10 Things to Know About Cancer in Cats

An orange tabby cat lying down, looking sick and tired.
An orange tabby cat lying down, looking sick and tired. Photography ©Dashabelozerova | Thinkstock.

Cancer. It’s the diagnosis no pet parent wants to hear. Cancer is a serious disease, but it’s not always a death sentence, especially if you catch the cancer early and seek treatment. Knowing the signs of cancer in cats and things you can do to watch for cancer can literally save your cat’s life. Read on to learn 10 facts about cancer in cats.

1. In older cats, the odds of getting cancer are about 50/50.

An older cat sleeping or lying down.
Unfortunately, about 50 percent of cats and dogs over age 10 will get cancer. Photography © Ulianna | Thinkstock.

“It’s estimated that 50 percent of dogs and cats over the age of 10 will have cancer,” says Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM (Oncology), of the Veterinary Cancer Center in Norwalk, Connecticut, and co-author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. “Cancer is a disease of age so, as in people, the older we get, the greater the chance that we’ll have cancer. One of the problems is that our pets are living longer so we’re seeing more cancer.” However, cancer can affect a cat of any age, even young and middle-aged cats.

2. Cats commonly get certain types of cancer.

According to Dr. Ettinger, the cancers she sees most often in cats are mammary cancer (breast cancer), skin cancer (lumps and bumps) and lymphoma (usually in the intestines). However, there are many different type of cancer, and cats can get other cancers, even very rare ones.

3. Vomiting is NOT normal in cats (and it IS one of the signs of cancer in cats).

Don’t ignore vomiting or brush it off as not a big deal. Vomiting on a regular basis is never normal. “If your pet is vomiting with frequency, mark it down on a calendar because then sometimes it’s easier to look back and see ‘Wow, my cat vomited four time this month,’” Dr. Ettinger says.

4. Different cancers have different symptoms.

Depending on the type of cancer a cat has, you might see vomiting, diarrhea, changes in appetite and weight loss. If you don’t weigh your cat regularly at home on a small scale, it can be hard to tell when your cat is losing weight — especially if your cat is very fluffy.

This is why it’s important to bring your cat to the vet at least on an annual basis so you can check her weight and compare it to her weight on previous visits. “There are other things that can cause vomiting and changes in appetite, whether it’s kidney disease or thyroid disease, which is not uncommon in kitties, so it’s just a good trigger for you to bring your cat to the vet,” Dr. Ettinger explains. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, seeking a diagnosis and pursing treatment before your cat’s body condition has significantly deteriorated might positively impact her outcome.

5. Early detection is key to survival when it comes to cancer in cats.

The earlier cancer is discovered, the better your cat’s treatment options are. Check your cat monthly for lumps and bumps, feeling all over her body for anything out of the ordinary. If you find a lump the size of a pea or larger, and it’s still there a month later, it’s time for an immediate vet visit. Since mammary cancer is common in cats, don’t forget to feel the mammary glands on your cat’s tummy (boy cats, too).” Cats have eight mammary glands, so there’s a lot to feel,” Dr. Ettinger says. “You’re basically going to be feeling the entire belly area from their armpit area back to the [hind] leg area.”

6. Some cancers in cats are very treatable.

Some skin cancers can be completely removed with surgery, especially if you catch them when they are small. Even internal cancers can be treated, depending on the type of cancer and how long your cat has had the cancer.

7. Cancer in cats is treated similarly to cancer in people.

Cancer in cats is treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Depending on the type of cancer and its location, your cat might receive one or any combination of therapies.

8. Chemotherapy usually won’t make your cat sick.

Because chemotherapy is associated with really bad side effects in humans, many pet owners hesitate to try it for their cats. But the reality is, cancer treatment is easier on pets than it is on people. “One of the things that really surprises people when I talk about chemo — because a lot of people are scared of chemo for obvious reasons — but 80 percent of dogs and cats have no side effects from chemotherapy, which is pretty amazing,” Dr. Ettinger says. “Cats have less side effects than dogs and people. Of all the species, cats tolerate chemotherapy the best.”

9. If your vet suspects cancer, certain tests can reveal the issue.

Your vet will do a complete physical exam and blood work and might also want to do an ultrasound of your cat’s abdomen to look inside.

10. Cats can live for many years after a cancer diagnosis.

Depending on the type of cancer, with timely treatment you might have many more years with your cat. “What I think is really important if your pet is diagnosed with cancer is that you go see a cancer specialist. They can break it down for you about that cancer in general and then the specifics going on with your pet,” Dr. Ettinger says.

