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Symptoms & Signs of Cancer in Cats

Source: PetWave, Updated on December 22, 2015

Effects of Cancer – From the Cat’s Point of View

Our feline friends may not look much like us, but mammals are mammals and cats can suffer from many of the same diseases and other medical conditions that affect people. Unfortunately, cancer is one of them. Cancer is more common in cats than in dogs or other companion animals. It tends to affect middle-aged and older cats most frequently, and also those that have not been spayed or neutered. One exception to this is lymphoma (also called lymphosarcoma), which typically is seen most often in younger cats. Regardless of their age, cats that are infected with the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) have a heightened risk of getting cancer. While they can develop a number of different kinds of cancer, there are several types that seem to affect cats most frequently. These are lymphoma, skin cancer, breast cancer and squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth. Feelings of a cat with cancer, depends on how advanced its condition is and which of its organs are affected. Most cats don’t show any signs of pain, discomfort or distress in the early stages of cancer. However, as the disease progresses, metastasizes (spreads) and starts invading the lungs, kidneys or other vital organs, the animal will become increasingly ill. Cats with late-term or end-stage cancer usually lose their appetite, drop weight, become nauseous and are reluctant to move around or exercise.

Symptoms of Cancer – What the Owner Sees

Owners of cats that have cancerous lesions in their mouth, which almost always involve malignant squamous cell carcinoma, often notice one or more of the following signs:

  • Excessive drooling (ptyalism)
  • Lumps or bumps on the gums, inner cheeks and/or tongue; these often are ulcerated, oozing and bloody
  • Difficulty eating, chewing and swallowing
  • Reluctance to eat or drink
  • Weight loss
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Lethargy

Cats with cancer in their gastrointestinal tract may develop one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Bloody stools
  • Straining to defecate (tenesmus)
  • Poor body and coat condition

Female cats that have cancer in their reproductive tract may have vaginal bleeding or other abnormal vaginal discharge. Bone cancer, which is uncommon in cats, can cause swelling and pain at the tumor site and intermittent lameness if it involves bones of the legs. Although primary lung cancer is also rare in domestic cats, other types of cancer often spread to the lungs. Owners of cats with secondary lung tumors may observe one or more of the following signs:

  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing or other abnormal breathing sounds
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • General malaise and ill thrift

Cats at Increased Risk of Cancer

Aging cats and intact cats have an elevated chance of developing cancer, as do those infected with the feline leukemia virus or the feline immunodeficiency virus. Cats exposed to secondhand smoke, radiation and certain chemicals may also be at increased risk.

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