Any cat owner knows that felines make wonderful companions and really become true members of the family. As a pet parent, you surely hope to share your life with your cat for a long time. Unfortunately, health issues like cancer can take our pets’ lives far too soon.
Although cancer is found in lower rates in cats than dogs, it’s still prevalent and can cause our cats’ nine lives to be cut short. If you’re worried your cat may be displaying signs of cancer, don’t wait until it’s too late—visit a vet right away.
How Common is Cancer in Cats?
Dave Ruslander, a veterinary oncologist and past president of the Veterinary Cancer Society, discussed feline cancers and the latest treatments for cats diagnosed with the disease, saying, “Cancer in cats is less common than cancer in dogs. It’s probably half the rate that we see in dogs. But when we see cancer in cats, it tends to be a more aggressive form. [Determining cancer in] cats is tricky because they hide disease well. Externally we can see lumps and bumps. Vomiting and diarrhea are common signs of gastrointestinal lymphoma. Difficulty in breathing can be a sign, because some cancers can cause fluid in the lungs.”
What is FeLV?
FeLV, or feline leukemia virus, is not itself cancer, but can lead to certain forms of cancer in cats like lymphoma. Some cats will be exposed to FeLV and successfully fight it off, never showing symptoms or developing the disease. But these seemingly healthy cats can, in some cases, still transmit the virus to other cats as carriers.
FeLV is spread from one cat to another through saliva, blood, and, to a lesser extent, through urine and feces. Cats who stay indoors are at a far lower risk of exposure to FeLV than cats who roam outdoors. In outdoor cats, mutual grooming or fighting are the likely ways FeLV will be spread between cats.
There is a test that can identify FeLV antigens in the blood of cats, so if you’re considering bringing a new cat into your healthy household, it’s worth checking that the cat is not a carrier of FeLV. Kittens are also able to get FeLV from their mother in utero or through the mother’s milk.
Symptoms of Cancer in Cats
Along with FeLV, the common cancers that affect cats are lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and mast cell tumors. If you identify any potential symptoms of cancer in your cat, it’s best to see the vet right away to put your mind at ease and, if cancer is detected, give your furry friend the best chance at recovery.
Weight Loss or Decrease in Appetite
Weight loss is the number one cat cancer symptom, often the sign of a gastrointestinal tumor. Cats, like other animals, are motivated by food, and when they’re denying that delicious catnip or wet food, you should know something is up. Keep an eye on any changes in their weight or appetite so that you can report your concerns to the vet.
Sudden weight gain or excessive bloating are two more potential signs of cancer in your cat. A definite red flag is when your cat is eating less but seemingly gaining more weight. Again, be sure to stay knowledgeable of your cat’s normal eating habits, and visit your vet right away if you notice any alarming changes.
If your cat could clear the room with the smell of his breath, and a pet-friendly mint or breath stick doesn’t seem to be working, it may be a sign of a serious health issue. Other potential cancerous oral symptoms include a change in gum color, sores, lumps, bleeding, and visible tumors. Make sure to watch for these symptoms in elderly cats in particular—because cats are such private creatures, these types of visible symptoms often go unnoticed for too long.
Yellowing of the whites of the eyes and yellowing around or in your cats’ mouth should also be noted. Gingivitis or general oral illness symptoms, such as pale, sore, or bleeding gums, are also worth checking out.
Lumps and Bumps
Every lump, bump, or skin change should be inspected by a veterinarian. It may be benign, but it could always be cancerous—there’s simply no way to tell without a medical professional. The earlier it is detected, the better chance your cat has of beating the cancer.
If you notice a lump under your cat’s skin or anything that didn’t seem to be there before, it’s best to have a vet take a look. Lymphoma, for example, is one of the more common cancers in cats and will cause an enlargement of the lymph nodes.
A sore that’s open for extended periods of time has a much greater chance of getting infected and developing cancer. Many pet owners will disregard small scratches when they are actually signs of skin cancer. Consult your veterinarian if you notice sores that don’t seem to be healing developing on your cat.
Litter Box Trouble
If your cat is having trouble going to the bathroom, it can be a symptom of illness. Sudden refusal to use the litter box or failure to make it there on time as well as frequent or infrequent bowel or bladder movements, diarrhea, and other bathroom habit changes aren’t always signs of cancer specifically, but if it is persistent or consistently worsens, you may need to talk with your veterinarian about a cancer checkup. These changes could be a sign of a tumor developing in the GI tract.
Unexplained Bleeding or Discharge
Any unexplained bleeding or discharge from your cat is a cause for concern. Facial tumors often cause unexplained bleeding or discharge from the eyes and ears, while blood in the urine or stool should also alert you to the possibility that something is wrong. Your veterinarian should inspect any discharge that doesn’t seem natural.
Failure to Thrive
You know your cat best, so you’re in the best position to notice subtle changes in his well-being. Some other symptoms of cancer in cats can be best described generally as a failure to thrive. If your cat is not eating well but still gaining weight or if your cat is losing weight despite eating, these are symptoms worth paying attention to. A reluctance to eat or drink at all is certainly your cat trying to tell you something!
Poor coat condition is another telling sign, so pay attention to changes in your cat’s coat or grooming. Additionally, lethargy or frequent tiredness or weakness, as well as lameness in any part of the body, should also be taken seriously and addressed with your vet.
The Next Steps
If one or some of these possibly life-threatening symptoms of cancer or other illness appear in your pet, contact your veterinarian right away to schedule an examination. The cause of the issue may end up being something much less severe than cancer; but in many cases, your vet is the only one who can diagnose your cat correctly. Remember that your cat has a better chance of beating any cancer occurrence if it’s caught early—so keep an eye out for any of the signs we mentioned.
Keeping Your Cat in Good Health
There are a few things any pet owner can do to help their feline friend live a happy, healthy life. To begin with, get your cat spayed to help prevent mammary cancer. Be sure to keep your cat inside to prevent his exposure to fighting with other cats. If your cat loves the outdoors, find a way to let your cat spend supervised, safe time in nature.
Make sure to get your beloved cat vaccinated for FeLV, and get any new cats tested for FeLV before you bring them into your house. It’s also essential to see your veterinarian regularly for checkups. After all, the vet is trained to notice things that you may not.
Feed your cat a healthy diet, and ask your vet if you have questions about weight maintenance, food for an older cat or a kitten, or wet versus dry food. While you’re at it, ask your veterinarian about introducing a supplement to your cat’s diet to provide some additional support.
Support Your Cat’s Health With Wapiti
At Wapiti Labs, we care about your pet—and we know you do, too! We draw upon the incredible, beneficial powers of natural ingredients like Elk Velvet Antler to create supplements that promote your cat’s health. If you have any questions about which supplement is right for your furry friend, give us a call. We’re happy to steer you in the right direction!