Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: January 25, 2023 by Crystal Uys
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 successful treatment. Depending on the type of cancer, treatment options may include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Cancer changes the body’s metabolism
Cancer changes how the body metabolizes nutrients. Cancer cells metabolize glucose (from carbohydrates) and make lactate that the body then tries to convert back into glucose. This process diverts energy from the cat, feeding the cancer instead. Cancers also convert amino acids, the building blocks of protein, into energy, which causes muscle wasting, poor immune function, and slow healing. Additionally, tumor cells have difficulty utilizing fat as a source of energy. All of this results in what’s known as “cancer cachexia,” a progressive weight loss and depletion of muscle and connective tissues.
Good nutrition is critically important in cats with cancer
For all of these reasons, adequate species-appropriate nutrition is critically important in feline cancer patients. Unfortunately, cats will often lose their appetite when they’re not feeling well. It’s important to stay on top of how much your cat is eating. Refusal to eat can ultimately be a quality of life indicator in cats with cancer.
The optimal diet for a cat with cancer
The optimal diet for a cat with cancer is not all that different from the optimal diet for a healthy cat: a diet high in quality protein and low in carbohydrates, and that means meat. There is not much research available on diets for cats with cancer. Many veterinarians recommend feeding a high protein, high fat and low carb diet based on studies that were conducted with dogs. Omega-3 fatty acids are also recommended since they are a good source of fat and also have anti-inflammatory properties.
Many premium quality grain-free diets will meet these parameters.
Alternatively, you may want to consider a home prepared diet for cats with cancer. A holistic veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist can help you design appropriate recipes.
Raw feeding is controversial for cats with cancer, and some veterinarians caution against it. “I recommend avoiding raw meat-based diets for cats that are on immunosuppressive medications like chemotherapy drugs, or higher doses of cortisone-type drugs like prednisolone,” says Andrea Tasi, VMD, a holistic feline veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Naturally.
It’s more important for cats with cancer to simply eat than what they eat
Even though feeding an optimal ratio of protein, fat and carbs is ideal, this is not the time to force a diet change. While dry food may be the worst possible nutritional choice for a cat with cancer, it is an option if it’s the only thing your cat will eat.
Cats with cancer may become finicky about eating, and encouragement may be needed. Adding incentives such as freeze-dried meat treats, tuna juice, small pieces of cooked meat, or nutritional yeast can all help encourage cats who have lost their appetite. For more information, read How to Get Finicky Cats to Eat.
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.