“Many cancers are treatable and it really depends on the type of cancer. There are some cancers where — with or without treatment — it’s only going to be a couple of months, but there are some cancers that we can potentially cure with surgery,” Dr. Ettinger continues. “There are some that we treat with combinations of maybe surgery and then radiation or chemo, and cats can live one, two, three years, or even longer, depending on the cancer.”

Tell us: Have any of your cats ever had cancer before? What tips would you add for dealing with cancer in cats?

This piece was originally published on March 27, 2018. 

Thumbnail: Photography ©Dashabelozerova | Thinkstock.

Read more about cancer in cats on Catster.com:

29 thoughts on “10 Things to Know About Cancer in Cats”

  1. Pingback: Seu gato está perdendo Pelo? 6 razões para a perda de cabelo em gatos – Blog Vetsam

  2. My ten and a half year old male has been diagnosed with advanced cancer. The vet found a lump in his abdomen. He has lost about 7 pounds (he was 14 pounds), is lethargic, his breath reeks, and he is drinking water excessively.

    There was a choice of surgery, but the risks of him dying on the table were very high. Tests led us to believe that Florio has had the cancer for two years. We’ve decided to let Florio live out his days at home (he is pain free; the vet made sure of that).

    There was a lot of stress in our family over the autumn and he started to lose weight. I thought it was stress-related as he’s had issues with that in the past. It’s been only recently that he’s dropped weight to the point where you can see the bones through his fur. I know it’s not my fault that he is sick and dying, but I feel guilty because I caused a lot of the stress fighting with my parents. Please help; I know he’s going to die soon, but there is still a feeling that I caused it.

    Also, Florio has a sibling whom he is close to. What will happen to her when he goes?

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  4. Rescued from a shelter, my darling tuxedo Ming, and I shared an incredible bond for over 14 wonderful years. When she was 11, I felt a little lump on her chest and we immediately took her to the vet. He removed it and pathology revealed it was malignant – mammary cancer. Because I caught it so early, the tumor was small, had not metastasized, and was removed completely. She lived three more happy years until she began losing weight, though she was eating all the time. Back to the vet who diagnosed lymphoma. We had her life painlessly ended at home. We lost our other cat a month ago at 16.5, from old age. This week we will become cat parents again. A very frightened tuxedo and her bonded sister, who were abandoned at 5 yers old,, will be coming home to us from foster care.

  5. It is such the shame that vets have bought into the medical industry’s ‘cut, poison, and burn’ treatment of cancer. I have had several cats that got cancer and with the right treatment they all ended up living long healthy lives. And the right treatment is nutrition based. If your cat is diagnosed with cancer do this immediately: 1) stop feeding them whatever it is you are feeding them (dry kibble is horrific food). 2) start feeding raw organic chicken liver or turkey liver with brown rice and a good supplement like Nuvet or NuPro. You can also include some muscle meat. Emulsify the ingredients in a blender. If cat refuses to eat, use a small animal feeder syringe to feed. As to amount of supplement to use follow this simple rule: if kitty has runny stools, reduce amount of supplement. With this regimen I have saved many a good friend.

    1. My Cat has been eating raw chicken, supplemented with canned her entire life. She’s now 9 and has stomach cancer. What do you suggest I do?



  6. Many years ago I found a tiny, crying orange kitten in my yard. His stomach was bloated with parasites & he was very dirty. After much TLC he grew into a pretty & very affectionate cat. When he was eleven years old he kept losing weight. One Vet thought he had an intussusception of the intestines. After many tests AND an exploratory surgery, it was determined that he had Lymphoma… a blood disorder where there are too many neutrophils. Once I learned that, I felt the surgery was unnecessary. We put him on an immune system suppressing drug (generic Leukeran) & it worked wonders. For some reason, the cost of the drug went up and we stopped giving him a daily pill, hoping he would be fine. It soon was evident that he was getting worse & we had to have our beloved kitty put to rest. At least we had 2 more years with him and he lived to be 13. This drug was originally approved for use in humans but is now also given to dogs and cats. Our animals really do become a family member & can have the same emotions, needs, & illnesses as do humans.

  7. Many years ago I lost my year old female Siamese to mammary cancer. Chemo in cats was fairly new and there was only one clinic in the state that did it. I took her there 2-3 times and I think I bought her about six months. My vet said that, however, when the time came, she would let me know. Sure enough, I came home from work one day and she was sitting perfectly alert. Then she looked at me and with the look in her eyes, I knew. I had her out the door in 20 minutes.

