Cancer is devastating. It can affect almost any part of the body and have dire consequences. Unfortunately, cancer does not only affect humans. Our pets can also develop this terrible disease—particularly cats, six million of which are diagnosed with cancer every year.
Cancer can remain a silent killer for a long time, even if you know what to look for. Because our cats can’t tell us when they feel under the weather or are experiencing health changes, owners must be diligent in looking for the signs and getting your kitty help as soon as possible.
Types of Feline Cancer
Cancer describes a disease that is caused by a large collection of cells that continuously divide and grow in the body. This creates tumors, or neoplasms. Malignant tumors take over surrounding tissues and can begin to spread to other areas of the body, causing wide-spread damage.
There are many types of cancer that can afflict your cat throughout its life. These cancers can be particularly aggressive, making early detection and treatment imperative.
Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects your cat’s white blood cells. It is believed to be caused by the feline leukemia virus (FeLV), an infectious disease that is not as common today because of high immunization rates.
Injection-site sarcoma (ISS) can develop after your cats receive immunizations or other types of injections, although this complication is quite rare. Immunizations are very important for protecting your cat from other serious diseases, but it’s important to keep a close eye on your cat after it gets injections to watch for this cancer.
Mammary cancer is also a common form of cancer in female cats. Fortunately, the risk of mammary cancer is significantly reduced when you have your cat spayed before it is six months old.
Bone cancer, brain tumors, and squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer) are other common forms.
In addition, there are other types of cancers, but the ones above are some of the most commonly discovered.
What Causes Cancer in Cats?
There is not always a single, pinpointed cause of cancer in cats. However, research has indicated that certain risk factors throughout your cat’s life can increase its chances of developing cancer.
Things like tobacco smoke, asbestos, too much sunlight and a sedentary lifestyle have been identified as risk factors for feline cancer. Not spaying female cats increases their risk of developing mammary tumors.
Genetics may also play a factor in your cat’s susceptibility to cancer. Unlike dogs, though, specific cat breeds are not believed to be at higher risks of cancer than others.
Identifying & Diagnosing Feline Cancer
One of the only ways to catch cancer early and extend your cat’s lifespan is to routinely check for signs of illness. Cats are notorious for hiding symptoms of illness, so it can be very difficult to note when your cat has something wrong.
Some of the signs of feline cancer are physical, such as lumps and bumps on the skin. Others may not be physical, instead showing themselves through your cat’s behavior.
As you brush your cat, feel under its fur for any lumps or bumps present on or underneath the skin. If the bump wasn’t there before, or it appears to be growing, it’s time to make an appointment with the vet to get it checked out.
Finding a lump doesn’t necessarily mean your cat has malignant cancer. Many bumps are benign. However, they are still worth being looked at and potentially removed if they are causing discomfort for your cat.
Other signs of cancer are very similar to other illnesses, which is why cancer can be difficult to identify right away. Look for changes in your cat, including:
- Severe weight loss or weight gain
- Sores that won’t heal
- Little to no appetite
- Lameness or stiffness in the legs
- Bad breath
- Persistent coughing
- Problems using the litter box
- Bleeding or discharge
How To Start Treating Your Cat's Cancer
If you notice any of the above mentioned signs or drastic changes in your cat’s behavior, book an appointment with your veterinarian. Document all symptoms you’ve noticed and be prepared to share those with the vet.
Your vet will likely run a number of tests to rule out different ailments and determine the exact type of cancer your cat has. Treatments your vet may suggest can include surgery to remove tumors, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
A cancer diagnosis does not necessarily mean your cat will die from its disease. However, cat cancers can be very aggressive. The earlier your cat’s cancer is identified, diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis will be.
Veterinary science innovations and research have also made it possible to treat cancers that had previously been untouchable.
As your pet is receiving treatment and recovering from cancer, sheltering it from disease, bolstering its immune system and ensuring it’s getting all the vitamins and nutrients it needs is extremely important. With time and care, it’s quite possible your cat will recover and go on to live many more years.