Chest Cancer in Cats

Picture of an orange tabby cat

Even though tumors of the lungs and other parts of the respiratory system are relatively uncommon in cats as they are in dogs, they can sometimes still affect this species.

To learn more about chest cancer, the types there are, the symptoms that a cat that has developed it can exhibit, and whether or not it can be treated, read on!

What Is Feline Chest Cancer and What Parts of the Respiratory System Does It Affect?

Like many other animals, cats can develop tumors of the nose and sinuses, larynx, trachea, and of the lungs.

Anatomically, the trachea is present both in the cat’s neck and in the upper part of the chest, so if a tumor is developed in this section, it can also be considered ‘chest’ cancer. Sometimes, tracheal tumors also involve the bronchi or the larynx, in which case the cat’s voice suffers significant changes — and naturally, so does her breathing.

Primary lung tumors are quite rare in cats, and more often than not, they are the result of neoplasms located in other organs (such as the mammary gland, for example), which spread to the lung.

Usually, primary lung tumor cases in cats are diagnosed around the age of 11 to 12, so if your cat is a senior, taking him or her to the vet clinic for check-ups twice or even three times a year can catch lung cancer in one of its incipient stages.

What Causes Chest Cancer in Cats?

The answer to this question remains unclear even in this day and age and despite the amount of veterinary research that was performed in the past decades.

Some cats can be more prone to developing cancer because of genetics, but others can develop it as a result of being exposed to toxic chemicals time and again (such as carcinogenic substances from harsh cleaning products). Sodium hypochlorite is one of such substances and the gas is highly dangerous to both human and animal health.

Cats that live in households where there are heavy smokers also have a much higher chance of developing lung tumors or at least chronic pathologies of the respiratory system.


The clinical signs that can be seen in a cat with chest cancer actually depend on the exact part of the respiratory system that was affected by the disease. For example, cats with tracheal and laryngeal tumors can show some of the following symptoms:

  • Labored breathing
  • Voice changes
  • Coughing

Lung tumors have a considerably different clinical picture, and since coughing isn’t a very common symptom in their case, in cats, at least, they will begin to show various other general signs, such as the following:

Metastatic lung tumors cause the same symptoms.

How Is Chest Cancer Diagnosed?

Out of all of the diagnostic tests that a veterinarian can utilize in order to tell what the cat is suffering from, the imaging ones are by far the best when it comes to the tumors of the respiratory system.

Sometimes, even an ordinary exam like an x-ray can reveal the location of the neoplasm, which can at least give the vet a clue as to whether or not surgery could be a way of treating it.

Perhaps the only imaging method that vets are not going to recommend in this case is going to be an ultrasound as the specifics of this examination make it unusable for organs such as the lung or those where heavy amounts of air are present. For other, opaque organs such as the liver or the kidneys, for example, an ultrasound might sometimes be the better option.

Computed tomography can be a little more precise than an x-ray, so the vet might recommend it, too.

A biopsy can reveal the type of tumor the cat has and a general examination, along with other methods, can allow the vet to discover whether some other formations might be present on the animal’s body (or inside it).


The two most common ways of treating chest cancer in cats are surgery and chemotherapy. They are often used alongside one another – for example, chemotherapy can be used at first to get the tumor to shrink and make it operable, following which the cat will go through the actual surgical procedure.

Radiation therapy can be used only in some tumor types.

When it comes to the prognosis of this disease, it is positive for cats who have primary lung tumors that are well-organized, and that can be removed with surgery. However, those that have developed metastasis in their lungs along with others in other organs from another, primary neoplasm, have a much lower chance of survival no matter the type of therapy that might be attempted.

Pulmonary cancer can also be quite resistant to chemotherapy, which means that several different types of medications might have to be tried at first until the one that’s effective is discovered.

The recovery rate following an operation depends on the cat’s general health status and age. If she is suffering from other chronic conditions, as many senior cats do, the recovery process might be more difficult and lengthy.

During the first several weeks following the surgery, the cat should not engage in any exercise and should wear an Elizabethan collar to protect the operation site.



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