Coping with cat cancer | Daily News

Coping with cat cancer

Cancer is a class of diseases in which cells grow uncontrollably, invade surrounding tissue and may spread to other areas of the body. Like people, cats can get various kinds of cancer. The disease can be localized (confined to one area, like a tumor) or generalized (spread throughout the body).

Causes of cancer

Cancer is a “multifactorial” disease, which means it has no known single cause. However, we do know that both hereditary and environmental factors can lead to the development of cancer in cats. Squamous cell carcinoma of the ear, eyelid or nose is a skin cancer caused by repeated exposure to the sun. White, or light colored, cats are more susceptible to squamous cell carcinoma.

Lymphosarcoma or lymphoma (LSA) is one of the most common type of cancer in cats. Some reports estimate that 30 per cent of all reported cat cancers are due to LSA. Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is linked to most forms of LSA except for the gastrointestinal (GI) form. FeLV is a transmittable retrovirus that can be passed in utero as well as through saliva and direct contact. Primarily a disease in younger cats, the virus doesn’t always manifest symptoms, so it is important to have your cat tested regularly to prevent transmission and progression. There is a vaccine available for FeLV that your veterinarian can discuss with you based on your cat’s lifestyle and risk of exposure to FeLV.

The GI form of LSA (the most common form) can cause a large mass in the stomach or intestine or diffuse infiltration throughout the intestinal tract. It is important to take your cat to your veterinarian if any evidence of disease is noted. LSA is not curable, however, most cats respond well to treatment.

Cancer symptoms

Symptoms of cancer in cats may include:

Lumps (which are not always malignant, but are always worth having a veterinarian examine), swelling, persistent sores or skin infections, abnormal discharge from any part of the body, bad breath, listlessness, lethargy or other marked change in behavior, weight loss, sudden lameness, diarrhea or vomiting, scaly and/or red skin patches, decreased or loss of appetite, difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating, change in behavior etc.

Diagnosing cancer in cats

If a lump is present, the first step is typically a needle biopsy, which removes a very small tissue sample for microscopic examination of cells. Alternately, surgery may be performed to remove all or part of the lump for diagnosis by a pathologist. In Sri Lanka there are facilities to perform the identification of cancer cells and the qualified veterinarian can help you to obtain a needle biopsy sample. Radiographs, ultrasound, blood evaluation and other diagnostic tests which can be done by most of the animal clinics in Sri Lanka may also be helpful in determining if cancer is present or if it has spread.

Cats more prone to cancer

Though cancer can be diagnosed in cats of all ages and breeds, it is much more common in older cats. Certain breeds are prone to specific cancers, but cats with white ears and heads are particularly susceptible to skin cancer. Always discuss with your veterinarian for management alternatives if your cat falls into specific high risk categories.

Cancer prevention

Keeping your cat indoors will protect her from certain skin cancers caused by repeated sun exposure and sunburn. Breast cancer is a common cancer for cats, but it can be avoided by having your cat spayed before her first heat cycle.

Cancer treatments

Treatment options vary and depend on the type and stage of cancer. Common treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy or a combination of therapies. Success of treatment depends on the form and extent of the cancer and the aggressiveness of the therapy. Of course, early detection is best for best results. Regardless of how you proceed after a diagnosis of cancer in your pet, it is very important to consider his quality of life when making future decisions.

Some cancers can be cured, and almost all patients can receive at least some benefit from treatment. Please note that if your cat’s cancer is not curable, there are still many things you can do to make your pet feel better. Don’t hesitate to talk to your vet about your options. And remember good nutrition and loving care can greatly enhance your cat’s quality of life.

When to consult your Vet

Contact your veterinarian immediately if your cat shows any of the clinical signs mentioned on the list above. Should your cat receive a diagnosis of cancer, you may wish to consult a veterinary oncologist, often employed by specialty veterinary practices and teaching hospitals.

Taking care of a cat with cancer

Of course the veterinarian can go for different options of treating the cat with cancer but still lot more to do by you to make the animal comfortable. Remember most of the cancers are end up with a persistent skin wound. It is very important to clean the wound daily and minimize contamination of the wound. Restrict the movements of the cat to a limited area by keeping it in a room. Feed the animal with food that it likes to take. In case of inability of self feeding you have to feed the animal with a syringe or a spoon. In this case it is a must to get expert advice from the veterinarian about the consistency of feed, quality of the feed and frequency of the feeding. Provide warm comfortable bed to sleep as feline love sleeping and resting. Cleaning and grooming is necessary to maintain the cleanliness of the pet and convey your love to pet. Try to share your life with your pet cat as much as possible for the feeling of love and care thought the cancer is incurable. Adjust your and your family members’ life style to ensure calm and peaceful environment for your pet cat to live the rest of the life comfortably. It is better to control your feeling to understand the situation by discussing with an expert veterinarian. You also can get idea about the best that you can do by searching and reading internet and manage each stage of your cancer companion until it rests in peace.

The writer is a Veterinary Surgeon and holds B.V.Sc; M.Sc Poultry 
Science; Master of Public Administration and Management


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