Although cancer in cats is sometimes seen, the disease is not nearly as common in cats as it is in dogs. However, spotting symptoms of cancer in cats can be difficult because they hide their illnesses very well, and because when cancer is found in cats, it’s usually much more aggressive than what’s seen in dogs.
Lymphoma is one of the most common cancers to be found in cats, as is oral squamous carcinoma, the same type of cancer that people get. Soft tissue sarcoma, also called fibrosarcoma, is when a tumor begins to develop in the connective muscle tissue of the body.
Lung cancer, brain cancer, nasal cancer, and liver cancer are other types of cancer that can be seen in cats, although these are far less common. Mammary cancer, which is like breast cancer in humans but with some vast differences, was once quite common in female cats but the rate has lowered drastically over the past several years due to the amount of people getting their female cats spayed.
Causes of Cancer in Cats
The cause of cancer, whether it’s in people, cats, or dogs, is unknown, which can make treatment more difficult. While there are certain triggers, such as the feline leukemia virus, which is known to be the biggest cause of feline cancer, with so many different types of cancers, it’s most often difficult to narrow down one specific cause of the disease.
Old age is thought to be one cause of cancer in cats, even if simply because people are taking the best care of their pets today and cats are living longer. Even within this diagnosis however, the incidence of cancer in older cats is much more random than it is in older dogs.
Just like there are environmental factors, such as tobacco smoke that can cause cancer in humans, the same can be said for cats, with second-hand smoke also being a big cause of feline cancer. Certain oral cancers have also been seen among cats that groomed themselves excessively, but it’s still unknown as to whether the cancer developed because toxins were ingested during that grooming.
Genetics may also play a part in certain feline cancers but there’s not a lot known here either. Certain breeds that are white in color are known to be more prone to developing the type of cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma, which most often appears on their ears and face. However, the specific hereditary factors that cause cancer are not yet known.
Treatment for Feline Cancer
A diagnosis of cancer can be one of the scariest things for a cat owner to face. However, it doesn’t always mean that you’re going to tragically lose your pet.
Feline cancers are much more aggressive than canine cancers, so it’s important to watch for symptoms and try to get treatment for your cat as soon as possible. If a diagnosis of cancer is given to your cat, you should ask your vet to refer you to a veterinary oncologist for further diagnosis and treatment. These are specialists in their field, will know about all the advancements in feline cancer treatments, and will be best equipped to help your cat.
If a lump or bump has been found, a biopsy will be taken of it to test for cancerous cells. If the tests come back positive for cancer, treatment will be recommended immediately. In the case of lumps and bumps, the most common treatment is surgery, so that the entire lump can be removed. After surgery, the cat may also have to receive chemotherapy and radiation treatments to ensure that all of the cancer cells have been destroyed. Radiation treatments will also be the first alternative when the tumor cannot be removed for certain reasons. Chemotherapy is especially effective in treating tumors that are very aggressive or that have spread to the lymph nodes and other organs.
Treating a cat with cancer can become quite costly, and that’s a very important factor any cat owner will have to consider should they ever hear the diagnosis. The diagnostic testing that will be done to initially determine that it is cancer will cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 and if surgery is required after that it can cost anywhere from $800 to $2,000 to have it done. Chemotherapy will end up costing $2,000 to $3,000; and radiation sits very high in the price range, costing $5,000 to $6,000.
When treatment is too costly, and in cases when it’s just not practical, you and your vet should discuss pain management programs and other treatment options that will keep your cat comfortable. While these won’t treat the actual cancer, they will greatly improve your cat’s quality of life.
Preventing Cancer in Cats
Because feline cancer can be so difficult to spot, diagnose, and treat, and because there is no cure, preventing cancer from ever developing at all is essential. The biggest step in preventing cancer is to have cats spayed or neutered. Removing the mammary glands won’t guarantee that mammary tumors won’t develop, but it does greatly reduce the chances of them.
Vaccinations also play an important role in preventing feline cancer. Because lymphoma is known to be caused by the feline leukemia virus, having your cat vaccinated against this disease will also decrease the chances of your cat developing this type of cancer. You should also always make sure your cat has never been exposed to feline leukemia.
Just as in people, limiting their exposure to environmental causes such as tobacco smoke and toxins can also be great steps in preventing cancer in your cat.
Cancer in cats can be very scary. Because cats can hide this disease so well, and because it can metastasize, or spread to other areas of the body so quickly it’s important that cat owners keep an eye out for symptoms and take their cat to the vet at the first signs of sickness. With early detection and proper treatment, there’s still a good chance that your cat will move on to live a long and happy life, even after a cancer diagnosis.
Kate Elliott has been a freelance content writer for the past 8 years, and has written creatively her entire life. In addition to her online work, she has written a fiction novel, as well as had poetry published in the “Songs of the Heart” collection. A lover of animals since she was young, she’s also always had a dog by her side. Currently her best friend is a 13-year-old German Shepherd named Chewy.