Intestinal Cancer in Cats

Picture of a grey cat

Even though it might not be as common as other types of cancer in cats, intestinal neoplasms are dangerous as they are quite frequently malignant. Of course, there is the possibility of the cat having a benign tumor, in which case treatment with surgery can be successful.

In today’s article, we are looking at some facts about feline intestinal cancer, from the symptoms it causes to the types there are, how this condition is diagnosed, and what therapy options exist nowadays.

What Causes Intestinal Cancer in Cats?

Unfortunately, the causes of this type of cancer are unclear even now, despite the amount of research that has been performed in the past decades.

Several factors do exist, though, and they range from genetic ones (Siamese breeds seem to have a higher risk) to environmental factors such as exposure to toxic substances.

Males are also said to have a higher incidence of intestinal cancer compared to females. Also, FIV and FeLV are two other factors that can increase the risk of the animal developing intestinal neoplasia.

Types of Intestinal Cancer in Cats

Cats can suffer from a range of neoplasms, such as leiomyosarcoma, polyps, benign adenomas, or adenocarcinomas, mast cell tumors, plasma cell tumors, and even hemangiosarcoma, which usually affects the spleen rather than other organs.

Besides finding out the specific type of cancer, the veterinarian also needs to determine whether the primary tumor is located in one section of the gastrointestinal system or if it is, in fact, a metastasis from a tumor located in another organ.

The reason for this is that benign and malignant neoplasms are treated differently. The second are far more aggressive and if the cat does not get examined in due time, surgical treatment might not be recommended as there could be several tumors present in different locations, like the lymph nodes, the stomach, and even the peritoneum.

Malignant intestinal tumors also have a lower survival rate, with most cats being able to live for several months more after being diagnosed.

Symptoms of Feline Intestinal Cancer

The biggest issue with this type of cancer is that the symptoms can be quite confusing and might not determine the pet owner to seek out veterinary assistance as soon as possible.

For example, some cats can experience occasional vomiting and diarrhea episodes, which can be mistaken for momentary indigestion, parasite infestations, or gastrointestinal infections.

Here are some more clinical signs that can be noticeable in a cat with intestinal cancer:

  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Accumulation of fluid in the abdomen
  • Blood in the feces or vomit
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Anemia
  • Changes in the way the cat eats or drinks (low appetite is common in these cats)
  • Pale gums
  • Fever
  • Strange sounds in the cat’s belly

Diagnosis

Most cats are brought in for a check-up due to the symptoms we’ve listed above. Their pet parents might have no idea that the diagnosis could be something far worse.

For this reason, if your cat is older than 6-7, we recommend going to the vet clinic for at least two check-ups per year as cancer is likely to affect geriatric pets more than it does their younger counterparts.

As for how intestinal cancer is diagnosed, the vet will use a variety of methods and tests. The first will be a complete blood count, biochemistry, fecal examinations, and a variety of such methods.

Additional testing in the form of imaging methods such as ultrasounds, X-rays, or MRI or CT can also be employed to discover the presence of a mass inside the cat’s intestines.

Finally, the test that will reveal the exact type of tumor that the animal has developed is going to be a biopsy (or a fine needle aspirate). This can involve anesthesia as a part of the tissue needs to be collected and examined under the microscope — and can reveal whether the neoplasm is benign or malignant.

Treatment of Feline Intestinal Cancer

The two most common ways of treating intestinal cancer are surgery and chemotherapy, and the vet and the pet owner will choose between one and the other depending on the type of tumor and the general health status that the cat has at the moment she is examined.

Surgical removal is successful, especially for benign tumors or for primary ones that are in their incipient stages.

Chemotherapy is employed at stages where the size of the tumor might first make it inoperable — it can lead to its shrinkage, which will make the surgical procedure possible later on. Therefore, chemotherapy and surgical treatment are often used in tandem.

A number of other medications could be prescribed to improve the cat’s health, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, or antihistamines. The cat might also have to be administered IV fluids, especially if she has also developed dehydration.

Prognosis and Recovery

The prognosis for this type of cancer is typically not positive, as approximately 90% of intestinal neoplasms in cats are malignant. For this reason, by the time the condition is diagnosed, the chances of it having spread to other organs, making treatment challenging or even impossible, is quite high.

If the veterinary oncologist does recommend surgical treatment and the tumor is benign or discovered in its incipient stage, the recovery can vary from one animal to the next. Senior cats can sometimes take weeks to recover from the operation, and that’s also because they often have other chronic conditions.

Furthermore, cats that were diagnosed and treated for intestinal cancer will have to be seen by their vet on a regular basis to ensure that their progression is positive and that they are still in remission.

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