Cancer in cats: symptoms, types and treatment (2023)

Judged for accuracy by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM on August 26, 2019

Early veterinary intervention in cancer cases is crucial. While early diagnosis doesn't always lead to a good prognosis, early diagnosis can help you and your vet maintain your cat's best quality of life for as long as possible.

Knowing the different types of cancer in cats and learning to recognize the symptoms is an important part of being a proactive pet parent.

Below is an overview of the most common cancers in cats.

Lymphoma: the most common cancer in cats

Lymphoma is by far the most common cancer in cats, although there are other cancers in cats that can also affect domestic cats.

lymphomaIt usually occurs in older cats, mostly in the small intestine, he saysDr Teresa Arteaga, DVM, DACVIUM (Oncology), Owner Monterey Animal Cancer Center, CA.

Symptoms of Feline Lymphoma

According to Dr. Arteaga, these are the symptoms of feline lymphoma:

  • weight loss (main symptom)

  • Vomit

  • anorexia (not eating)

  • diarrhea

risk factors

Possible factors that contribute to a cat's chance of developing lymphoma include:

  • positivefeline leukemia virus(FeLV) efeline immunodeficiency virus(FIV)

  • exposure to secondhand smoke

  • eating pattern

  • genetics (Siamese catmany people)

deal with it

It's usually a very aggressive cancer, but it can be treated with chemotherapy, he says.Dr Joshua Rachovitz, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology), Chief Medical Officer, BluePearl Veterinary Hospital, Queens, New York. "About 60-80% of cats are in remission.

This has been observed in cases following the gold standard of chemotherapy - the longest and most expensive regimen. But many cats do not go into remission during and for many years after chemotherapy and still have a very good quality of life.

soft tissue sarcoma

The term "soft tissue sarcomas" encompasses a broad class of tumors that arise in the connective, muscle, or nervous tissue of cats.

Soft tissue sarcomas include:

  • fibrosarcoom

  • Leiomiossarcoom

  • liposarcoom

  • schwannoom(formerly known as neurofibrosarcoma, schwannoma, hemangiopericytoma)

  • Rhabdomyosarcoom

  • vaccine-associated sarcoma

  • undifferentiated sarcoma

Most commonly, these tumors appear on the pet's chest, back, sides, legs, and facial tissue.

Symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma in cats

The symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma depend on the location in the cat, but the main symptoms are:

  • quality you can feel

  • slap

  • Vomit

  • difficulty urinating

deal with it

The doctor. Lachowicz explained that soft tissue sarcomas "may be less aggressive and develop over weeks to months. Treatment with surgery and radiotherapy is very successful if metastasis does not occur."

squamous cell carcinoma

squamous cell carcinomaIt is a locally invasive malignant neoplasm. They can occur in different areas, but are most commonly found in the mouth, said Dr. Lachowicz.

These tumors grow very quickly, so early detection is essential.

"Unless caught and removed early, it can be difficult to treat, so veterinary oral hygiene is very important," explains Dr. Lachowicz, who recommends taking your cat for a veterinary checkup every six months when he's 8 to 10 years old. .

Symptoms of feline squamous cell carcinoma

According to Dr. Lachowicz, squamous cell carcinoma symptoms can include:

  • difficulty eating

  • unwell

  • bad breath

  • lose weight

  • excessive drooling or drooling

  • swelling of the upper or lower jaw

  • bloodied mouth

deal with it

Once the tumor has been confirmed as squamous cell carcinoma by biopsy, there are several treatment options. In the early stages, the tumor can be removed with surgery or radiation therapy.

In more advanced stages, treatment options become very limited. Radiation therapy is the main option, but there is no guarantee that it will successfully control the tumor.

breast cancer

breast cancer in catsIt represents the third most common type of feline cancer and the most commonly diagnosed feline cancer in cats over 10 years old.

Cats have two "chains" or rows of mammary glands, with four on each chain. They're about as long as a cat's abdomen, meaning the tumors can grow anywhere from the armpit to the groin, said Dr. Lachowicz.

