Preventing cancer in cats

As cancer is a spontaneously occurring disease, prevention is not really possible in the usual sense of being able to prevent infection and accident by taking precautions. There are several ways though of minimising the likelihood of its occurrence by taking various simple steps, including vaccination.

Vaccination against Feline Leukaemia Virus

Lymphoma and leukaemia in cats can be kicked off in the body if the cat contracts the feline leukaemia virus and so annual booster injections are vital as any immunity given by the jab only lasts a year, not for life. The virus does not cause the cancers as such, but gives the cat a serious likelihood of contracting them, so avoidance is well worth the small effort it takes to get your cat immunised. Many people only have their cats immunised when they get them as kittens, mistakenly believing that it gives lifelong cover. Also, with everyone watching what they spend, some people find they can’t afford yearly injections. This is something that should be a big part of the consideration given to obtaining a cat; keeping any animal is not just a matter of putting down some food, vet bills some time in the future must always be factored in. The likely cost of treating a cat with lymphoma or leukaemia is going to be much higher than annual jabs. 

Spaying of Females

Mammary cancers are greatly reduced by spaying your female cat, but it is not a guarantee against it, as even male cats can develop the disease, although rarely. Spaying and neutering in general can result in cats less likely to roam, so they are often in better physical condition than otherwise, with the additional likelihood that they will be more affectionate with their owners and so lumps and bumps will be more readily noticed and treated. The downside of neutering and spaying is that some cats can become quite obese, leading to problems in noticing the lumps and bumps, so this is a bit of a two edges sword. Even so, generally speaking it is better to spay and neuter your cats unless they are specifically intended for breeding. Testicular and ovarian cancers do not generally occur in cats, so there is no direct connection in this regard.


Most cats are fed on proprietary cat food, which contains all they need to keep in good health. Monitoring the amount that a cat eats is sometimes tricky, especially if they are not house cats but are allowed to roam. But by providing a dish of food of good quality, you can generally be sure that they will eat most of it, no matter how many rodents and birds they are snacking on between meals. Cats are not the kind of animal to pass up a nice simple meal and so if your cat is refusing food, it may be a sign that it is ill, so follow it up as soon as possible. They can become very faddy eaters if given the chance and they also get bored quite easily. It is a good idea to change their food fairly often because if they become fixated on one brand that becomes unavailable or ‘improves’ its recipe, they can become quite hard to wean onto anything new. A well nourished cat of the correct weight will be more likely to be able to withstand the sometimes quite harsh treatment should it subsequently contract cancer.

Be Vigilant

Whilst by no means a prevention, constant vigilance as to the health of your cat will certainly improve its chances of recovery should it be unfortunate enough to develop cancer. Not all cancers present with an obvious lump but by getting to know your cat you can spot the little changes that can show it is unwell. Changes in bowel habit are difficult when it comes to cats, as unless they use a litter tray you are unlikely to come across any ‘evidence’ as cats usually do not go to the loo near the house. But if you notice your cat straining, or crying when urinating or defecating, it is essential to take it to the vet. If it is used to a litter tray, it might be a good idea to keep it in for a night, to see if you can isolate the problem. It may be something simple like an infestation of worms. Grooming your cat is a good way of checking for anything abnormal on its skin or in the way of a lump. Most cats love this anyway and what’s the point of a cat if you can’t have a nice cuddle with it now and again! Cats sometimes develop mouth cancers and these can grow very fast. Make a special effort to watch them eating now and again, to make sure that they are using their mouths with no discomfort and give them hard food regularly to make sure that they can chew.

Reduce Stress

All this watching can freak some cats right out – they don’t all like to have a lot of human attention, especially when eating or going to the loo. If you notice that they are beginning to avoid your attentions, then it is time to back off a little, as they will start to hide and then you won’t see any symptoms at an early stage. A balance is essential in this as in all things to do with having a pet – the important thing is to enjoy your cat and to remember that for them, cancer is really quite rare.  


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