What to Expect When Your Cat Has Cancer

"Extra cuddles, please. I'm going through a lot."
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Cancer -- the six letter diagnosis every pet owner fears. Depending on the type and location of your cat’s cancer, treatment or a combination of treatment methods may eradicate her cancer altogether. At the very least, treatment may add years and improve her quality of life.


Localized tumors that haven’t metastasized, meaning spread beyond the original affected region, are likely candidates for surgical removal. Larger tumors may also be partially removed before beginning other cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. If your cat’s cancer is detected early enough while the tumor is still localized and small, surgical removal carries a high success rate; it is the most likely treatment to result in a cure.

Chemotherapy and Radiation

Chemotherapy and radiation are used to shrink and destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is oral or injectable medications, given at prescribed intervals, designed to attack her cancer. Your veterinarian may recommend chemotherapy if your cat is diagnosed with lymphoma, a common white blood cell cancer, or if her cancer has spread to various organs in her body. X-rays, biopsy and blood work will determine whether or not her cancer has metastasized. Radiation therapy is a concentrated beam of radiation aimed at the cancerous tumor. It’s often used in cases where surgery is dangerous, such as brain or nasal tumors. Side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiation include lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea, though most cats tolerate these treatments quite well with little to no side effects.

Pain Management

Certain forms of cancer like osteocarcoma, cancer of the bones, can be extremely painful. This type of cancer weakens her bones and leads to progressive pain, lameness and even fractures. Your veterinarian may prescribe pain killing or anti-inflammatory drugs to keep her happier and more mobile. Let your veterinarian know if Kitty seems in pain or stops enjoying activities that once brought her pleasure. When a kitty who once loved sunbathing in the window suddenly starts hiding in dark closets, that may be a sign of pain or stress; medication can help.

Home Care

It’s very important that Kitty maintains her strength and dietary health whether you and your veterinarian decide to treat her cancer or not. Cancer is a wasting disease and sick cats often shun their food bowls. If she’s a tuna lover, try sprinkling a bit of tuna water over her food or offer a couple of her favorite treats to encourage her to eat. Limiting loud noises and stressful events will also ease any anxiety she’s feeling, but remember cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Continue to cuddle and play when she feels up to it; she’s still your buddy after all.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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