These tumors can originate in the breast but can spread to the lymph nodes, adrenal glands, lungs, liver pleura and kidneys.

Symptoms of breast cancer in cats

Breast cancer symptoms include:

  • One or more palpable lumps under the skin of the stomach

  • The affected area will feel warm to the touch or may hurt in some cases

risk factors

"Cats neutered after one year of age are at greater risk of developing these tumors," said Dr. Lachowicz.

Siamese cats are also twice as likely to develop this cancer as other breeds, but the reason for this is unclear.

deal with it

Treatment for breast tumors will depend on whether the tumor has spread. If the tumor has spread to other parts of the body, treatment mainly consists of chemotherapy.

If the tumor is caught early and the tumor is still confined to the breast, a mastectomy (removal of one or both breast cords and underlying tissue) may be performed.

General symptoms of cat cancer

Symptoms vary by patient and type of cancer and can occur at different rates in cats.

"They can be gradual and develop over weeks to months, or more intense and more rapid. Veterinarians should assess any new or ongoing changes accordingly," says Dr. Lachowicz.

Watch for GI symptoms, too: "Watch the litter box contents, changes in stool consistency, color and odor, and urine output," says Dr. Arteaga.

Remember that these symptoms do not necessarily indicate cancer. Only your vet can make a correct diagnosis.

Diagnosing cancer in cats

Veterinarians rely on many of the same diagnostic tools as human medicine, including blood tests, radiography, ultrasound, MRI, cat CT scans, and pet scans.

"Cells can be obtained by aspirating a mass or tumor with a needle — or in the case of leukemia, evaluating whole blood — and analyzed by cytology, which is a microscopic analysis of cells," said Dr. Lachowicz.

Aspiration can be done on nodules at the skin level, under the skin (under the skin), or on internal organs, provided the nodule can be easily reached with a long needle. Often these suctions are performed by a trained veterinarian using an abdominal ultrasound to avoid internal injury.

Alternatively, or in addition to cytology, a tissue sample can be obtained surgically for histopathology (biopsy)," said Dr. Lachowicz.

A biopsy usually requires sedation and a larger sample of tissue for evaluation.

General treatment of feline cancer

Cats often lag dogs when it comes to new cancer treatment options. Still, "with what we have available, we have a good selection and, depending on the cancer, it's well tolerated," said Dr. Lachowicz.

For example, some forms of aggressive feline cancer can be cured with surgery, with or without radiation therapy. Other diseases, such as lymphoma, can be successfully treated with chemotherapy, he said.

“Cats tend to do well after extensive treatment. If it is surgery, they recover well from the surgery. With radiation, in most cases, cats have much milder side effects. With chemotherapy, they have mild side effects — 90 percent of time, they have little or no side effects, and when they do, they are mild to moderate less than 10 percent of the time," said Dr. Lachowicz.

Cat cancer management

"Our focus in veterinary oncology has always been quality of life, not whether we can extend the life of the animal, which is the number one priority. So we're very aware of that," said Dr. Lachowicz.

When you think about it, it's a big challenge to dose cats at home. "There are a number of chronic diseases that require long-term oral medications, which can be challenging. A lot of time has gone into making this happen, from flavorful compounded drugs to more concentrated doses so that less is used," says Dr. said Arteaga.

It's important to find a veterinary oncology team that is comfortable with cats, she said. Great food and [give] owners realistic goals. "

Reducing the risk of cancer in cats

It is imperative to adopt practices that help reduce the risk of feline cancer, such as proper nutrition, exercise, low stress and avoiding secondhand smoke, said Dr. Arteaga. In addition, "be careful if the cat is older with annual veterinary appointments and semi-annual examinations, as the disease is often detected earlier."

Always play it safe and work with your vet on any new symptoms. Early intervention is often key to effectively treating cancer in cats and improving their quality of life.

