How to Tell if Your Cat has Cancer

Sick Cat in Purple Collar

Cancer is just as common in our pets as it is in us humans. In fact, cancer is the number one killer of cats as well as dogs.

As it is in humans, early detection of this disease is the key to treating and curing your cat’s cancer. That is why it is of the utmost importance for cat owners to recognize the symptoms of cancer.

Although, this disease cannot always be purely indicated through symptoms, learning how to tell if your cat has cancer can be the difference between life and death.

Sick Cat at the Vet's Office

What is Cancer?

Cancer is the uncontrollable growth of irregular cells that invade surrounding tissues.

Cancer can be found anywhere in the body and is identified by a lump known as a tumor. A tumor can either be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Common Cat Cancers

It may surprise you to know that cancer is not as common in cats as it is in dogs. However, when a feline does develop this disease, it is very aggressive and spreads quickly.

Common cancers found in felines throughout the United States include: Lymphoma, Squamous carcinoma, as well as, mammary, liver, nasal, brain and lung cancer.  

Lymphoma: a cancerous tumor or group of tumors of the lymphoid tissue. The lymphoid tissue is the portion of the body’s immune system that aids in the protection against viruses and bacteria.

Squamous carcinoma: cancer of the skin.

Mammary Cancer: cancer of the mammary glands found within the breasts.

Cat Cuddling with Blankets Green Eyes

Feline Cancer Symptoms

Detecting cancer in felines is tricky due to the fact that cats hide illness so well. However, some symptoms cat owners may notice include the following:

  • Lumps and bumps
  • Weight loss
  • Polydipsia (increased thirst)
  • Polyuria (increased urine output)
  • Poor appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in stool
  • Slow healing sores
  • Difficulty breathing

Lumps and bumps can be felt, or seen in the case of skin cancer, such as Lymphoma, mammary and nasal cancer.

Vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stool, poor appetite and weight loss are most commonly seen in Lymphoma cancer in the intestine and liver cancer.

Difficulty breathing is commonly seen in lung cancer as excess fluid accumulates in the chest cavity.

Increased thirst and increased urine output are often seen in liver cancer.

Sickly Calico Cat on Potty Sheet

What You Can Do

The very best way to tell if your cat has cancer is by staying in close contact with your veterinarian. The veterinary staff keeps detailed records on everything from your cat’s weight to her past health conditions.

If anything changes drastically from one visit to the next, your veterinarian will be the first to know and inform you.

You know your cat better than anyone, so if you notice any change in behavior, eating habits, bathroom habits, breathing, skin sores or lumps on the skin, talk to your veterinarian.

Tuxedo Cat in Elizabethean Collar

How Cat Cancer is Diagnosed

You can only be sure if you cat has cancer through a biopsy. A biopsy is the process of taking a section of a tumor and looking at its cellular structure under a microscope.

The pathologist will be able to determine whether the tumor is of cancer potential, the type of cancer and stage.

Determining these elements of the tumor will aid in the veterinarians plan for treatment.

How Feline Cancer is Treated

Feline cancer can be treated in the same way we treat human cancer. Most veterinarians recommend surgery to remove the tumor if possible, as this is the most cost effective form of treatment for most pet owners.

However, in the case where a tumor cannot be surgically removed, such as a brain tumor, Chemotherapy is the next option. Radiation therapy is also commonly used for aggressive forms of cancer and in partnership with Chemotherapy.

White Cat Face Up Close Eyes Closed

Learning how to tell if your cat has cancer could be the difference between life and death, as early detection is the key to effectively treating this disease.

Rest assured, most forms of feline cancer are treatable and many cats live full lives after treatment.

However, due to the cost of treatment, the age of the cat or stage of cancer, some pet owners decide that euthanasia (putting the animal to sleep) is the best option.

In many instances, this option is considered highly humane as detecting cancer in cats can be tricky.

Bonus: To learn more about potentially harmful diseases to your cat, read our articles on FIV and FELv.

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