Cat Cancer Treatment Plan: What to Expect
According to the Colorado State University Animal Cancer Center, approximately 1 in 5 cats will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifespan, This means that the risk of cancer in cats is lower than the risk of cancer in people. However, to the parent of a cat with cancer, that statistic may provide little comfort. A cancer diagnosis can be challenging and overwhelming, but veterinarians currently have access to a wide variety of cat cancer treatments in order to provide the best possible care for your kitty.
Cancer in Cats Treatment Plan: What to Expect
Though a feline cancer diagnosis may seem scary and daunting, your veterinarian and veterinary team will be there to walk you through the care that your cat will need – both immediately and in the coming weeks and months.
Treatment options for cats with cancer can vary significantly. In some cases, a single surgery may be curative. For other forms of cancer, your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary oncologist (cancer specialist) for advanced diagnostic testing and treatments. Your cat’s customized treatment plan will be based on their diagnosis, overall health, and other factors.
Your veterinarian, along with other members of your cat’s veterinary care team, will strive to answer all of your questions about cancer treatment to the best of their ability. They will recommend the best possible treatment for your cat and can also provide alternative treatment options (if necessary). They’ll also talk to you about the costs and side effects associated with recommended treatments, as well as your cat’s anticipated prognosis.
Cat Cancer Treatment Cost
Much like the available treatment options, the cost of cancer treatment for cats can vary dramatically, depending on the level of care your cat requires. There is no one-size-fits-all cat cancer treatment plan; the best treatment for your kitty will depend on a number of different factors.
If your cat’s cancer can be treated with surgery alone, the total cost may be less than $1,000. However, the costs associated with cat chemotherapy and/or radiation can be much higher. A full course of chemotherapy or radiation may cost $3,000-$6,000, and some cats require a combination of both chemotherapy and radiation in order to ensure the best possible prognosis.
Types of Cat Cancer Treatment
Feline cancer can be addressed through a variety of different treatments. Depending on the type of cancer and how far it has progressed, your cat may receive one form of treatment or a combination of treatments.
Many cat tumors can be successfully treated with surgery. When removing a tumor surgically, your veterinarian will likely attempt to obtain wide “margins” of normal tissue around the tumor to increase the likelihood of removing the entire thing. The tumor will then be sent to a veterinary pathologist for analysis to ensure that the entire thing was removed. Even if removal is not curative, getting rid of the bulk of a tumor may help improve your cat’s prognosis.
You are likely familiar with the use of chemotherapy in human patients. Fortunately, cat chemotherapy is often far better-tolerated than chemotherapy in humans. Some side effects are inevitable, but nausea and vomiting are relatively uncommon, and cats do not typically lose their hair. Chemotherapy for cats may be administered at home (as oral tablets) or in the veterinary hospital, depending on your cat’s particular cancer and recommended treatment protocol.
Radiation therapy is intended to kill off cancer cells while causing minimal damage to surrounding cells. This treatment is administered under general anesthesia in order to allow directed therapy and minimize risk to surrounding tissues. Depending on your cat’s particular cancer, radiation may be delivered with the intent to eliminate a tumor, or to shrink or control the tumor.
Immunotherapy is a relatively new addition to veterinary oncology. The idea behind immunotherapy is to administer an injection that directs your cat’s immune system to attack a specific type of cancer.
Cat Cancer Medications
While the above are the primary treatments used to address feline cancer, your veterinarian may also recommend a number of different medications.
Cat cancer medications may be used alone in the treatment of cancer (for palliative or hospice care) or in conjunction with more definitive treatments.
Common medications often recommended for cats with cancer include:
Pain medications. Some forms of feline cancer are painful, requiring the use of medications to alleviate discomfort.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). These medications control both pain and inflammation, making them beneficial in cats with certain types of cancer.
Steroids. Some steroids, such as prednisone, can alleviate inflammation that may occur with cat tumors.
Antiemetics. If your cat’s cancer leads to nausea, your veterinarian may prescribe antiemetic (anti-nausea) medication.
Appetite stimulants. Cat cancer can lead to a decrease in appetite. Because a loss of appetite and a lack of adequate caloric intake may cause a worsening of your cat’s condition, your veterinarian may prescribe a stimulant to increase your cat’s appetite.
Antibiotics. Cancer and its associated treatments can weaken your cat’s immune system. Your veterinarian may recommend antibiotics to prevent or treat bacterial infections.
All of these cat cancer medications can have potential side effects. However, your veterinarian will carefully balance the risks versus benefits before recommending any meds for your cat. If you have questions about your cat’s medication, talk to your veterinarian.
Dietary Considerations for Cats With Cancer
A well-balanced diet is an essential component of cancer treatments for cats. Cancer can lead to changes in your cat’s metabolism, increasing their caloric requirements and making it difficult for them to maintain a healthy body weight. Cancer cachexia (weight loss caused by cancer) can negatively impact your cat’s prognosis.
Talk to your veterinarian about the best diet to support your cat through treatment. They may recommend a diet that is specifically formulated for cats with cancer or cachexia.
Additional Lifestyle Considerations
Cats with cancer should be kept indoors. This will reduce the risk of illness or injury, which could place additional stress on their immune system.
If your cat is receiving chemotherapy, your veterinarian will instruct you how to handle your cat’s bedding and litter box. Following these recommendations will limit your exposure to chemotherapy drugs.
Depending on your cat’s particular cancer, your veterinarian may make other recommendations regarding your cat’s lifestyle.
Prognosis for Cats Undergoing Cancer Treatment
The prognosis for cancer is highly variable. Factors to consider include what type of cancer your cat has, how aggressive your cat’s particular cancer is, and how far the cancer has spread at the time of diagnosis. In most cases, your veterinarian will be able to provide you with an estimated prognosis after performing diagnostic tests.
Early detection is key for improving feline cancer outcomes. If you suspect that your cat may have cancer, it’s important to schedule a veterinary visit as soon as possible. Early diagnosis allows for early treatment, which can help bring better results for your cat.