, other common symptoms to look out for include swelling of the lymph nodes and abdominal distention.
If your cat is displaying any of the above symptoms, be sure to contact your veterinarian immediately. The earlier feline cancer is detected, the better chance your beloved pet has to overcome this disease and to continue living a happy and healthy life.
As mentioned previously, early detection of feline cancer is vital. Furthermore, a definitive and specific diagnosis is required in order to implement a proper and effective treatment plan for your pet. Thus, a veterinarian will need to confirm the presence of cancer, the type of cancer (such as Cat Mammary Cancer), and the stage of the disease.
When checking for the presence of cancer in a cat, there are a number of steps and diagnostic methods that a veterinarian will employ. To begin with, the veterinary doctor will ask you, the pet owner, about the symptoms and behaviors that your cat has been exhibiting at home. Then the practitioner will conduct a physical exam, checking for clinical signs that may indicate the presence of cancer. Next, one or more diagnostic methods may be used, including blood tests, imaging techniques such as x-rays and CT scans, and biopsies. These techniques help the veterinarian to make a specific and definitive diagnosis.
Blood tests can be helpful when trying to diagnose feline cancer as they may provide clues as to what is wrong with a feline patient. Elevated or decreased levels of certain components of the blood may suggest that an illness or disease is present in the cat’s system. Furthermore, blood tests allow a veterinarian to check the levels of different substances which may tend to be particularly high or low when a certain type of cancer is affecting a feline’s body. Imaging techniques may be used instead of or in conjunction with blood tests in order to make a diagnosis of cat cancer. X-rays and CT scans provide internal pictures of the feline patient’s body, allowing a veterinarian to examine bones, tissue, and organs. These techniques can reveal abnormalities such as unusual masses and growths or suspicious structural alterations that can help to pinpoint the location and type of cancer present.
Perhaps the most specific and concrete diagnostic tool employed in cases of suspected feline cancer is the biopsy. This method involves extracting a sample of tissue or cells for examination. This can either be done by inserting a thin needle into a suspicious mass and extracting a sample, or through surgery. The tissue is then inspected under a microscope or by way of chemical analysis. This technique is useful both for confirming the presence of cancer and for identifying the particular type of disease present. Since both of these steps are vital, it’s very likely that your veterinarian will want to perform a biopsy, possibly in conjunction with other diagnostic methods, if it is suspected that your cat is suffering from feline cancer.
Finding out that your cat has cancer is terribly upsetting. It can also be very overwhelming and confusing. The time of diagnosis and treatment of this disease is also often very stressful, both for the patient and the pet owner. Having some general knowledge of cancer and its pathophysiology may help you to understand what’s going on and to allow you to assist your beloved pet through this difficult time.
Cancer basically involves the unregulated growth of cells that occurs when the immune system fails to function properly. It can be associated with a specific area or structure, such as the bones, skin, or organs like the stomach and liver, or it can occur in general areas such as the abdominal cavity or chest cavity. This unregulated growth is caused by damage to DNA which gives rise to mutations in the genes that hold the codes for proteins that regulate cell growth. Normally, when cells are damaged they are eliminated by the immune system through a process known as apoptosis, a form of programmed cell death. However, cancerous cells avoid this process and are able to grow and replicate in an uncontrolled manner.
When this type of abnormal and unregulated growth occurs, a mass referred to as a tumor will develop. A tumor can either be benign or malignant, and these designations depend upon the behavior of the mass. Benign tumors are usually harmless and are made up of cells that are quite similar to healthy cells. They tend to grow in a slow and predictable manner, and do not spread throughout the body. This not only causes less harm to the body, it also makes these tumors easier to remove. Malignant tumors, on the other hand, can be extremely dangerous. These tumors are often very aggressive, growing very rapidly and spreading to other parts of the body. Generally, a biopsy will be required in order to determine whether a tumor is benign or malignant, as a mass’s outward appearance does not indicate its classification. When a tumor is malignant, it interferes with the proper function of the patient’s system, causing numerous serious problems.
There is not one single cause that leads to cancer. Rather, a variety of factors may be involved in any particular case, including both genetic and environmental influences. Genetic influences include defects that can either be hereditary or acquired during embryogenesis. Generally, these defects involve a mutation which may either activate a cancer-causing gene or suppress a gene that would otherwise regulate the growth and replication of cancerous cells. In addition, certain breeds or felines with particular characteristics are more prone to developing some types of cancer. For instance, cats with a chronic disease like Feline Leukemia Virus are more likely to develop lymphomas and some other cancers. Also, cats with white on their nose and ears tend to be more susceptible to squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. Furthermore, carcinogens such as toxic chemicals, radiation, and viruses, also play a role in causing cancer. Since so many different factors and influences can give rise to cancer, identifying one specific cause in an individual case will often be impossible.
If your cat is unfortunately diagnosed with cancer, it’s important for proper treatment to be initiated immediately. The type of treatment required for your pet will depend upon the type of cancer present as well as your pet’s individual circumstances. However, some of the common treatment methods for feline cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, Cat Radiation Therapy, cryotherapy, and immunotherapy. In some cases, certain methods may remove the cancer completely, while in other cases the disease will only be slowed down.
Surgery involves the removal of a cancerous mass, and often a wide area around the mass as well. This is to ensure that all the cancer is removed. This method also prevents a mass from crushing surrounding cells or blocking pathways. For example, a tumor in the esophagus may be blocking the passageway, preventing food from entering the cat’s stomach. Sometimes surgery will not be appropriate, either because the animal is too weak to withstand the procedure or because the tumor is in a location that is difficult to reach. In such cases, radiation may be used. Radiation involves the use of x-rays to kill the cancerous cells and can be targeted to very specific areas in order to minimize the negative effects on surrounding tissues. Another treatment method is chemotherapy, which involves the use of toxic chemicals to kill cancerous cells. This method is often employed when the cancer is widespread. Yet another method, cryotherapy, is used in cases of small skin cancers and involves killing the cancer cells by freezing them with liquid nitrogen.
Immunotherapy or boosting the immune system is also another method that may be used to treat feline cancer, especially in conjunction with other treatment methods. Having a better immune system will not only help your pet to fight the cancer, it will also make your cat stronger so he or she can withstand other treatment methods more easily. Homeopathic remedies and supplements can be very effective with regards to boosting your cat’s immune system. These products contain natural ingredients with properties that will help to strengthen your pet and increase its comfort. Homeopathic remedies may include ingredients such as burdock and slippery elm, which help to remove toxins from the blood and body, provide nutrients, reduce inflammation, and soothe pain. In addition, such products often contain vitamins and minerals that your pet needs for a strong and healthy immune system. As a result, homeopathic remedies can be very beneficial for a cat suffering from cancer, as they will help to boost the immune system, providing a stronger defense against both the disease and other treatment methods.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan