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Healthy Cats

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Cancer in Cats: Types, Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

WebMD veterinary expert answers commonly asked questions about cancer in cats.


Sometimes it’s just a refusal to eat and weight loss, a rough coat, or just generally what we call a failure to thrive. It’s always best, if your cat is acting ill or lethargic for any period of time, to take it to your veterinarian to be checked out.

Q: Is it difficult to diagnose the type of cancer a cat has contracted?

A: With a biopsy the pathologist can usually tell us the type of cancer. But sometimes it’s not so clear. And sometimes people are reluctant to go forward without a firm prognosis. Often we can’t go forward until we know what the actual subtype is. It can take some special testing or some special stains for us to delineate the type of cancer, and sometimes people just aren’t willing to do that.

Q: What’s causing the high cancer rates in our cats?

A: We really don’t know what causes most cancers. There are a few, like the feline leukemia virus, which is the big player in cancer etiology in cats. But I don’t know that we have the answer for what causes most cancers in cats.

We do know people are keeping cats longer. Cats are living longer, so of course we see more cancer in cats just because we see more cats. But even in older cats, cancer is more sporadic than it is in dogs.

Q: Can household chemicals or other common items, like bug sprays, cause cancer in cats because they walk through the residues and then lick their feet?

A: There may be environmental causes. There have been some studies looking at secondhand smoke. There have been issues of cats grooming themselves developing oral cancers. But they really don’t know if it’s because they’re taking some toxins from the environment into their body that way or not. There are still a lot of questions about environmental issues.

Q: Are some cat breeds more prone to cancers than others?

A: No, we don’t really recognize breeds of cats being at increased risk of cancers like in dogs. However, white varieties of certain cat breeds are more prone to squamous cell carcinoma, usually on their ears and face.)

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