Did My Cat Have Cancer?

CatChannel veterinary expert, Arnold Plotnick, DVM, describes common cancer and illness signs in cats.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM | Posted: August 15, 2008 2 a.m. EDT

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Q: My 10-year-old cat Socks suddenly began to lose weight in January, despite a normal appetite. He lost between two and three pounds. Blood tests at the veterinarian’s office revealed that his white blood cell count was high, and he had a slight fever. He was put on antibiotics and vitamins. He soon lost his appetite for soft cat food. I gave him chicken and turkey breast for about a week.

My veterinarian then put him on a prescription diet (duck and pea formula), but he did not want to eat that either. I fed him Fancy Feast for the last two months. He began eating normally, got his full appetite back and seemed to be acting like himself. However, this past Thursday, I came home and found him cowering in the corner, walking very slowly with no energy.

I brought him to the vet Friday morning. He was very dehydrated and had a kidney infection. The blood work showed a high white blood cell count and a low count on antibodies to fight off infection. They did a sonogram of his chest and abdomen. He had fluid on the chest and in the abdomen. They also saw two masses in the chest. The doctor said he most likely had cancer. They kept him at the vets for six days. When I brought him home, he could barely walk. His hind legs were weaker than the front. His heart also was racing. He had not been eating much for six days. He was sent home with vitamin supplements, antibiotics and medicine that is used for cancer in dogs.

I lost my Socks the next day. He was acting normal. Why all of a sudden could an animal fall fatally ill and die. Do you think he had cancer? Please get back to me; I am heartbroken.

A: I offer my sincerest condolences on the loss of your cat Socks. Of course I cannot be certain, but based on some of the information you’ve given me in your letter, I do believe your cat did have cancer. Sudden, rapid weight loss is a very common sign in cats with cancer, and your cat’s weight loss in January is suspicious.

Fluid in the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity is another finding that is consistent with cancer. The most telling sign, based on your letter, is the presence of the two masses in the chest. While there are several possible things that these could be (abscesses, granulomas or cysts), cancer by far is the most likely.

I see a great deal of cancer in my cat practice, and the number of cases seems to increase dramatically every year. I think this is due to the longer life span we’re seeing in cats. Cancer is more common in older animals, and due to medical advances, cats are living longer than ever before. The cancers that I see in cats that are 15 and 16-years-old would not have developed in these cats when their life spans were only 13 to 14 years. It’s an ironic price that we pay, I suppose, for the medical advances that result in such longevity.

In regard to your question about how cats seemingly can be normal one moment and sick the next: Cats are notorious for not letting you know that they’re sick until they absolutely cannot hide it any longer. They’re programmed this way. Predators pick on the sick ones, and cats have figured out how to hide the fact that they’re sick, until they’re really sick. By that time, their illness often is fairly advanced, and there’s often not much we can do in terms of therapy. It makes being a feline practitioner quite a challenge.

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Did My Cat Have Cancer?

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Reader Comments

snezana    International

1/14/2014 1:01:46 AM

I also lost my cata one mounth ago. Sudenly she stopt eting and drinking. In two weeks she lost 2 kilograms.
After the ultrasound, the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. 5 days after the diagnosis we have to put her to sleep. She was suffering too much and there was no good painkiller to help her.
I am still asking my self the question how it is possible that I newer notice that she was not feeling wel. So I understa d that cats can hide a pain very well.
Sory for mij English and mzny regards from Snezana

Albert    El Paso, TX

4/23/2012 12:01:35 PM

I have this great friend, her name is Ms. Kitty, she was given to me as a kitten from a friend out of a group of feral cats in his yard in San Francisco.14 Years went by so fast, in 2010 I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and during crucial moments Ms Kitty offered me healing companionship, not to mention that Ms Kitty is a designated Service Animal.I had to retire from my government job of 30 years and move back to El Paso, and Ms Kitty adopted well in her new environment. She has always been 100% indoor cat so I figured she had a few more years left in her.Here in El Paso I took her to a Animal hospital to have her teeth cleaned last year.
Then I took her again to the same place this year again and the veterinarian told me that my cat was old and she didn't really put any interest in my cat.So I took Ms Kitty to another veterinarian to get a second opinion and this vet asked me if I could leave her there till later in the day because he wanted to examine her.When I brought her back home that day Ms Kitty was sick and she sounded like she had fluid in her respiratory system and she lost appetite for three days.One month later I took her back to have her teeth clean at the same place and Ms Kitty was screaming like she didn't want to go back there again.But later that afternoon when I went to pick her up she was very silent. When we got home she was very sick she lost her appetite again and she didn't have any vocals at all.I first felt like maybe she had been mistreated and abused because she was never the same.The Veterinarian told me that she had Kidney issues and that he would sell me some KD cat food.A few weeks later Ms Kitty stop'ed eating altogether and urinating outside her litter box. So I took her to a different Veterinarian and he took a blood sample and she has a high white cell blood count, the vet also feels two lumps on her stomach and he thinks it is probably cancer.I feel so sad because she has lost a lot of weight she wont eat and hardly drinks any water. The vet gave her some antibiotic's last Friday to help boost her appetite and by Saturday she ate a little and used her litter box properly, almost as if she was back to her normal self. But then yesterday on Sunday she was sick again so tomorrow I have to take her to get an ultrasound. But I am so miserable because I feel that we both have run out of time.

joan    oviedo, FL

6/16/2011 11:57:04 AM

Sometimes, finding cancer early does not significantly help the prognosis. 2 of my cats were diagnosed with devastating cancers one month apart. Cleopatra had aprocrine adenocarcinoma ( I found a lump in her neck). The vet operated and got clean margins, but a few weeks later she stopped eating but recovered with fluid support and steroids. That was when the vet noticed another growth. We took her to U of Fl small animal hospital (wonderful) but x-rays showed it metastasized to the lungs. It is a very rare cancer and even rarer for this cancer to spread. I tried 3 different courses of chemo. It does not seem to respond to any and while her quality of life is good now, her life expectancy is very limited which is heart breaking.
My other cat Coco had a lump appear on his right hind quarter. Again the vet got clean margins but it is recommended to get wide margins as this is such an aggressive cancer. He and Cleo went to U of Fl together and desite wide margins, one of the deep margins had a pin sized fibrosarcoma.
The whole experience is unbelievable and so sad. They both are very special.

Kim    New Milford, NJ

3/31/2011 5:21:13 AM

I too had a Maine Coon cat named Serena who died of pancreatic cancer in Feb. She was very young, only 3 1/2. My fiancee and I are heartbroken. It seems like she was ok one minute and sick the next. We wish we had noticed the signs earlier..... I wonder if cancer is more prone to certain breeds...

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