Common questions around cat cancer

Cat at the Vets

It might not be as common in cats as it is in dogs but cancer still affects too many of our feline friends. Unfortunately, given cats ability to mask illness, it can go undetected for long periods of time, which can make treatment trickier. Here we answer some of the common questions associated with the disease.

Which cancers are common in cats?

Even though there’s a vaccine for feline leukemia, vets still see a number of cats that have been exposed to leukemia, greatly increasing the cat’s chances of developing feline lymphoma.

Oral squamous carcinoma, similar to the strain people get, is common as is a tumour called fibrosarcoma, which is cancer that develops in muscle or the connective tissue of the body. Lung, brain, nasal and liver tumours are less common than those previously mentioned, as are mammary tumours, due to the increasing number of people who get their cats spayed.

How can you spot the symptoms?

Externally, lumps and bumps are a telltale sign that something is amiss with your cat. Vomiting and diarrhoea are common signs of gastrointestinal lymphoma, while difficulty breathing can also be a sign of disease, because some cancers cause fluid in the lungs.

If you notice a refusal to eat and weight loss, a rough coat or your pet is lethargic for a while, take them to your vet and get them checked out.

Is it difficult to tell what type of cancer a cat has contracted?

Sometimes it’s unclear what’s wrong with your fury friend but taking a sample for biopsy will usually inform a vet what you are dealing with. Where the source of the complaint is less than clear, additional testing may be required to determine the type of cancer. This course of action might be expensive but necessary for a firm prognosis to be given.

Are some breeds more susceptible to cancers than others?

Unlike their canine counterparts, no particular breed of cat is more prone to cancer than another. That is with the exception of white varieties of certain cat breeds that are more prone to squamous cell carcinoma, usually on their ears and face.

What treatments are available?

Surgery is the common treatment for a feline with a lump or bump that needs removing. Chemotherapy is mainly used to manage lymphomas, but it’s also called upon when an aggressive tumour has spread to lymph nodes or other organs.

Vets will utilise radiation therapy in situations where they can’t remove a tumour by other means, for example where it affects the brain and or nasal passage.

What are a cat’s chances of surviving cancer?

Like a person who contracts cancer, survival rates hinge on the tumour type, how quickly it is found and how it is treated. Typically though, taking into account all types of cancer, the survival rate is probably less than 50%.

What can I do to prevent my cat from getting cancer?

Spaying your pet will drastically reduce her chance of getting mammary cancer and vaccination is a pathway to reducing the risk of other forms of the disease, but ultimately it’s difficult to prevent something when vets don’t know what causes it.

Advances in treatment are constantly being researched and developed. Hopefully in the near future cancer in cats will be beaten.

For more information on cancer in cats and vaccinating, please visit www.rspca.org.uk

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