cancer

Chemotherapy for Cats

Feebee cat in blue chair

Last updated May 2022

While cancer in cats is not as common as it in dogs, it is still one of the leading causes of death in older cats. And because cats are masters at masking illness, it is often harder to detect.

Cancer used to be a death sentence for cats, but advances in feline cancer research have made treatment possible in many cases. Just like with human cancers, early detection is key to successful treatment.

Treatment options for cats are almost as varied as treatment options for human cancers, and will depend on the type of cancer. Surgery is the most common treatment for any lumps or growths that need to be removed. In some cases, surgery can be curative. Other cancers may require chemotherapy or radiation.Continue Reading

Cats and Cancer

Feebee

While cancer in cats is not as common as it in dogs, it is still one of the leading causes of death in older cats.  According to the Animal Cancer Foundation, 6 million cats will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States along. And because cats are masters at masking illness, it is often harder to detect.  Cancer used to be a death sentence for cats, but recent advances in feline cancer research have made treatment possible in many cases.  Just like with human cancers, early detection is key to successfully treating feline cancers.

Common cancers in cats

One of the most common forms of cancer in cats is lymphoma. Other frequently seen cancers are oral squamous carcinomas, similar to what people get.   Fibrosarcomas, or soft tissue sarcomas, are tumors developing in muscle or in the connective tissue of the body.  These are generally associated with injections and vaccinations.  Other forms of cancer are less common, but they do occur in cats:  lung tumors, brain tumors, nasal tumors, liver tumors.  There are fewer incidences of mammary tumors (yes, cats can get breast cancer, too) since more cats are spayed and spaying is one of the best ways to prevent this particular cancer.

Symptoms of feline cancer

People and cats both show similar symptoms when it comes to cancer:

  • Lumps, especially lumps that seem to be getting bigger
  • Sores that don’t heal
  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • Unexplained bleeding or a strange discharge from any body opening
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Breathing problems
  • Lameness or stiffness that persists over a period of time
  • Bad odor
  • Having trouble eating or swallowing food

If you notice your cat showing any of these symptoms, take him to your veterinarian for a thorough examination.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis will vary, depending on the presenting symptoms.  An exam will most likely include a complete blood chemistry, blood count, and urinalysis.  Your veterinarian may take x-rays, perform an ultrasound, and take tissue biopsies.  Depending on where the biopsies are taken from, this may require sedation, or full anesthesia.  Biopsies will be reviewed by a veterinary pathologist to determine the type of cancer.

Treatment

Treatment options for cats are almost as varied as treatment options for human cancers, and will depend on the type of cancer.  Surgery is the most common treatment for any lumps or growths that need to be removed.  In some cases, surgery can be curative.  Other cancers may require chemotherapy or radiation.  Cats tend to tolerate chemotherapy much better than people, and can have good quality of life for many months and sometimes even years following treatment.  Radiation therapy may be used for tumors that can’t be removed.  This is a more stressful therapy for cats, since it will require sedation or anesthesia for each treatment.

Causes

There isn’t as much research into the causes of feline cancer as there is on the human side, but I don’t think it’s much of a leap to assume that some of the same environmental toxins that cause cancer in humans also cause cancers in our cats.  There have been some studies looking at secondhand smoke and feline cancers.  Vaccinations and other injections have been proven to be responsible for fibrosarcomas, and these findings have led to changing vaccine protocols for cats.

Prevention

While some cancers are caused by genetic mutations, there are still things cat owners can do to lessen the likelihood that their cats get the disease.

A wholesome, species-appropriate, meat-based diet is one of the most important foundations for preventing cancer, or any other health problems in cats.  A balanced grain-free raw meat or canned diet provides the best nutrition for your cat.  As obligate carnivores, cats do not need carbohydrates in their diet.  In fact, commercial dry cat foods have been linked to many of the degenerative diseases we’re seeing in cats such as diabetes, kidney failure, and inflammatory bowel disease.  The latter is often a precursor for intestinal lymphoma.  The one best thing you can do for your cat’s health is to eliminate all dry food from his diet.