Paula Fitzsimmons

Featured Image: undefined


What type of cat cancer can be cured? ›

Some forms of malignant feline cancer, for example, can be cured with surgery—with or without the use of radiation therapy. Others, such as lymphoma, can be successfully treated with chemotherapy, he says.

What are my options when my cat has cancer? ›

Treatment options for cancer in cats

There are three main forms of therapy for cancer: Surgery. Chemotherapy (drugs) Radiation therapy.

What are the most common types of cancer in cats? ›

Top 5 Cancers in Cats
  • Lymphoma is a cancer of a type of blood cell (lymphocytes) and lymphoid tissues. ...
  • Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). ...
  • Mammary (breast) Cancer. ...
  • Skin Cancer (squamous cell carcinoma). ...
  • Fibrosarcoma.

How do I know if my cat with cancer is suffering? ›

Restlessness, difficulty in getting comfortable. He may seem withdrawn or tense. Purring is not a sign that your cat is free from pain – even badly hurt cats may purr. An improvement in demeanour with painkillers (only ever give painkillers prescribed by a vet)

What is the most aggressive cancer in cats? ›

Feline oral squamous cell carcinoma is an extremely aggressive and invasive form of cancer that is often caught late in the stage of disease. These tumors decrease a cat's ability to be able to eat, drink, and groom him/herself normally.

How long can a cat last with cancer? ›

Even with chemotherapy, survival time will typically be on the order of six months or so, although some cats may survive for a year or more.”

Is chemotherapy for cats worth it? ›

Chemotherapy can help to extend your pet's life following a cancer diagnosis, or in some cases even achieve remission. However, this needs to be balanced with other factors such as your cat's temperament, plus your own financial considerations.

Are cats with cancer in pain? ›

With many forms of cancer (and some cancer treatments), your pet may unfortunately experience pain. Pain caused by cancer may significantly reduce your cat's quality of life, which is why your vet may take a proactive approach to managing pain if your cat is diagnosed with stomach cancer.

How much does cat cancer treatment cost? ›

The average cost of chemo for dogs and cats can range from $150 to $500 per dose. Radiation, if necessary, can cost $1,000 to $1,800 for a palliative protocol, and $4,500 to $6,000 for curative intent protocol.

Does cancer spread quickly in cats? ›

Malignant tumours: usually grow quite quickly. invade surrounding tissues and cause damage. spread to other areas of the body through the bloodstream or the lymph system.

What are the 7 warning signs of bone cancer? ›

Common symptoms
  • Pain. You might have pain or tenderness most of the time, even when you're resting. ...
  • Swelling. You might have some swelling, but it is not always possible to see or feel a lump.
  • Problems moving around. ...
  • Feeling tired (fatigue) ...
  • A high temperature (fever) ...
  • A weakened bone. ...
  • Weight loss.

Will blood work show cancer in cats? ›

Although cancer is not always readily detectable in routine lab work, there are some potential red flags. The complete blood count– The complete blood count can provide valuable details with regards to the overall health of the patient and potential recommendations for further investigation.

What is end of life care for cats with cancer? ›

Palliative care can include traditional medications such as pain relief, steroids, and fluids, or alternative modalities such as acupuncture, Reiki, homeopathy, and herbal therapy. Education about the specific cancer your cat is facing is critical.

Do cats know when they are terminally ill? ›

Cats do seem to be aware of death, but it is hard to know how much they understand the concept and whether they fully understand the finality of their own passing. They certainly understand when they are feeling ill or that something is different or wrong.

How long can a cat live with cancer on steroids? ›

Steroids have anti-cancer effects and can help your cat feel better for some period of time. Typically, the survival time for cats with lymphoma receiving prednisone alone is 1-3 months.

What age is cancer most common in cats? ›

Once a cat reaches the age of 10, there is a 50% likelihood that they will be affected by some form of cancer. This rate seems alarming, but it is attributed to our cats living much longer lives than their ancestors decades ago.
Cancer in Cats and Its Symptoms
  • Lymphoma.
  • Mammary cancer.
  • Skin cancer.
  • Leukemia.
Sep 27, 2018

When should I euthanize my cat with cancer? ›

If your pet has rapid weight loss, is weak, starts to eat less, has vomiting or diarrhea, then it may be time to euthanize.

