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Cancer - a word no cat parent wants to hear, especially if there is nothing that can be done about it. Oftentimes, we wait until under the wire to take our cats to the vet, only to learn that cancer has spread and nothing can be done about it.
What are the possible causes of cancer in cats?
While some causes are unknown; a few may be understood through a few external and internal factors -
Genes: If either of your cat's parents/grandparents has had a
history of cancer, your cat is likely to have been predisposed to it since he/she was born. If you choose to buy a cat, ensure that you are fully aware of the health of your cat's parents. On the other hand, if you choose to adopt from a shelter where the lineage is unknown, ask for a health description before adoption.
Stress: It's a cheeky factor, but it is an important
determinant in your cat's cancer detection. Stress manifests itself in different ways - some are noticed like aggression, chewing out fur, clawing,
yowling etc., while others go unnoticed and crop up as signs of an illness.
Environment: Exposure to second-hand smoke, herbicides, weedicides, pollutants etc., can cause certain cancers in cats.
Quality of food: Over time, an imbalanced diet, i.e. one where all the nutrients are not in sufficient amounts to meet dietary requirements according to age, can cause cancer.
Obesity: Obesity and obesity-related health complications like heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disorders etc., can cause cancer in cats. Most often, obesity stems from overfeeding and underexercising a cat.
Virus: Certain viruses like the feline leukaemia virus are contributors to leading causes of cancer in cats.
Warning signs of cancer in cats
Although most cancers come without warning, knowing certain warning signs can help you nip it at the bud -
Unexplained Bleeding: A sudden, unexplained bleeding from any part of the body, especially the gums, nose, penis, and vagina, can mean cancer.
Wounds That Don't Heal: Wounds that don't heal or those that start bleeding suddenly after healing may be a cause of concern, especially if this is accompanied by other signs and symptoms.
Coughing: Coughs can be for several reasons ranging from a tiny infection to developing cancer. If your cat has repeated cough attacks, i.e. a honking noise from the throat, be sure to check with your vet to rule out possible cancer.
Unusual Hiding: All cats love their hiding spots, but when your kitty refuses to come out of her hiding spot way too often than usual, it is a good idea to see a veterinarian because cats can hide when they are in pain or discomfort.
Foul Odour: Odours that are horribly smelly from the mouth, ears, and skin can be a cause of cancer since most tumours emit a foul odour. Remember that some odours may just mean an infection, but it is best to consult a veterinarian either way.
Weight Loss or Gain: Unexpected weight loss despite normal feeding and exercising is often the earliest sign of cancer.
Lack of Appetite: Loss of appetite can be something as simple as a stomach infection to something serious as stomach cancer. An unexpected withdrawal from eating, especially if it lasts for more than three days, is best checked as soon as possible.
Lethargy: Although there might be days when your cat isn't up for anything and prefers to laze around on the couch, it shouldn't be every day. Lowered energy levels and a lack of enthusiasm, especially after sleeping, is a cause of concern. Lethargy is a common medical symptom for a range of health complications, cancer being one of them.
Tartar: Tartar is the yellow buildup on your cat's teeth that doesn't look like it'd come off easily. Tartar leads to Gingivitis, which leads to oral cancer if left undetected without treatment. The best way to tackle tartar is through dental scaling and chew bones.
Pain: Pain can be for many reasons, but if it is chronic, at the same place, and keeps recurring, you must contact your vet to rule out cancer.
Lumps, Bumps, Sores: Like how lumps and bumps are a sign of cancer in humans, it is in cats too. Abnormally shaped lumps that grow continuously, bumps that are pus-filled or hard to touch, and sores that won't go away despite repeated medication often may require medical attention to rule out certain cancers.
Vomiting: Vomiting, especially one that has blood in it, requires immediate medical attention to test for cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
Stiffness: Any sign of stiffness can mean joint/muscle problems, arthritis, or even cancer. Lameness and lethargy in cats can be a sign of bone cancer.
Swollen Lymph Nodes: Enlarged lymph nodes, especially those behind the knee and jaw, can cause lymphoma - a problematic form of cancer that requires immediate medical attention.
Urinary Problems: Urinary problems in male cats can mean prostate cancer, while that in female cats often shows up as mammary gland cancer. Some urinary problems are trivial, but some are a little more serious. Ensure you consult a veterinarian/oncologist when urinary infections don't go away or repeatedly occur, especially if your cat is old.
Change in toileting habits: Toileting outside the litterbox or toileting too often is what's called a 'change in toileting habit'. If this occurs often, it is best for you to take your cat to a veterinarian.
Bloody/Tarry Diarrhoea: Remember that diarrhoea is extremely common, so it might not indicate cancer unless it occurs with one or more warning signs. Either way, be sure to rule out possible diseases with your vet.
Discharge: Discharge that is coloured (yellow/green), foul-smelling, persistent/re-occurring from the eyes, ears, and nose can indicate the presence of facial and eye tumours.
The best way to tackle cancer is early detection and prompt treatment, and this is only possible if cat parents learn of the warning signs of cancer in cats.