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Lymphoma in Cats: Symptoms, Treatments, Prognosis
tTreatments February is National Cat Health Month, a great time to draw attention to some of the most common health issues our feline loves face. In this blog post we’ll discuss lymphoma in cats, outlining the symptoms, causes, treatments and more.
What is Feline Lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a form of cancer that affects the lymphocytes, which are cells that make up the immune system. These lymphocytes are all throughout your cat’s body, including in the blood and lymphatic vessels. This is why lymphoma is considered a systemic disease and not a localized one.
Sadly, lymphoma is a common cancer among cats, accounting for approximately 30% of new cancer diagnoses. The good news is that lymphoma is connected with feline leukemia, which is a viral infection, and since more cats are being vaccinated against feline leukemia, the rates of lymphoma are dropping.
Symptoms of Cat Lymphoma
The following are some of the most common symptoms of lymphoma in cats. Should you notice any of these it is important you make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.
Feline lymphoma most commonly affects a cat’s intestines. Clinical signs of this disease mimic other intestinal diseases, and cats usually develop weight loss, vomiting, and diarrhea. Cats will often experience an increase in appetite as well, as their intestines are unable to properly absorb the nutrients from the food they eat.
Mediastinal lymphoma affects the chest area and cat’s with this disease often have respiratory issues. Fluid will typically begin to accumulate around the tumor(s), which makes it harder for the cat to breathe.
Renal lymphoma affects the kidneys and it is quite common for these cats to experience symptoms associated with kidney failure. Symptoms may include decreased appetite, weight loss, increased thirst, and vomiting. These symptoms are a result of the kidneys being less able to filter the blood of harmful toxins.
How is Lymphoma Diagnosed?
Diagnosing cancer in pets is never an easy task. In order to get a definitive diagnosis, a biopsy must be conducted and the sample looked at under a microscope. Most vets will want to perform baseline screening bloodwork to assess your cat’s overall health. The bloodwork will also be used to rule out any other possible reasons for your cat’s clinical signs.
Many vets will choose to obtain a fine needle aspirate over a traditional biopsy. Basically, they insert a fine needle into the area of concern to remove a bit of fluid that will contain cells, which they will then look at under a microscope. This procedure carries minimal risks and side effects, and it costs less than a traditional biopsy.
If the animal is too old or too sick to be put under anesthesia, which would be required to perform a fine needle aspirate or biopsy, or if the pet parent cannot afford these procedures, then the vet will make as good a diagnosis as they can based on the blood work, physical exam and symptoms presented.
It’s definitely a hard decision to make, and why it’s always good to work closely with your vet who can guide you in making the right decision for your fur baby. In some cases, a vet may think putting a senior cat through the procedure is not worth it. A younger cat who is more resilient may benefit from a biopsy or fine needle aspirate because a pathologist can then use the sample to determine if the cat has high-grade or low-grade lymphoma. Meaning, how aggressive is the disease and what is the best course of action to treat it.
Treatments for Lymphoma
High-grade lymphoma is a fast-growing disease and means the cancer is more malignant. Generally not a good sign. Low-grade lymphoma, however, often responds well to chemotherapy and can lead to a longer period of remission.
In cases where the pet parent cannot afford chemotherapy or the cat is not a good candidate, steroids can also be used. While these won’t put the cancer into remission, it can slow down the spread of the disease and buy the cat some time with their family.
What is the Prognosis for Lymphoma?
The prognosis for lymphoma depends on a variety of factors, namely the type and location of the lymphoma, how healthy or sick the cat is when diagnosed, the cat’s feline leukemia status, and how early the disease was caught.
As an example, most cases of intestinal lymphoma are low-grade in nature. With early detection and proper treatment, roughly 70% of cats will go into remission. Lymphoma is not curable but the proper treatment can extend your fur baby’s life.
Pet Insurance Can Help You Give Your Cat the Best Chance
It’s never easy to see our fur babies sick and it can be devastating to get a diagnosis of cancer. At times like these we want to do everything in our power to get our babies the absolute best care so we can spend more time with them. But cancer care is expensive. Between bloodwork, biopsies and chemo, you could pay thousands of dollars. Can you realistically afford this?
Pet health insurance plans can reimburse you for up to as much as 90% of the vet bill.
Give your cat the care they deserve and the peace of mind you desire and enroll your fur baby in a plan today. Get started with a free customized quote. It only takes 2 minutes.
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- Barnette, C., DVM, “Lymphoma in Cats,” Retrieved from: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/lymphoma-in-cats
- The Cornell Feline Health Center: https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/lymphoma
- Boldan, M., DVM, “Lymphoma in Cats,” Retrieved from: https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/cancer/c_ct_lymphoma