Cat Cancer Diagnosis

Cat cancer occurs due to abnormal cell division, which results in tumors or lymphomas. Although cancer is common in older pets, kittens that tested positive for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) were also at risk of developing cancer. Lymphoma is the most common type of cancer that affects pets more than 9 years of age. Since lymph nodes or lymphocytes are present all over the pet's body, the lymphoma can develop in any area. Cats are also at risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, which usually occurs after vaccinating pets with vaccines that contain adjuvants. This is a very aggressive cancer that should be treated promptly to prevent its spread to the internal organs.

Symptoms of Cat Cancer

Before diagnosing cat cancer, pet owners should seek medical help if they notice any symptoms such as lumps under the skin, prolonged gastrointestinal problems accompanied by loss of appetite and weight loss. Cats might also exhibit unusual symptoms such as difficulty breathing or lameness. The diagnosis will reveal the type and severity of cancer. Although most pets succumb to the disease at a later stage, various treatment options exist to prolong survival time and reduce the pain caused by cancer.

Diagnostic Tests for Cat Cancer Include:

  • Physical examination
  • Ultrasound and MRI
  • Cytology and fine needle aspiration
  • Biopsy

Physical Examination

The vet will first understand the pet's medical history and physically examine the cat's body by palpating affected areas to determine lymph node swelling or changes in the body. Abdominal enlargement is often a sign of gastrointestinal illness associated cancer. Changes present on the skin, especially around the cat's ears or nose, can indicate skin cancer.

Ultrasound and MRI

An ultrasound will determine any internal changes in the organs and surrounding tissues. Ultrasounds can also detect changes that go unnoticed in a radiograph due to shadows. Internal organ enlargement or tumors that are detected during the ultrasound are then subjected to further tests. Although MRI tests may not be available at all diagnostic facilities, they provide detailed scans of the body in order to perform surgery or other treatment procedures. MRI's are expensive and may not be performed on all pets suspected with cancer.

Cytology and Fine Needle Aspiration

Cytology is performed to obtain a microscopic evaluation of tumor cells, tissues or discharge. The vet will either perform a skin scraping with a scalpel blade or use a fine needle to penetrate the site and extract cells. A large sample may be required to detect malignant cells, and the results are available within 3 days. However, fine needle aspiration and cytology cannot be solely relied upon if the malignancy is not confirmed. A surgical biopsy or histopathology will be performed to obtain a definitive diagnosis and to determine treatment protocol.


Although biopsy can often be performed before surgical extraction of the tumor, they can also be extracted after the tumors or malignant growths are removed. The cat will be anesthetized before surgery, and various post-operation procedures will be conducted.

Most cats that are diagnosed with cancer will be treated with chemotherapy. Combination therapy uses both chemotherapy and radiation therapy to prolong survival and reduce the progress of cancer cells. Most pets respond favorably to chemotherapy and pet owners should talk to their vet, to determine treatment options best suited to the cat.