  8. My little sweetie Morris had a fast growing lump this summer on his flank. Vet thought it was nothing but biopsied it anyway. It was a hemangiosarcoma. He had it out but it was big, subcutaneous not inside his belly, thankfully. Morris is doing OK but lumps are back and we decided not to subject this beautiful
    15 year old for any more surgery. It really stressed him out terribly afterwards. I had to sleep with him for 2 weeks next to his bed.

    Meanwhile, as this went on, Molly, his sister same litter, was throwing up and began limping a month prior to her brother’s surgery. She got progressively worse, couldn’t walk, or use the litter box even after getting prednisone for 1.5 months. She was dragging herself around. It was heartbreaking. We finally had the vet come over and out her to sleep. Vet felt it was a great growing cancer. We didn’t autopsy cause of cost. We have Morris and another older cat, steely, who need needs and care. Molly had no lumps, just last weight and gradually went lame. It was heartbreaking.

    So Morris is still here, playing, eating, and going into his 4th month post op. I’m hoping he’ll last longer than a year with little discomfort. You love these little furballs so much….

  9. My tabby developed cancer in one eye and had to have it removed. It looked like a membrane growing on the surface of the corner of her eye. She was about ten years old at the time, and lived for six or seven more years after the surgery.

    I teased her about being a Pirate Cat! But she adjusted quite well. She did become an indoor cat after that, though.

  10. I have been monitoring my 15 yr old with her 2 bumps. Small on the back porch if her neck. Took her to the vet this morning cause it got bigger. They are going to remove and send to a pathologist to see if this cancer will spread or not. I am very sad at this situation. I just had to put a 16 year old to sleep couple months ago. My husband had him since he was born to 8 yrs longer then I had him.

  11. Pingback: Lo que debe saber sobre el síndrome de Horner en los gatos – Gatos y mascotas

  12. Christine Bosworth

    My 7 year old cat who I rescued from animal shelter when she was 3. She has been throwing up for a month. I tried changing her food nothing worked. Then she started limping, and a day later a bump the size of a baseball appeared on her front leg. Took her to vet, he felt it. Said it was an inoperable tumor and was fast spreading cancer and she has a few weeks and to make her comfortable. I have been going to my vet for years he’s been doing it for a long time. My question is, is it possible he was wrong? He said that bloodwork was not needed. Or has he been doing it for so long he can know?

    1. Hi Christine,
      We suggest discussing your concerns with your vet. If you still feel uneasy, you might want to look into getting a second opinion. Hope your kitty feels better!

  13. Margaret Sullivan

    Four years ago I lost my beautiful Norwegian forest cross breed cat to cancer. Started with a sore eye, drops a waste of time, fang tooth falls out, tumour grows on jaw. Elvis lost lots of weight wouldn’t eat. Had biopsy done to reveal osteosarcoma. Poor little mite would lose blood all over the house until I got him to the vet. Cost me over 3000 eu [don’t know how much in dollars]. He was 12 years and 8 months. I got him as a kitten from my local SPCA.
    He died 6 months after the diagnosis, one week before Christmas. Obviously I didn’t enjoy Christmas that year. Had him cremated so he’s still with me.

    1. My kitty has lesion of cancer on tongue and vet said nothing can be done. Pain meds are only comfort. It’s going on a month and half, she wants to eat but having hard time. Giving her baby food since yesterday and liquid nutritional supplement so she doesn’t waste away.

  14. My cat Oliver was diagnosed with a sarcoma in his jaw about 6 years ago. I was told that most cats with this condition maybe lived another six months to a year. Thankfully it was caught as part of his regular dental and we were able to remove it. He then followed up with 18 days of radiation. And is now on piroxicam to prevent a relapse.
    Over the years I have had a number of patients who went through cancer treatment and for humans it is almost always difficult. But for him there were no side effects from any of the therapy.
    He is still with us to this day and the vets always tell me that he used up more than an extra life during this his treatment.

  15. This topic stresses me out. I have PTSD and Bi-Polar 1. Lacey died in my arms. She was 18 and lost a lot of weight. Those events trigged what is wrong with me. God bless you all.

