Cancer Clues in Cats By Layla Morgan Wilde
Updated: Oct.2020. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. See our post Cats Can Get Breast Cancer Too. May is National Pet Cancer Awareness Month and Feb. 4 is World Cancer Day. Six million pets in the U.S. will get the big “C” diagnosis this year. It’s a shocking statistic but the odds of surviving increase with early detection. There are so many clues to cancer in cats, it helps to be a detective to zero in on early signs.
We’re proud to be collaborating with our friends Cole and Marmalade on their video about cancer clues in cats. Be sure to view their video where their cat dad, Chris Poole plays detective for real! It’s cute and funny but cancer isn’t. Let’s spread the message of early detection and more happy cancer survivor stories like Marmalade’s.
Since this post was published Marmalade remains cancer-free but Cole was recently diagnosed with cancer.
Feline wellness is as much about preventing illness as treating it. The earlier we can detect illness, the easier it can be treated with better rates of healing success. For cat guardians, early detection means being observant of physical and behavioral changes on a daily basis. It means playing detective. While playing with, petting and grooming your cat, take a little more care to notice what’s different. The clues at first can be so subtle, partly because cats are hard-wired to hide symptoms of illness. It goes back to their wild roots when survival of the fittest was a matter of life or death.
We advocate for regular wellness vet visits at least once yearly. Geriatric cat require more frequent visits. The more clues or information you can provide your vet about your observations in a timely manner, the better.
These are the top seven clues for early cancer detection in cats. But remember, only a veterinarian can make a definitive diagnosis. Cancer is a leading cause of death in pets. It can be localized to one area i.e a tumor, spread or metastasize to other regions of the body. There are many types of cancer from skin, bone to breast cancer and lymphocarcoma caused by FeLV, the feline leukemia virus. While feline cancer tends to be diagnosed in older cats, younger cats can get cancer. Case in point: Marmalade (seen in photo above) was diagnosed last year at age two. He was successfully treated and is in remission.
1) Appetite and/or sudden weight loss.
Healthy cats have healthy appetites. They may be fussy but if they suddenly lose their appetite, something is amiss. It could be stress, dental issues or diseases. A cat who doesn’t eat at all for as little as three days is in danger of hepatic lipidosis. Gradual weight loss in older cats is common especially with kidney disease but sudden weight loss at any age is more a big red flag.
2) Lumps, bumps or wounds that won’t heal.
Many lumps, bumps and lesions heal on their own but when they don’t heal or lumps change, shape color or grow in size, it’s a cause for concern. Any discharge from a nipple or scaly red skin patches is a warning sign to call the vet. The best time to notice changes in the skin is during grooming or petting. Take care to examine longer-haired cats which can hide lumps and wounds more easily.
3) Abnormal smells.
Healthy cats smell good or at least not offensive. Bad odors emanating from the mouth, ears, uro-genital, anal or other area signal illness. Healthy cats have silky, shiny coats according to their breed standards. Greasy, smelly, rough or dry coats may mean it’s time for a bath. If a bath doesn’t help, it can signal a more serious issue. Note: if the litter box is unusually smelly, look for blood in the urine stools with or without diarrhea.
All cats vomit on occasion from hairballs or mild digestive disturbance and is not a cause for alarm. However, if the vomit is bloody, chronic or heavy it can signal a serious illness including cancer.
5) Lethargy or difficulty moving.
If your cat’s get and go and got up and left or worse, he’s dragging his heels and limping, it’s time for a vet visit. A funky mood could be depression from any number of causes, but a lame cat means they are in pain. It’s up to a responsible guardian to determine is it a wound, abscess or a lump that might be a tumor.
6) Coughing or difficulty breathing.
If a cat is coughing more than once or twice a month, they may have asthma but the lungs are a favorite place for cancers to metastasize to. Any wheezing or difficulty breathing warrants prompt veterinary care.
7) Any unusual change in mood or behavior.
Cats love the comfort and security of routine meals, play and nap time. If your normally friendly and playful cat is fretful, hiding or lashing out or not using the litter box, there’s a reason. It may not be cancer but it’s good to know when something is wrong. With my cats, when any of them are ill, they hide in my dressing room closet. When any of them aren’t in their usual favorite places, I search around the house until I find them.
Cats are clever masters of hiding their symptoms. Don’t be fooled by your cat. Knowing your cats’ hiding places and early signs of illness isn’t just about playing detective but caring enough to see the whole picture, it just may save their life.