Do cats with cancer sleep more? ›

Lethargy. As you might probably know, a general lack of energy is often a sign that there is something up with your pet. Cats with cancer are usually less playful, sleep more and are less willing to exercise or go out.

Do cats with cancer smell bad? ›

When your cat is sick with cancer, you might notice that she has an unpleasant smell. Sick cats can have unusual odors in any of several body parts, including their nose, mouth, skin, or anal regions. Cats don't usually enjoy being bathed, but when they're ill, the smell won't wash off.

What if I can't afford chemo for my cat? ›

Paws 4 A Cure is a United States based all-volunteer 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance throughout the United States to those who cannot afford veterinary care for their beloved furry family members. Paws 4 A Cure helps dogs and cats with all illnesses and injuries.

What is the success rate of chemotherapy in cats? ›

The most common treatment for lymphoma is chemotherapy, with 50% to 70% of treated cats going into remission.

What is the chemo pill for cats? ›

Chlorambucil is used in cats to treat lymphocytic leukemia, lymphocytic plasmacytic enteritis, Pemphigus, inflammatory bowel disease, and feline eosinophillic granuloma complex. Chlorambucil is considered more appropriate than Azathioprine for use in cats.

Can you tell if a cat is suffering? ›

Poor mood and temperament; increased irritability. Vocalisation e.g. frequent unpleasant or urgent sounding meowing, groaning, hissing, growling. When in pain, your cat may actively or passively avoid being handled by either moving away from people or behaving aggressively when approached or touched.

What is the best wet food for cats with cancer? ›

While there are no specific diets for cancer patients, there are several therapeutic diet formulations, including some canned kitten foods, with nutrient profiles that are close to the cancer-specific recommendations. One such diet is Hill's® Prescription Diet® a/d®.

Do steroids help cats with cancer? ›

The “gold standard” for treating high-grade gastrointestinal lymphoma in cats is a multi-agent chemotherapy approach. This involves the use of prednisone (a steroid that has anti-tumor activity), along with four other chemotherapy drugs.

Can I get pet insurance if my cat has cancer? ›

If your pet already has cancer, you won't find a policy that will cover it since it's a pre-existing condition. Pet insurance may cover the costs of future ailments that aren't related to the cancer treatment, but it won't cover any costs related to the cancer including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Should I take my cat to an oncologist? ›

If your pet has been diagnosed with a type of cancer or your primary care veterinarian is highly suspicious of cancer, it is always a good idea to consult with a veterinary oncologist.

How can I help my cat with cancer naturally? ›

We recommend whole foods – fresh vegetables, low fat meats, and fruits, etc. Fresh vegetables and fruits that contain high levels of antioxidants and omega-3-fatty acids can help your pet naturally fight the cancer. Just as in human oncology, highly processed foods (such as kibble) are not recommended.

How old do house cats live? ›

Indoor cats generally live from 12-18 years of age. Many may live to be in their early 20s. The oldest reported cat, Creme Puff lived to be an amazing 38 years old. Outdoor cats generally live shorter lives due to being more likely to be involved in traumas such as motor vehicle accidents or dog attacks.

What is the most painful cancer? ›

Bone cancer is one of the most painful cancers. Factors that drive bone cancer pain evolve and change with disease progression, according to Patrick Mantyh, PhD, symposium speaker and professor of pharmacology, University of Arizona.

Can blood test detect bone cancer? ›

Blood tests are not needed to diagnose bone cancer, but they may be helpful once a diagnosis is made. For example, high levels of chemicals in the blood such as alkaline phosphatase and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) can suggest that the cancer may be more advanced.

What bone does cancer spread to first? ›

The spine is the most common site for bone metastases. Other common sites are the hip bone (pelvis), upper leg bone (femur), upper arm bone (humerus), ribs, and the skull.

