Cancer in Cats
Cancer is an abnormal growth of cells that grows in an uncontrolled way and may spread to other parts of the body. Cancer researchers estimate that one in three people, one in four dogs and one in five cats will develop cancer in their lifetimes. At one time, cancer was considered a fatal diagnosis, but today, due to advances in medicine, most cancers are treatable and, in some cases, curable.
Few diagnoses in the veterinary world bring more distress to a pet owner than cancer. While conditions such as kidney and heart disease are more difficult to treat and have a poorer chance of survival than some types of cancer, a cancer diagnosis of a furry family member results in serious concern.
A cancer diagnosis is always difficult to hear, but there is hope for treatment and possibly even a cure. The most important step is to get an early diagnosis and begin treatment. Semiannual visits to your veterinarian for a thorough exam are crucial to finding cancer early, especially with older pets.
To ensure your furry best friend is healthy and happy, schedule a wellness appointment with us today!
CANCER TREATMENT – SURGERY
Surgery has long been considered the first and best chance of a cure in many cancers. If certain cancers are found early enough, before they grow too large or have had a chance to spread to other parts of the body, surgery can eradicate them. Surgery also reduces pain, improves quality of life, and even prolongs life when a cure is not possible. Surgery is often combined with chemotherapy or radiation therapy to cure or slow cancer’s progress.
CANCER TREATMENT – RADIATION THERAPY
Radiation therapy for pets is not readily available in communities the size of Billings and smaller but can be used to treat many types of cancer and has resulted in dramatic improvements. The treatment uses energy similar to that used to make x-rays, but it is many times stronger and is focused solely on the tumor to spare neighboring cells. The radiation, or energy produced, kills the cancer cells.
Radiation therapy, like surgery, can be curative or can shrink the tumor to help alleviate pain and improve the quality of life. Radiation therapy is generally available at veterinary universities’ teaching hospitals and veterinary specialty hospitals in large metropolitan areas.
CANCER TREATMENT – CHEMOTHERAPY
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs that destroy cancer cells. There are many chemotherapy drugs and protocols available to veterinarians who provide these services. Some cancers in pets are only treated with chemotherapy, but it is commonly used in conjunction with surgery or radiation therapy to try to control the spread of cancer or kill cells that escaped surgery or radiation. The primary goal of chemotherapy is to slow or stop the progression of cancer without causing a decreased quality of life for the patient.
Most everyone is aware of the possible side effects of chemotherapy in humans – especially nausea and hair loss. Fortunately, dogs and cats generally tolerate chemotherapy much better than human patients. Most veterinary chemotherapy patients do not require hospitalization, and side effects can often be minimized or prevented to maintain the quality of life we want for our pets.
OTHER TREATMENTS FOR CANCER
Immunotherapy is a recent advance in cancer treatment. Vaccines have been developed for veterinary patients, not to prevent cancer but to assist in treatment. There is currently a vaccine for lymphoma patients in remission following chemotherapy and a vaccine for oral melanoma in dogs that can aide in a prolonged life while preserving the quality of life.
Adjunctive treatments include medications to alleviate specific symptoms of cancer, such as pain and nausea. Additionally, improved nutrition has shown to enhance the quality of life of veterinary cancer patients and has even extended pets’ life expectancy.
DIAGNOSING AND TREATING CANCER IN CATS
At the Animal Clinic of Billings, we know feline cancer is a devastating diagnosis. It is natural to feel sad. However, a cat cancer diagnosis is not always a tragic ending. Depending on how early it is identified, and the type of cancer involved, some options lead to positive outcomes.
Animal Clinic of Billings and Animal Surgery Clinic veterinarians and support staff are highly trained, empathetic, and understanding. They are aware that both the emotional and medical aspects of treating cats with cancer must be addressed. Our veterinarians are here to work with you to ensure you have a clear understanding of your cat’s illness and to help you decide what that is best for you and your cat.
HOW COMMON IS CANCER IN CATS?
Like humans, cancer in cats is one of the leading causes of death among older and senior felines. Although many of the specific causes of cancer in cats are still unknown, experts believe the feline leukemia virus is a contributor. Other factors possibly increasing the odds of cat cancer include environmental toxins and second-hand smoke.
It is essential you understand that depending on specific circumstances of your cat’s diagnosis, feline cancer may be treatable. Medical advancements provide additional treatment options for cats with cancer, but the best way to prevent cancer in cats is to give your cat a healthy lifestyle and adhere to a cancer preventive health care regimen. This includes scheduling regular wellness examinations with your veterinarian.
SPOTTING CAT CANCER SYMPTOMS
Fighting cancer in cats begins with identifying the symptoms of the disease while in the early stages. Spotting symptoms are tricky because cats are masters at hiding illness. Many forms of cat cancer are found externally and periodically inspecting your feline friend is key to identifying the symptoms.
