Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) affects younger cats. The average age for cats with this leukemia is six years of age. Malignant cells develop in the bone marrow and quickly spread throughout the body, particularly to the spleen and liver. If left untreated, cats may only live a few weeks. With chemotherapy, stricken cats tend only to survive for a few months.
Symptoms of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia in Cats
It's frustrating for pet owners to diagnose ALL, because the symptoms are generic. Key symptoms of this cancer include:
Many pet owners wait for days to call their vet, thinking their cat simply has a stomach virus. It's better to have your pet checked, even if the symptoms are mild.
Diagnosing Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
Your veterinarian will check your cat's blood. Low white blood cell counts are indicative of this form of cancer. A bone marrow biopsy may also be ordered to check for the malignant cells and see how far the cancer has progressed.
Ultrasounds of the spleen and liver are frequently performed. Paired with a low white cell count, a swollen spleen or liver is a key indicator of ALL.
Once your veterinarian has these results, you can consider the options. Chemotherapy can help slow the progression of the disease and in rare cases has even caused the cancer to go into remission. It doesn't always work. Some pet owners find it more humane to have their pet euthanized than to have the cat dealing with both the disease and the side effects of the chemo treatments.
Side Effects of Chemotherapy in Cats
Chemotherapy is administered via IV fluids, injections or orally. Overall, cats tend to handle chemotherapy better than humans. However, there are side effects that can occur.
If the chemotherapy affects the gastrointestinal system, your cat will experience diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Typically, these symptoms only occur for a day or so. You should monitor your cat's appetite during this time and make sure he's eating his food and drinking plenty of water.
In some pets, the chemotherapy causes white cell counts to drop, making it easier for the cat to pick up an infection. It's important to keep the cat quarantined from other pets and visit your veterinarian for all follow-up care and blood tests to monitor blood cell counts.
Life Span of a Cat with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
Even with aggressive chemotherapy, most cats only survive a few months. It's unusual for a cat to go into complete remission.
Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia Prevention
Keeping your cat indoors and away from other cats is essential. Some forms of leukemia are viral and spread from an infected cat to another. If you keep your cat indoors, you prevent a good portion of this risk.
Before bringing a new cat or kitten into your home, have the cat checked by your veterinarian. Feline leukemia vaccines prevent the spread of feline leukemia virus. Make sure your cats and any new additions to your pet family are vaccinated before the new pet is introduced.
Some cats still develop acute lymphocytic leukemia despite the vaccine. It's not a cure-all. However, it does seem to drastically reduce the risk, so talk to your veterinarian about the vaccine's benefits versus the risks.