Can a vet diagnose cancer without biopsy? ›

Usually it is not possible for the vet to tell whether an animal has cancer just by looking. Blood tests to screen for cancer are still in their infancy. Further tests, such as blood samples and x-rays, are often needed. Ultrasound or MRI scanning may be suggested.

What does vet do when cat dies? ›

Your vet can arrange for your cat to be cremated, or you may wish to take them to the pet crematorium yourself. Your cat can be part of a communal cremation after which their ashes will be scattered with others in the garden of rest.

What are the signs of end of life for cats? ›

In the final stages of unmedicated death, a cat's breathing may continue to falter, and cats may appear to be gasping for breath. Their body temperature will begin to fall, and their extremities may feel cooler to the touch. Cats are typically unable to rise and will typically show no interest in eating or drinking.

How do you know if your cat is crying for help? ›

Signs Of Obvious Distress

Cats are typically very stoic animals, so if your cat suddenly seems to be in distress, it is a cause for concern. Howling, crying, hiding, and otherwise acting in a way that is out of character for your pet should alert you that something may be seriously wrong.

Do cats know we love them? ›

All in all, even the most aloof and brooding cat will be able to pick up on your warmth and devotion. Whether they choose to admit it or not, they can sense when a person loves them (and hates them). So always make sure you're emitting good, kitty-positive vibes, and your cat will be sure to indulge in the lovefest.

Do cats feel pain when euthanized? ›

The procedure involves a lethal injection of a barbiturate anesthetic (sodium pentobarbitol), which, according to the AVMA, has the ability to induce loss of consciousness and death without causing the pet any pain, distress, anxiety or apprehension.

Can prednisone help a cat with cancer? ›

Prednisolone can be used in any sick pet from cancer. Low doses can be used to reduce the inflammation associated with cancer and make sick pets feel clinically better within one to two days.

Does cancer in cats spread fast? ›

Malignant tumours: usually grow quite quickly. invade surrounding tissues and cause damage. spread to other areas of the body through the bloodstream or the lymph system.

How much does cancer treatment cost for cats? ›

The average cost of cancer treatment is $4,100 for dogs and $3,800 for cats, according to claims data from Pets Best from 2017 to 2021. Pet insurance can be a good way to help offset medical expenses if your pet develops cancer.

Can lymphoma in cats be cured? ›

With treatment, approximately 70% of cats with low-grade lymphoma will go into remission. Lymphoma is never truly cured, but remission is a term used to describe the temporary resolution of all signs of lymphoma.

When is the right time to euthanize a cat with cancer? ›

If your pet has rapid weight loss, is weak, starts to eat less, has vomiting or diarrhea, then it may be time to euthanize.

How do you know when a cat is near end of life? ›

When they are approaching the end of life, they lose the energy to groom and begin to look messy and unkempt. They will also develop a detectable unpleasant odour due to toxins building up as their organs stop properly working. The smell gets worse over time since they don't have a way to eliminate the toxins.

What to do if your cat has cancer and you can t afford treatment? ›

If you can't afford to pay for your pet's treatment, talk to your vet or oncologist about discounts or payment plans for expensive procedures. For example, my vet allows monthly installments for treatments over $500. Another option is to apply for a specific type of credit and pay the bill off over time.

How long can a cat live on prednisone? ›

Prednisone, as discussed above, has some anti-tumor activity, but is mostly used to make your pet feel better. A median survival time of 1-2 months is associated with prednisone use alone for high grade lymphoma.

What can be mistaken for lymphoma? ›

Conditions that non-Hodgkin Lymphoma is commonly misdiagnosed as include:
  • Influenza.
  • Hodgkin's lymphoma.
  • Cat scratch fever.
  • HIV.
  • Infections.
  • Mononucleosis.

What are the signs of end stage lymphoma in cats? ›

Progressive lack of appetite, lethargy and weight loss are among the most common. Depending on which organs are affected, other signs such as chronic diarrhea, vomiting and difficulty in breathing may occur.


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