Tips For Caring For A Cat With Cancer
Your cat has been your faithful companion through good times and bad. So, hearing your veterinarian say the word “cancer” while examining your cat can be gut-wrenching. The word brings with it such an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and dread, and, of course, questions. You may have questions such as, “What does this mean for my cat?”, “Who can I turn to for help?”, or “How do I go about caring for a cat with cancer?”
While a cancer diagnosis may be frightening, it’s important to remember that we live in a time when veterinarians have new and innovative ways to successfully treat this disease and/or extend your feline’s life by several years. Your cat will also have something that is equally important and valuable for her or his recovery — your love. The cancer journey is not always an easy one, so don’t be surprised if your cat leans on you for extra comfort during this trying period in his or her life.
There are many types of cancers that cats can develop, including nasal tumors and gastrointestinal cancer, so treatment protocols can differ greatly. However, the following are some universal tips for how to care for a cat with cancer.
It won’t always be easy, but the best thing you can do is to remain positive after learning of a cancer diagnosis. Falling into a state of despair and inaction is not going to help your cat. Instead, you need to think positively and begin searching for the appropriate treatment for your furry family member. In many cases — especially if you’re dealing with an aggressive cancer — the sooner you seek medical treatment, the better the outcome will be for your feline.
Another reason to remain positive: Many advances have been made in the treatment and care of cats that have been diagnosed with cancer. One such tool is Stereotactic Radiation, which is a noninvasive medical procedure that can deliver higher doses of radiation directed very precisely at a tumor. This precision means there is less risk of collateral damage to the healthy tissue surrounding the tumor. Stereotactic Radiation is also delivered in just one to three sessions, which is 80-95% fewer treatments than required with traditional radiation therapy.
Learn About Your Pet’s Type of Cancer
“Cancer” is a broad term used to describe a group of diseases characterized by abnormal cell growth. Not all cancers are the same. In fact, there can be significant differences in the symptoms, treatment, prognosis and even diagnosis, depending on the cancer.
So, it’s important to learn exactly what type of cancer your cat has been diagnosed with. Don’t be shy; ask your veterinarian or oncologist questions. The doctor understands that an informed pet parent can provide the cat with better care, which can help speed the healing process. You can also get additional information from online sources, including from PetCure Oncology’s library.
Learn How Tumors and Cancer Are Diagnosed and Treated
If your veterinarian or specialist suspects that your cat has cancer, she or he will use one or more of the following approaches to make a diagnosis:
- Physical examination: During this examination, your veterinarian will look for abnormalities, such as lumps or swellings; and symptoms, including weight loss.
- Laboratory tests: If your veterinarian suspects cancer, she or he may order laboratory tests, including but not limited to a urinalysis or a blood test.
- Imaging: The veterinarian might also order imaging tests, including X-rays, an ultrasound, a CT scan or an MRI. These tests allow your vet to examine your cat’s bones and internal organs in a noninvasive manner.
- Biopsy: To conclusively determine whether your cat has cancer, your veterinarian will collect a tissue sample via a biopsy or aspiration, so that it can be examined under a microscope.
Once this information is collected, your veterinary team will have a better understanding of what type of cancer your cat has, as well as how aggressive it may be and whether it has metastasized (spread to other parts of your cat’s body).
Research the Different Treatment Options
Cats today are fortunate to have several types of treatments available to help them in their fight against cancer, including surgery, radiation, immunotherapy and chemotherapy. For your peace of mind, we recommend that you learn as much as possible about these options and how they will affect your pet. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that many treatments aren’t as scary as you may have presumed.
For example, cats generally tolerate chemotherapy better than humans. In fact, it is uncommon for our feline friends to have stomach upset from chemotherapy. Then there is Stereotactic Radiation. This treatment option takes only about 15 to 20 minutes on average per session, and your cat may require only one to three of these sessions. Another plus? You can usually take your cat home immediately after each treatment session is finished.
Select a Veterinary Oncologist
It’s common practice for humans to seek care from specialists when they’re dealing with a life-changing diagnosis, such as cancer. These doctors typically have more knowledge, expertise and experience in the area of medicine in which they specialize than a general practitioner.
Just like you, your cat could benefit greatly from seeing a specialist, specifically a veterinary oncologist. In fact, your veterinarian may refer you to an oncologist, if there is one in your area. Even if you don’t have an oncologist in your area, you may still be able to benefit from an oncologist’s expertise via telehealth. PetCure Oncology, for instance, offers this service to pet parents who want to learn more from a radiation oncologist about the radiation treatment options available for their beloved furry family member.
Maintain Your Cat’s Lifestyle to the Degree Possible
Although your world may seem as though it has been turned upside down by the cancer diagnosis, you’ll want to do everything possible to keep your cat’s lifestyle the same as it used to be. Cats are creatures of habit. During your cat’s battle with cancer, you can help her or him thrive by sticking to familiar routines. That means maintaining the same times for eating, sleeping and playing as before the cancer diagnosis. Of course, if you want to slip in some extra time for cuddle sessions, your cat is likely to approve of that change in his or her schedule.
Consider Quality of Life and Learn About Palliative Care Options
Whether your feline’s cancer can be cured depends on several factors, including its type, stage and how aggressive it is. Unfortunately, not all cancers are curable. However, that doesn’t mean you should give up on getting treatment for your cat. Some treatments can be used to slow the cancer’s growth and diminish your cat’s symptoms, while improving his or her quality of life.
Cats are good at disguising when they are in pain. Be alert for signs that you pet may be suffering. For instance, when cats are not feeling well, they often want to be alone. You might, for example, find your cat hiding in your closet. If so, ask your veterinarian if she or he can provide palliative care for cats with cancer. There are also some veterinarians who provide house calls for palliative care, including for pain management.
At PetCure Oncology, We Care for Your Cat
Cancer is often the ugly elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. The sad reality is that 12 million cats and dogs are diagnosed with this disease each year.
At PetCure Oncology, we specialize in diagnosing cancer and providing compassionate care for cats while we treat them for this dreaded disease. Our mission statement summarizes all that PetCure Oncology strives to provide for our pet parents and their cats: “We understand. We commit. We will help.”
The contents of this article were provided in part by Dr. Renee Alsarraf, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology), a board-certified veterinary medical oncologist and member of PetCure Radiation Oncology Specialists (PROS).