Symptoms of cat cancer include:
- Any sore that does not heal
- Any lump that changes shape or size
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Change in bowel or bladder habits
- Unexplained bleeding or discharge from the body
- Difficulty urinating or defecating
- Loss of appetite
- Chronic weight loss
- Vomiting and/or Diarrhea
- Oral odor
- Difficulty breathing or coughing
If you spot any symptoms, please schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians immediately. We will perform the necessary diagnostic tests to determine whether cancer is present, and to at what stage. Cat cancer may be aggressive and requires immediate intervention. An early diagnosis increases the prognosis for recovery significantly.
TYPES OF CANCER IN CATS
There are various types of feline cancer. We have compiled a short list to serve as an introduction to some of the common types of feline cancer we see in cats. If you suspect your cat may potentially have cancer, please call us to schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians.
Ceruminous Adenomas are small tumors with a dark blue, brown or black appearance and are usually confined to a cats external ear canal.
Lymphosarcoma (LSA) is a common form of cancer among cats with feline leukemia virus infections. Lymphosarcoma (LSA) affects the intestines and other lymphatic tissues of a cat in its abdominal area. Symptoms of lymphosarcoma in cats include loss of appetite, diarrhea, weight loss, vomiting, bloody stool, and constipation. Lymphosarcoma is formally diagnosed in a cat through a series of medical procedures administered by your veterinarian.
Myeloproliferative tumors are genetic tumors and can be passed on to an affected cats offspring through reproduction. Myeloproliferative tumors affect a cats bone marrow and blood. Symptoms of myeloproliferative tumors in cats include labored breathing, weakness, pale mucous membranes, and loss of appetite.
Melanoma tumors in cats are basal cell tumors. Melanoma tumors are not all that common in cats but can still occur nevertheless. Melanoma tumors are usually found around a cats neck, ears, head, and shoulders. Melanoma tumors are, for the most part, benign and typically form as a solid lump or mass underneath the cats skin.
Squamous cell carcinomas
Squamous cell carcinomas affect areas of a cats body that are lacking in natural pigmentation. These can include the cats oral cavity, tonsils, eyelids, lips, nose, toes, external ear, limbs, and nails. Squamous cell carcinomas also can occur in areas under constant irritation, and a diagnosis is usually made by performing biopsies.
Mast cell tumors
Mast cell tumors appear on cats as ulcerated or pigmented skin nodules. Mast cell tumors can develop on any part of a cat’s body and need to be biopsied by a veterinarian to properly diagnose.
Osteosarcoma tumors affect a cats bones, joints, and lungs. The tumors lead to swelling, lameness, coughing, and breathing difficulties. Diagnostic tools include X-Rays and biopsies.
Fibrosarcomas tumors can develop in the fibrous tissues beneath a cat’s skin. The tumors can appear as solid and irregularly shaped masses, and a biopsy is the most effective and accurate way of obtaining a diagnosis.
CANCER TREATMENT FOR CATS
Proper diagnosis is the first key to cancer treatment for cats. At the Animal Clinic of Billings, we begin any diagnosis with a full physical exam. Our veterinarians routinely draw blood work and employ the use of diagnostic imaging such as x-rays or ultrasound whenever necessary. Needle aspirates is a type of biopsy where we insert a needle into a cats tumor to collect a sample of the cells inside the tumor is also commonly performed. This is a minimally invasive method of diagnosis which is effective and doesn’t cause any pain to your cat.
Some types of cat tumors may require performing a core biopsy to gain an accurate diagnosis. In some instances, further diagnostic testing (such as MRI and CT scans) are necessary for us in treating your cat’s cancer effectively.
Communication with you is vital throughout the cancer diagnosis and treatment process. It’s important to discuss all the possible cancer treatment options for your cat with your veterinarian and identify all the various possible outcomes. Our number one concern is that we do whatever is in the best interest of both your cat and you.
Our veterinarians will evaluate costs, what your expectations should be, possible lifestyle changes that may be needed, and any possible side effects of the cancer treatment to ensure you have as many details as possible to make an informed decision.
Treating cancer in cats can vary significantly and often is dependent on the location, severity, and stage of the cats cancer. Traditional cat cancer treatments may involve:
- Oral medication
- Intravenous chemotherapy
- Radiation therapy
- Surgical reduction or removal of the tumor
- Ancillary pain management
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SUSPECT YOUR CAT HAS CANCER
If you suspect your cat may have cancer, please contact us immediately to schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians. Our doctors and support staff are here to provide you with the most compassionate and comprehensive veterinary care and support services throughout the entire cancer process. Although cat cancer can be frightening and very painful for both you and your feline companion, our veterinarians are here to help ease your cat’s pain and suffering and, when able, eliminate cancer by providing the best veterinary care available in Billings.
The key to a cancer-free healthy pet, especially as pets get older, is early detection and prevention of disease and the Animal Clinic of Billings and Animal Surgery Clinic is here to help.
Please call to schedule an appointment or a senior wellness examination with one of our veterinarians today!
ANIMAL CLINIC OF BILLINGS AND ANIMAL SURGERY CLINIC
providing our region’s companion animals and their families what they need and deserve since 1981
1414 10th St. West, Billings MT 59102