According to the Animal Cancer Foundation, nearly six million cats are diagnosed with cancer each year. For some, it is a death sentence. However, increasing numbers of cats are receiving treatment via radiation and chemotherapy with some success. For cats, the good news is that they rarely lose their fur.
Control vs. Cure
Unlike chemotherapy and radiation for humans, these treatments are used in cats to control the disease and prolong the feline's life, according to VetInfo. This is because cancer in cats is usually diagnosed only after it has significantly progressed. In some cases when radiation alone is warranted, veterinarians are able to opt for a treatment plan including the possibility of a cure, according to WebMD's Healthy Cats.
According to Web MD's Healthy Cats, radiation therapy is useful in managing surface tumors as well as those more deeply located that cannot be removed via surgery. Radiation therapy is administered to cats via a machine like an X-ray machine. Radiating a cat is a bit more complicated than radiating a human, as cats do not understand the need to remain still and must receive anesthesia. While healthy cells may be killed along with the diseased cells, the general consensus is that the benefits of radiation outweigh the risks, according to Native Remedies.
Cats get a milder course of chemo than humans, according to VetInfo. As with radiation, the chemotherapy drugs unfortunately do not effectively discriminate between healthy and diseased cells and may kill cells that ought to live. Possible side effects include whisker loss, stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea and a temporary loss of appetite. Each session will take a few hours, and regular testing of the cat's kidney and liver functions are necessary to verify that enzyme levels are not elevated.
Cats on chemotherapy should eat only a very limited amount of carbohydrates. This is because cancerous cells thrive on that energy source, according to WebMD's Healthy Cats. However, the reverse is true for fats in the diet of a cat undergoing chemotherapy. Adding omega-3 fatty acids such as fish oil and amino acid arginine is advised.
Handling Your Cat
Colorado State University's Animal Cancer Center advises that cat owners not handle any feces, urine or vomit produced by the patient for at least 24 hours after treatment unless it's absolutely necessary. Any bedding or clothing that is soiled by the cat within this time frame should be washed twice with the hottest water possible.
Cancer in your cat will hit your pocketbook as well as your heart. As of October 2012, Cost Helper indicates chemotherapy starts at $200 for minimal treatment and goes up to $2,000 for longer courses. The bottom-line cost for radiation is $1,000 and goes up to $4,000—again, depending on the length of treatment. Pain medications cost anywhere from $25 to $50 per month.
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.
- WebMD: Healthy Cats: Treating Tumors and Cancer in Cats
- Animal Cancer Foundation: FAQs
- VetInfo: Cat Chemotherapy
- Colorado State University Animal Cancer Center: Chemotherapy
- Pet Alive By Native Remedies Naturally: How Effective is Cancer Feline Radiation Therapy
- Cost Helper: Pets: Cat Cancer Treatment Cost
Amy M. Armstrong is a former community news journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing features and covering school districts. She has received more than 40 awards for excellence in journalism and photography. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Washington State University. Armstrong grew up on a dairy farm in western Washington and wrote agricultural news while in college.