Cats & Cancer
If your cat has been diagnosed with cancer, of course you may be feeling anxious. However, finding out more about the disease, researching which specialists your kitty companion should see and caring for your animal with cancer (and yourself) can help give you a calmer outlook on the situation. and may bring some peace of mind.
Following the 10 steps listed here may help to ease your and your pet's stress, and help you understand what you should do next when a veterinarian has broken the news that your cat has cancer.
1. Understand that cancer in cats is common.
It's not unusual for an aging pet to develop cancer. Similar to people, as our animal companions grow older, their immune system weakens and the risk of cancer increases. You and your pet are not alone during these difficult times.
You might find it beneficial to connect with online or in-person pet communities. There may be some helpful support groups in your area for pet owners coping with sick animals. Finding community and solidarity with like-minded people in similar situations can help to ease some fear, anxiety and isolation you might be feeling.
While these groups can serve as a great form of emotional support, remember that online groups are typically managed by other pet owners, not necessarily mental health practitioners. If you are feeling the need for more psychological support or grief support, you might consider counseling.
2. Talk to your vet about your cat's specific cancer.
Cancer itself is a disease that originates due to the uncontrollable growth of cells within the body. It's also often referred to as malignancy and neoplasia (often used interchangeably). In another similarity to people, pets can develop many forms of cancer, each of which causes different changes in the body and behaviors in pets.
While some types of cancer can quickly spread to other areas of the body far from the original site (metastasis), others may be more easily treated or surgically removed if they are detected early enough.
As with any diagnosis for serious diseases, it's prudent to educate yourself regarding the conditions, options for support and treatment, financial factors, and the advantages and considerations of your cat receiving treatment.
3. Learn about your cat's treatment options.
Several types of treatment and therapy options may be used to treat an animal with cancer, depending on the specific case and circumstances. These may include immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, surgery, or palliative (end-of-life) care when appropriate. While a single treatment or type of therapy may be used for some cancers, other types of the disease may require a combination of 2 or 3 more different types of therapies.
Some pet owners choose to enroll their pets in clinical trials to test newer (and hopefully more effective) types of therapy. These trials allow participants to learn more about a specific form of treatment and perhaps benefit your pet.
4. See a board-certified veterinary oncologist.
Your cat's cancer diagnosis is the first step in a long journey. You'll need to make decisions about support, treatment, and costs. Seeing a veterinary oncologist may help to clarify some aspects of your pet's diagnosis and answer your questions.
Our board-certified specialist vets make use of cutting-edge diagnostics and treatments to provide the best possible oncological care for your cat with cancer. We are committed to working with your primary care veterinarian to treat your cat's condition. After an official diagnosis is received from your veterinary oncologist, additional diagnostic testing (staging) can help to determine the extent cancer has developed. This will allow us to present targeted treatment options and better predict prognosis.
5. Familiarize yourself with the terminology.
When you connect with our board-certified veterinarians to discuss oncology care, our team can explain what's happening in your pet's body. Though we will explain as clearly as possible, it always helps to understand veterinary medical language. We encourage you to do some reading before your visit so you'll be familiar with some of the terms when it comes to veterinary oncology. Remember to take notes on treatment options and next steps that may be recommended. Please do not hesitate to ask questions - we are here to help!
6. Understand how tumors are tested.
The veterinarian may recommend a number of tests to help determine the extent of cancer in your cat's body. These may include urinalysis, radiographs (ultrasound or X-rays), biopsy, blood tests (blood count, chemistry profile) and tissue aspirates. The changing nature of veterinary cancer might require these tests to be done again at your veterinary specialist, even if your primary care veterinarian has also done them.
Other tests that may be recommended include specialized radiologic studies (CT or MRI scans, dye contrast studies), lymph node aspirate, endoscopy, bone marrow aspirate and immunologic studies.
Once testing has been done, your veterinarian will be better able to understand the nature of the disease in your pet and review treatment options, including types of therapy. While tumors that have extensively metastasized (spread to other organs) typically have no cure, palliation may help to relieve symptoms and potentially prolong life longer than without treatment. Tumors with the best chance of being treated or cured are those that have not invaded surrounding tissues.
7. Consider your pet's quality of life.
Cancer treatment for cats and other pets focuses on alleviating pain and suffering for as long as possible while ensuring that quality of life is preserved. Whether your pet's best days consist of watching the birds outside, finding a warm place to nap in the house, or playing with their favorite kick toy, their quality of life is compromised when they can no longer enjoy these activities.
Your veterinarian or pet oncologist may prescribe medications or offer advice on how to manage symptoms to alleviate pain and suffering. Sometimes, euthanasia should be considered when your cat's quality of life is impacted beyond the point that management therapies can help.
8. Consider the financial factors of treating your cat's cancer.
While every pet owner would probably like to be able to say that money is no object when it comes to their pet's care, most do not have that option. Pet medical care can quickly become costly, so if you have pet insurance, now is the time to use it! If not, your veterinary office might offer financing options.
Most veterinary offices will provide a good-faith estimate of the cost of their services and discuss their written estimate with all clients.
9. Maintain a normal routine.
Fun activities such as playing with your cat's favorite toys, supervised catnip time and ensuring they are exercising and eating well can help you and your pet maintain a healthy mindset. Pets enjoy routines that help them stay engaged and active, especially if they'll be visiting a veterinary oncologist regularly for treatment.
10. Don't lose hope, but be realistic.
You and your cat need each other! Although some cats might experience some discomfort from cancer therapy, treatment for most pets can be accomplished without major distress or reducing your pet's quality of life. With you and your veterinarian's commitment to your cat's health and our state-of-the-art options for diagnostics and oncology care, we'll work as a team to keep your cat as healthy and comfortable as possible.Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.