Environmental toxins and stressors are also linked to cancer in humans, and probably cause cancers in cats.  Avoid exposure to commercial cleaning products and use natural products instead.  Make sure your cat always has pure (bottled or distilled) water available.  Most municipal water systems are contaminated with anything from heavy metals to chlorine.  Don’t use chemical flea and tick products on your pets, use natural alternatives instead.  Minimize vaccinations, and if your cat already has cancer, do not vaccinate the cat at all.

Cancer is a devastating disease, but early detection, combined with ever increasing treatment options, makes it possible for cats to continue to live with good quality of life.

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In memory of Sophia: cat owner runs half marathon to benefit cancer research

Feline nutrition: who bears the responsibility?

Photo is of Feebee, my first cat.  I lost him to lymphoma two days before his sixteenth birthday.

 

In memory of Sophia: cat owner runs half-marathon to benefit cancer research

Melissa Steinberg lost her beloved cat and best friend Sophia to lymphoma in November of last year.  On May 7, 2011, Melissa will be running in the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half-Marathon to raise money for the Animal Cancer Foundation to help find a cure, or at least more effective treatments, for this devastating disease for both humans and their animal companions.

Melissa first met Sophia when she was living in Los Angeles and working crazy hours in the film industry. Even though she was worried that her lifestyle at that time was not conducive to having a pet, she began looking at photos of cats at LA shelters online.  Says Melissa “I looked at all of those cats, and I thought, how can I pick just one?  But then I saw Sophia, with those eyes.  I just couldn’t stop thinking about her and I couldn’t wait for the weekend when I would be able to go to the shelter and get her and bring her home.” 

Sophia was about 4 years old.  The shelter workers wouldn’t even let Melissa touch Sophia without protective gloves.  Sophia was terrified, and they were not sure whether she would be aggressive. Melissa had already made up her mind before she even met Sophia, and brought her home that day. Sophia hid for three days.  She wouldn’t eat, and ultimately, Melissa had to crawl under the bed and syringe feed her.

On the third night, Melissa was watching tv, and Sophia was watching her. “Finally, she came out, jumped on my chest, curled up and went to sleep.  From that moment forward, we were inseparable” says Melissa. Sophia never lost her fear of people, with the exception of Melissa and her husband David, whom she met after adopting Sophia.

Eventually, Melissa moved to New York with Sophia. Melissa attended law school, and she was worried that Sophia might get lonely, so she adopted another cat, Dr. Katz, from Animal Care and Control in Manhattan. The two cats hated each other from the moment they met, and couldn’t even be in the same room together. Sophia only ever wanted to be with Melissa and David. She slept on Melissa’s pillow every night. She was happy.  Eventually, Melissa and David adopted Earl Grey to keep Dr. Katz company.

When Sophia was 10 or 11 years old, Melissa noticed that she wasn’t eating, and took her to the vet for tests.  She knew cancer was a possiblity, but she hadn’t even gotten the test results back when Sophia crashed.  Melissa rushed her to the VCA Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center in Norwalk, CT in the middle of the night. Sophia was in extremely critical condition, and spent five nights at the clinic. She still didn’t have a definitive diagnosis, so Melissa took her to the famed Animal Medical Center in Manhattan.

The diagnosis was lymphoma, and Sophia received chemotherapy at the Veterinary Oncology and Hematology Center in Norwalk, CT.  She never responded well. Eventually the disease started to affect her central nervous system, and she wasn’t eating, no matter what they tried.  In order to get nutrition into her, the vets inserted a naso-gastric feeding tube.  Sophia pulled it out. The vets placed an endogastric tube, but while recovering from the surgery, Sophia kept getting seizures, which they were not able to control, and she died that night.  

“From the day she got sick to the day she died, it was barely more than a month,” remembers Melissa.  “It was a terrifyingly fast-moving, aggressive cancer.  For most of her illness we didn’t have much time to think, we just acted.  We made sure she had the best possible care, but that meant we were at the vet nearly every day.  We knew she had a terminal illness, but we truly believed we’d have her for several months, if not years.  We never believed we could lose her so quickly.”

