One in five cats ends up diagnosed with cancer, often in his geriatric years. Moreover, cancer in cats is three to four times more likely to be malignant as cancer in dogs. That could mean the tumor can metastasize (spread) to other tissues and ravage the body more aggressively.
The good news: treatments have improved, and if caught early, the therapies that can get ahead of cancer and stop cells from multiplying abnormally and invading other tissues have a reasonably good chance of restoring a cat’s quality of life and his chance to live to a ripe old age.
That’s where you come in. It’s important to recognize the warning signs so you can get your cat diagnosed and treated as soon as possible, either with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, or a combination of approaches. The signs may be different depending on the location of the tumor, and we want to note, too, that no sign is a cancer diagnosis on its own. There are many reasons for untoward symptoms that have nothing to do with cancer. But if you notice any of the following about your cat, you should consider cancer as a possibility and seek a professional diagnosis.
Lumps, swelling, persistent skin sores or infections, scaly or red skin patches, bleeding or wounds with no apparent cause and that do not seem to be healing. One of the most common sites for feline cancer is the skin, and any of these signs may signify that a cancerous tumor has taken hold. Don’t assume such changes are simply pesky dermatological conditions.
Ongoing vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite. Cancer in cats frequently occurs in the gastrointestinal tract — the stomach, intestines, or mouth. While a variety of GI issues are responsible for these symptoms, cancer is one that should be ruled out — or in.
Lack of energy, weight loss. These are certainly vague and non-specific symptoms. But in some cases, they signal various types of cancer, including cancer of the white blood cells that won’t be visible in the skin or a cat’s elimination habits.
Breathing changes. Some cancers cause fluid or inflammation in or around the lungs. You don’t need us to tell you that if your pet is having trouble breathing, you should take him to the doctor. But don’t be shocked if he is diagnosed with cancer rather than a disease of the lungs or heart.
Abnormal discharge from any part of the body, bad breath, sudden lameness, difficulty urinating or defecating. Again, there are many possible reasons for such changes. But cancer may be one of them, even though none of these “sounds” like a tumor.
A cat with white ears and head is particularly susceptible to skin cancer, says the ASPCA. Keeping a cat indoors and free from repeated sun exposure will help protect him.