  16. How does a vet determine if a cat has cancer other than “feeling” it’s body? I think my cat probably had cancer, but was never diagnosed with having it. He had had a small growth in his throat and the vet decided after several months that it should be removed. About 6 weeks after that surgery, my cat started having diarrhea and was lsoing weight and refusing to eat. After two or three monthgs of trying everything I could to get him to eat, I convinced the vet to run some test including a fecal culture. He said nothing showed up but suggested antibiotics for parasites and prednisone. My cat did gain some weight during that month, but as soon as he finsihed the antibiotic, he started losing weight again. In the next 5 months or so, predisone was used off and on, vitamin b12 shots were administered, sub q fluids were tried and occasionally anitbiotics. He would gain few ounces and then lose it agin. I felt I was putting him through terrible pain and distress (he would go hide for 2 or 3 days after each session) so I finally decided I wasn’t going to put him through any more “treatments’ that didn’t seem to do any good. About 6 weeks later I knew it was time for me to let him go and had a vet come to my home to administer euthansia drug. I still feel the vet didn’t do enough testing, but perhaps he knew the outcome and didn’t want to tell me. I am STILL in terrible depression over his loss. He put up a long a furious fight to the end though, bless his heart.

    1. Victoria I think you may of hit the nail on the head when you said your vet didn’t want to tell you the truth about an unpleasant outcome. I have a 20 year old that my husband and I adore, she gets more love, hugs and kisses than we do. We have dealt with many issues of blood in the urine UTI and back and forth with drugs. It got to the point that she wouldn’t get up to greet us in fear another pill would be administered which she hated. I did the due diligence of giving her the pills as I didn’t want to be the one to be the cause of her dying. Well I have finally come to the conclusion that quality of life vs quantity of life for her is where we want to be. My husband and I both know with her advanced age of 20 we are more than blessed to have her in our lives this long. God will be the one that says its time for Harris to come home.

  17. Did you get an autopsy? It is possible that your yelling at her was not the cause of her death. At any rate, try not to beat yourself up, but vow to never yell at a cat again. Cats are gentle creatures. They are not dogs.

    As long as you learn from this, your little Snowshoe’s death will not be in vain.

    As I said, don’t beat yourself up, just vow to learn from the experience. It will help you with the pain to just talk to your little cat, let her know how much you care for her and that she has taught you a good thing.

    My mom told me something that has helped me all along the 52 years since: If you feel badly about your kitty and miss the kitty, pick up your other pet and hug it.

    Pour all the love you feel for your kitty into giving love to other kitties…and vow never to yell at a cat again. Time will heal the loss. I promise.

  18. I am so touched by the love I hear when I visit this sight.I don’t feel like I am a cat zealot(although I am)!This is especially true when speaking of loss.Just a year ago my beloved cat Doodle succumbed to cancer.She had a large tumor in her nasal cavity.She was so brave and strong and I was the weak one.Im very involved with cats.I volunteer,do rescue,maintain feral colonies/TNR.I have not come across anything like her.To say I loved her is an understatement.I relate to so much on here and I want to say how sorry I am to those still smarting.I take much comfort in the rest of my brood but there is nothing like rescuing to bring things around full circle.

  19. I yelled at my 18year old Snow Shoe and she went limp and died 20-30 minutes later. I was so taken back, at least she did die alone. I hate myself. It has been one month and I feel ashamed and guilty. I miss her so much. I feel anger, guilt and despondent. It brings a great void. She was so sweet. Two hours before, I was hugging her and she had lost a lot of weight. She had diarrhea suddenly and she screamed like I never heard before. She started coughing and then she died in my arms. I hate this so much!!! :(

  20. Kat, you did the best you could! Don’t blame yourself, cancer is a terrible disease. I lost one cat to kidney cancer, she was barely 10 years old. By the time the cancer was found it was too late to operate, and we had to let Tab go.
    Keep an eye on your other cats and treat them well – as I’m sure you are.
    Best of luck!

  21. yes, just loss my tortie, Missy, to a cancer; last year noticed her jaw seemed swollen, figured it might be a tooth so took her to vet – she took culture, said didnt look good or she didnt get a good feeling; gave me antibiotics (make sure it wasnt infection), and said watch it/come back. so I watched, it grew, was in process of moving, figured to get a good vet in new place; went to clinic, said to take her to animal oncology, did, was cancer, growing rapidly, could do surgery, but was covering her jaw, throat, behind ear/eye; said probably wouldnt do any good, no guarantee at all, time very short even with chemo. so broke my heart, worse…my husband’s, we cherished the time we had left (which was 2 mos longer than vet said), and had to let her go; we still miss her awfully. she was 13 yrs old, couldnt put her thru it if her chances of recovery were so low. feel like if I couldve caught it sooner, taken her to a better vet than that backwoods wanna be, maybe she wouldve had a better chance. will never wait again, have three more kitties, same age. now I’m paranoid with them.

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