During Sophia’s treatment, a friend who was about to run the New York marathon suggested to put together a fundraiser to help defray Sophia’s massive veterinary costs.  Melissa thought about it, and had just started training when Sophia died.

Melissa decided that it was more important to do something to honor Sophia’s memory, and she choose the Animal Cancer Foundation as the beneficiary.  She choose ACF because Dr. Gerald S. Post, DVM, ACVIM, one of the founders of ACF, was Sophia’s vet at the time of her illness.  “He was very caring and thoughtful and loving with her when she was so sick.” She choose a California location to honor Sophia’s heritage.

Melissa has never run a half-marathon before, but she ran competitively in high school, so that distance is not foreign for her.  Until the weather improves, she is training on the treadmill, but she is signed up for some shorter road races over the next few months.

If you’d like to contribute to Melissa’s fundraising efforts and help honor Sophia’s memory,  you can do so by visiting her fundraising page at Crowdrise

The Animal Cancer Foundation develops and supports research that advances the prevention and treatment of cancer for people and pets. Specifically, their endeavors focus on furthering research in comparative oncology, which is the study of cancers that occur similarly in both pets and humans. In this way, ACF is committed to advancing the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of such cancers, and becoming a preeminent resource in educating the public and scientific community.

Melissa Steinberg is an attorney who lives in Connecticut in the New York City suburbs with her husband David, a writer/editor, and their 13-month-old son Jack.  They still have Dr. Katz and Earl Grey.  One of Jack’s first words was  “kitty,” and Melissa and David are very proud of that.

LIVESTRONG Day

If your life hasn’t been touched by cancer in some way, you’re in a very small, and very fortunate, minority.  Most of us have a family member, friend, or co-worker who has been afflicted by some form of the disease.  And of course, our pets aren’t immune to cancer, either.  Cancer is the leading cause of death in cats and dogs over ten years old.  

There are probably hundreds of worthwhile organizations that provide support for cancer patients, but for me, Lance Armstrong’s LIVESTRONG© Foundation has always had a special significance.  

In 2001, at age 78, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer.  Lance Armstrong, and his battle with testicular cancer, provided the inspiration that helped my dad conquer the disease.  A lifelong fan of cycling, and of the Tour de France in particular, my dad was fascinated with Lance Armstrong. When my dad told me about his diagnosis and that he had to undergo six weeks of radiation treatments, one of the first things he said was “I’m going to beat this.  If Lance Armstrong can beat cancer and win the Tour de France, I can go through this and get better, too!”  And he did, and enjoyed three more happy and relatively healthy years until he died in 2004. 

While my dad was going through his treatments, I wrote to Lance’s Foundation.  I thought they’d enjoy hearing the story of an old man in Germany being inspired by Lance Armstrong.  They responded by sending a lovely, personalized package to my dad – a photo autographed by Lance, a LIVESTRONG© t-shirt, and several informational pamphlets.  My dad was touched and thrilled, as was I.  

The foundation designated October 2, the anniversary of Lance’s cancer diagnosis, as LIVESTRONG© Day 2010.  It is meant to be a day of global action, a day to celebrate survivorship and to commit to working toward a world without cancer.  It is meant to raise awareness of the millions of people around the world who live with cancer. 

And because cancer affects cats, too, Milo and Alfie, two mellow, yellow cats from England, are spreading the word about LIVESTRONG Day 2010 on their blog, The Cat’s Meow

I’m not much for wearing colored bracelets to show my support for one cause or another, and yellow is not my color, so I won’t be wearing yellow on October 2 to support this event.  But I will spend some time remembering, and celebrating, all the friends and family members, both human and furry, who have been affected by cancer.  I will be remembering my dad.  And I will say a prayer of gratitude for Lance Armstrong, for inspiring an old man halfway around the world to live a few more years.  

Graphic created by Milo and Alfie.

You may also enjoy reading Lance Armstrong and the Power of Belief.