The symptoms with which your cat will present will very much depend on the site of the cancer and the type. Some are very aggressive and you will hardly have noticed that the cat is ill before you are getting some very bad news from your vet. Others are slower growing and not so prone to form secondaries – also known as metastases – and so you have a little more time. But any animal which is behaving unusually should be seen by the vet and any condition, no matter how seemingly slight, should be investigated if it lasts for more than a few days. Cancer won’t go away just because you choose to ignore it.
Skin Cancer Symptoms
This is not so much as symptom as a case of the cancer being in plain sight. Most cats are very fastidious groomers and if there is a problem with their skin you will see it straight away as they may well avoid the area as it may be painful and so the fur will look sticky and staring. The fur may fall out, leaving an obvious area of unhealthy looking skin, a dark lesion or scales. This should be investigated immediately and the vet will take a biopsy if he is in any doubt. Skin cancers can be treated successfully with surgery in the early stages but they can spread, not only across other areas of skin but also to internal organs. Adenocarcinoma is particularly prone to this, often metastasising or even starting as a primary between the toes, where amputation will often be the only answer. This is a difficult place for the owner to spot and it is a good idea to encourage the cat to enjoy having its whole body examined regularly to check for anything unusual – and let’s face it, most cats won’t say no to an all body stroking session!
Lumps and Bumps
Before any other symptoms such as lethargy and loss of appetite kick in, many cancers show as a lump with can be easily felt on the surface of the body. For example, lymphomas usually start on the head or neck and a tumour of a lymph gland is very easy to spot there as the cat’s face will look lopsided. They are also quite painful and so the animal will resist petting on the site. Unfortunately, owners tend to mistake these lumps for bites or ticks and time can be lost before treatment begins, which can make all the difference in outcome. At the risk of saying the same thing over and over, it is never too early to take a cat or any other animal for that matter, to the vet if something unusual is noticed. Even if it turns out to be a less serious condition than cancer, early treatment will be better for the cat and ultimately, probably, for your pocket!
Cancer of the gut
The most common cancer of the gut is again adenocarcinoma. This can spread quickly, blocking the gut and also affecting nearby lymphnodes, which are strung along the whole length of the gut and therefore never far from the primary. Also of course the lymph drains the debris from the gut, including cells from the cancer which break away easily. Fortunately, the symptoms are such that the owner will notice quite quickly that the cat is ill. It will lose its appetite as the obstruction grows and will become lethargic and may vomit. Surgery is quite successful and the cat will recover quite well, although this is a cancer which tends to recur. The symptoms are common to a lot of other conditions, but will not lessen as might be the case in an infection or infestation, but will only grow worse and very quickly.
General things to watch out for
As everyone knows who has ever owned a cat, they are past masters at hiding the fact that they are ill. Any animal which has a predator – and the domestic cat is not the top of the heap as their big cat ancestor is – hides illness as a survival technique. Cats have been known to purr even when severely injured or dying and it may be part of the animal’s laid back nature that it tries not to let feeling ill get it down – who knows. But the upshot is that the animal may be quite seriously ill before you find out about it. In the case of a house cat of course you will be aware very quickly if it is ill or not just from the state of its litter tray, but a cat which is allowed out of doors is a very private animal who is unlikely to defecate near the house and so you may never notice that it is in trouble. Often, though, a cat who is unwell stops being clean in the house because it feels to ill to go out of doors. If a cat which has been reliably clean starts soiling in the house, it is time for a trip to the vet. Otherwise, it is important to check for lumps, to watch the quality of the coat, which often becomes unkempt or greasy looking in ill health and also to check for foul breath, limping, unusual bad temper or other changes. And the other important thing to remember is this – cancers in cats are relatively rare. Don’t hide your head in the sand because you might get bad news – treatment is always the best option.