Cats and dogs are susceptible to developing cancer the same as humans are. In fact, approximately 50% of elderly dogs and cats will develop cancer, according to Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM (Oncology), of the Veterinary Cancer Center located in Norwalk, Connecticut. She is also the co-author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. Ettinger says, “Cancer is a disease of age so, as in people, the older we get, the greater the chance that we’ll have cancer. One of the problems is that our pets are living longer so we’re seeing more cancer.” Although this is the typical scenario, cats can actually develop a form of cancer at any age, no matter it they are young, middle-aged, or older cats.
Here are the most important things to know about cancer in cats:
1. Types of cancer cats commonly acquire
There are certain types of cancer that cats are more prone to getting, according to Dr. Ettinger. You’ll most commonly see cats with these types of cancer: mammary cancer (cancer of the breast), skin cancer (lumps and bumps on their skin), and lymphoma (typically found in the intestines), in cats. Although these are the most commonly found in cats, there are so many different forms of the disease that it is possible for a cat to develop any number of the types of cancer out there, including the most rare ones.
2. Vomiting is a sign of cancer in cats, and should not be ignored
Vomiting is not a normal thing for cats and should be taken seriously. If you start to notice your cat is vomiting often, you need to have them checked by their vet. If you aren’t sure how often they are vomiting, mark each time you see it happen, on a calendar and keep track. It may help you to see the regularity of the vomiting and realize he needs a doctors’ visit.
3. Different types of cancers produce different types of symptoms
Not all cancer is the same, so not all types of cancer will produce the same symptoms. Depending on the type of cancer, your cat may have symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, loss of appetite, or signs. Your cat might seem tired all the time and sleeping more. He may not show an interest in his toys or playtime. If you see regular signs that he is unwell, or changes in behavior that seem to last, you need to have him checked by his vet.
4. Catching the cancer early is key
Just like any other type of illness, catching the cancer early is the best scenario for better survival rates. Your feline’s doctor will have better treatment options and can begin them right away. To help prevent a late diagnosis, one way you can help be proactive is to give your cat checks at home. Rubbing your cat all over his body on a regular basis, checking for any lump that is larger than a pea is a start. Check your cat’s mammary glands on the tummy, and feel all around the armpits and hind leg area. Anything that feels out of the ordinary should be followed up by a veterinarian’s exam.
5. Some cancers are highly treatable
The “C” word should not always bring a sense of panic. Although it can sound frightening, there are actually a number of cancers that are very treatable and can be removed in a surgery. Some skin cancers can be completely removed, especially if these are caught early enough. There are even some types of internal cancers that can be treated, but this depends on the type and the length of time your cat has had it.
6. Cat cancer is treated much like human cancer
The same type of treatment applies to cats as it does with people when it comes to cancer. The typical treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Your doctor will determine what type of treatment is best for the type of cancer your cat has. Sometimes a combination of treatments is required.
7. Chemo doesn’t necessarily mean your cat will be sick
There is always a dreaded fear of being sick when you hear about chemotherapy. According to Dr. Ettinger, cats actually have less side effects from chemo than dogs, and even people. Cats have the least problems with chemo and are more tolerant to the treatment than any other species, which should put your mind at ease some.
8. There are certain tests available to reveal cancer issues
If your veterinarian suspects cancer, there are tests he can run to help reveal the issue. Ultrasounds are good for looking at your cat’s abdomen, blood work tells a lot, and a good, overall physical exam can help your cat’s doctor diagnose your cat’s illness.
10. Cats can go on to live healthy lives, even after cancer
Of course there are many variables, but depending on the type of cancer, how quickly it was caught and treatment started, your cat may be able to go on and live many years after a cancer diagnosis. Not all cancers have great outcomes, and unfortunately, some cat owners do have to hear the words, “it’s only going to be a couple of months,” or something to that effect. But the hope is always that if a cat has to have cancer, it is one that is highly treatable and curable so that they can go on to live another year, two, three, or more.
If you have questions or concerns about your cat and the risks of cancer for him, it’s always a good idea to talk to your veterinarian to get all the answers you want and need so that you can help both prevent and catch the signs of cancer. Diet and nutrition are always a good place to start when it comes to giving your cat the best start in life, and healthy life all through the years. Find out other ways you can help keep them happy and lower their risks for the different types of cancer in your cat, but if your cat should ever be diagnosed with the illness, no matter what steps you’ve taken, know that there is hope and there are treatments for many of the types of cat cancers.