Pet cancer is a devastating ordeal to go through. Knowing what to expect, what warning signs your cat might show, and how to deal with it can make things better.
There are over 100 types of cancer that can affect our pets. May is Pet Cancer Awareness Month, a time to raise both money and awareness to combat these terrible diseases.
My experience with pet cancer
As our cats get older, the risk of cancer increases greatly. As responsible pet owners, we need to be informed ahead of time on what to look for, what to do, and most importantly, how to help prevent.
Sadly, three of my previous pets – all lovely Siamese – have succumbed to cancer. Catrina passed from breast cancer, which is the third most common feline cancer. Guenivere developed Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC), which is a type of skin cancer that affects usually the mouth, jaw, and tongue areas. Maddie was found to have a mass either in her lung and chest region.
One common thread between all of these different cancer experience: these ladies were all elderly and well into their teenage years. According to the Cornell University Feline Health Center, 30-40% of cats will have at least one cancer diagnosis in their life.
Perhaps I stare at my cats too much, but when Maddie was 4 years old, one of her whiskers became puffy and looked similar to an ingrown hair. Immediately, I made an appointment with my veterinarian and a biopsy was done. Thankfully, the tumor was benign. Because I’m an overprotective cat owner, Maddie was left with a little whisker beauty mark instead of something more harmful. Knowing your cat and being familiar with their habits, routines, and body are all ways we can be proactive at detecting illness or cancer early.
Of course, even the most attentive cat owner may not detect any early warning signs. Sometimes it’s just impossible to know if something’s wrong, so never beat yourself up if you don’t catch your cat’s cancer early. That being said, there are some other symptoms to look out for.
Cat cancer symptoms
While Maddie’s whisker tumor was noticeable, her lung mass was not. However, she did display symptoms that were not her typical rambunctious self.
Some possible symptoms of cancer for felines include:
Both Guenivere and Maddie exhibited behavioral changes, including hiding. I noticed they were behaving oddly when they started hiding their heads under a blanket or curtain, which was very out of character for them. My veterinarian explained this odd behavior to me: cats are pretty simplistic and think that they can hide from the pain.
How does cancer creep up so suddenly?
After my girls were diagnosed with cancer, my guilt was overwhelming. I kept asking myself how did I not catch this and prevent it? In these difficult times it’s easy to blame ourselves or our vets. I remember thinking that I took Maddie for yearly checkups, so how did this slip past?
My veterinarian explained this to me using cat psychology. Basically, since we’re a different species, no matter how much we love our cats we are still a ‘threat’ to them when they’re sick. The survival of the fittest instinct kicks in and they will mask it, hide and suffer until they can no longer handle it. By then, it can be too late.
The best advice I can give is to be proactive with vet visits. It is even suggested by some to increase yearly visits to twice a year after age 7. Check with your veterinarian for what they recommend. There are also some methods of prevention. Some ways to prevent feline cancer include vaccinations, such as FeLV, early spaying/neutering, and maintaining a healthy weight.
What kind of cancers are common in cats?
Certain types of cancer are more common depending on species. Cats are more prone to certain cancers, including:
If you’re interested in learning more about the intricacies of pet cancer, take a look at the Pet Owner's Guide to Cancer, put together by the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
Rock the Cat Spa owner Cari Thompson is a life-long cat lover. When she's not running the luxury cat spa & hotel, she's playing with her cat, Daphne. She writes weekly blogs on cat behavior, health, and care. To learn more about her, check out the About Me page!