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Is Cancer Common in Cats? (Vet Answer)

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	Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM) Photo

Written by

Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM)


The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Unfortunately, cats can get cancer, just like every other species—human or animals alike. Like people, cancer in cats is less common in younger cats, and more common as cats get older, especially after the age of 10 years.

It is important to understand that there are two main types of cancerous growths—malignant, which means that the cancer tends to be invasive, or cause negative impacts on the body, and benign, which represent a growth that may not be normal, but tends to be non-invasive and generally not harmful to the individual.

Generally, cancer is in the top 10 diseases seen in cats over the age of 10 years. There are a variety of different types, and understanding the common ones is a good starting point. So, let’s take a look at them.

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This is a cancer that most often affects the gastrointestinal tract, which means the stomach or the intestines. It can be of varying severity. For instance, low grade lymphoma can be responsive to a few different medications and therapy, though not indefinitely. High grade, or more malignant, lymphoma, can require intensive treatment and not be very responsive to treatment, at all.

Other treatment options might include vitamin supplements (in particular B12), or probiotics. Your vet can discuss how these may play a role in your cat’s therapy.

vet doctor checking up the cat
Image Credit: Andrey_Kuzmin, Shutterstock

Skin Cancers

Skin cancer in cats may not be the most common cancer, but it is common enough—especially in sunny environments—that it is worth knowing about.

Squamous cell carcinomas arise predominantly from sun exposure, and are therefore more common in areas where cats, especially white or light-coated cats, get lots of sun exposure.

Mast cell tumors are another common form of skin cancer in cats. These are cells that are normally found in the feline skin, but can cause issues with itching, or act like growths or masses, particularly around the face, as well as around the trunk/arms of the body.

Many mast cell tumors in cats are benign, but some can cause widespread issues, so it is best to identify them early.

Skin disease in a cat
Image Credit: Vlamin, Shutterstock

Kidney Cancer

Not always a common issue in cats, but because cats are prone to kidney issues in general, it is one to be aware of.

The most common feline kidney cancer is lymphoma, which often presents with one kidney being larger than the other. This then impacts the kidney function. In general, this is one of the more difficult feline cancers to treat.

Fatty Cancers – Lipomas

Although fatty cancer, or lipomas, fall under the term of a cancer, they are generally growths of fat that cause no concern. These tend to be more common in dogs, but are certainly seen in cats, especially as they age.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer in cats can be quite severe, and often presents with very little warning. Some cats show signs of coughing, while other cats show weight loss.

Many cats show no clinical signs at all, and the lung cancer is captured on X-rays that are performed entirely for other reasons. Some of these cancers can, therefore, take a long time to actually cause illness. In general, they are difficult to treat.

vet doctor examining cat in x-ray room
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Oral (Mouth) Cancer

Oral cancers in cats seem to be increasing, though they generally cause issues in older cats. The cancers in the mouth tend to be very invasive, even into the bone of the jaw, and often cause severe pain for cats.

Young cats can develop cancer related to viruses. The likelihood of this depends on the geographic location of the cat, as well as his or her prior history. Outdoor cats, especially those in areas where vaccination is not common, are more likely to develop these issues. Feline leukemia virus is a prime example of a virus causing cancer, particularly in the lymph tissue, of young cats.

What are Signs My Cat Has Cancer?

Some of the more common clinical signs in cats with cancer include:

  • Weight loss
  • Loss or decrease in appetite
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Decrease in activity/lethargy
  • Bad breath

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No one ever wants to hear that their cat has cancer. But, with regular vet check-ups to monitor weight and get a good physical exam, you can stay on top of your cat’s health.

Many cancers can be detected early, which gives your cat a better chance at fighting them. Cancer is something that surprisingly can be detected earlier than most pet owners appreciate. So being proactive, getting your cat an exam, and sharing any concerns with your vet are great options that go a long way in keeping your cat healthy!

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