Spotting Types of Cancer in Cats
Like humans with every passing year our cats are increasingly likely to suffer from diseases of old age, including cancer.
We’re still not sure about the exact cause of cancer in cats but many veterinary scientists now think the feline leukaemia virus is a major contributor, although factors such as environmental toxins including second-hand smoke seem to have a part to play.
Certainly, a healthy lifestyle, diet and regular wellness check-ups with your vet can help to prevent cancer in cats but a cancer diagnosis need not be a death sentence if symptoms are spotted early.
Common Symptoms of Cancer in Cats
Warning Signals That Your Pet May Be in Pain and What to Do
The obvious signs that she may be in pain are the easiest to react to, but cats are marvellous actors and sometimes they give away little sign that even simple things are becoming too difficult for them.
For example, if your cat visibly reacts when you pick her up – either visibly or vocally – you can be pretty sure that there’s some sort of pain. If you can’t see a physical injury, it could be painful joints or overly sensitive skin, any or all of which can result from cancer in cats.
The signs may be there if you look.
Is she grooming herself properly like she always does? It might be that the usual cat contortions required to smooth down fur and clean out irritants are simply too uncomfortable to achieve. Look to see if she’s lying in an unusual way, to avoid a particular part of her body or avoid flexing a joint. Is she holding herself in a different way?
Is her breathing laboured or too fast? Is she lethargic and lacking energy? Is she purring more? Strangely, cats may purr more if they’re experiencing pain. Cats in pain can also often eat or drink less.
Be aware that cats in pain are more likely to bite or scratch, especially if you touch the afflicted area. If she has been a sweetie up to now and has suddenly started being nippy or aggressive, it may be a sign she’s hurting.
Always call your vet if you have the slightest suspicion your cat is in pain.
Feline Cancer Life Expectancy
“How long will my pet live?” is the question every cat guardian needs to know. The answer is not a straightforward one. It very much depends on the type of cancer and when it was first diagnosed.
Taking the second part of that first, early diagnosis is vital to ensure a happy outcome. In almost all cases, catching cancer in cats at the very earliest opportunity means that it can be identified, treated simply and the possibility of spread reduced as much as possible. Look for the signs outlined above and consult a vet whenever you see something troubling. Sometimes, it may be just a feeling – picking up on the tiny imperceptible changes in your cat’s attitude and behaviour – but it’s always better to err on the side of caution. Early diagnosis means easier treatments which is better for her … and for you.
The first part of the answer is the difficulty and is often not fair. Many cancers such as skin cancers are usually benign and may be treated with a simple biopsy, even brain cancers. For others sadly, like mouth cancer, the prognosis is poor, even after treatment. Because it is usually picked up rather late, the disease is likely to have spread. Without surgery, life expectancy is usually just a few months, but even surgery may only make her life a little more comfortable by allowing her to eat or have a feeding tube placed.
Serious cancers such as lymphoma have usually spread to other organs by the time they are picked up. Untreated, the average survival time from diagnosis is about two months. Aggressive therapy may prolong this, in some cases for 12 months or more.
The decision to treat or not to treat is not easy and you should be guided by your vet, and your heart.
Cancer’s progression is rarely linear; it can speed up or slow down as it spreads, lengthening or shortening life expectancy. And while the possibility of treatment holds out hope for you it may not be the best for her. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment can be a prolonged, physically painful and emotionally stressful, and she cannot understand what she is being subjected to. Sometimes the best thing to do is to let go and opt for cat euthanasia.
While you may be able to prolong her life, the quality may be less than she deserves.