Lung Cancer in Cats

Lung cancer in cats is often a life-threatening medical condition, but the chances of survival are much better when the cancer can be detected in its early stages. The two types of feline lung cancer are primary and secondary, and in order to ensure that treatment is received promptly, it is imperative that cat owners be aware of the signs and symptoms and know when to seek veterinary attention.

Primary Lung Cancer

Cases of primary lung cancer in cats begin in the lung tissue. Although there are several different types of tumors that can eventually lead to lung cancer in cats, the most common primary tumor is known as a carcinoma. It is not known whether there is any breed predilection for primary lung cancer in cats, but there does appear to be some correlation between exposure to air pollutants and secondhand smoke. This type of cancer is seen most commonly in cats 10 years and older, but it can occur in younger cats as well.

Signs of primary lung cancer include:

  • Persistent coughing or hacking
  • Weakness and tiring easily
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive weight loss

Secondary Lung Cancer

Secondary lung cancer in cats is also known as metastatic cancer, meaning that the cancer actually originated in a different area of the body and migrated to the lungs. Secondary lung cancer in cats is different because by the time it has been detected, the cat has likely already been battling cancer for quite some time. It is still more common to see this type of lung cancer in older cats, 10 and over, mostly because geriatric cats are more susceptible to primary cancers in general.

The signs of secondary lung cancer in cats are generally the same as primary lung cancer. While most cat owners have already initiated cancer treatment by the time lung cancer is diagnosed, the persistent, hacking cough usually alerts cat owners to the possibility that it may be infiltrating the lungs.

Methods of Diagnosis

Whenever either primary or secondary lung cancer is suspected in cats, the first diagnostic test to be performed is usually a blood test. Because cancer can affect the balance of things like protein, blood sugar and liver and kidney function, a blood test is always the best place to start. The next diagnostic measure will be a chest x-ray. If any tumors are present in the lungs, they will be detected on this x-ray. The x-ray will not be able to make the differentiation between a tumor being benign or malignant, but it will alert the veterinarian to pursue further testing.

Once the tumor has been realized, the next step will be to complete either a biopsy or a needle aspiration. If fluid is seen filling around the lungs, a needle aspiration can be done to draw out the fluid and help the cat to breathe easier. This fluid can then be tested for malignancy. In cases where lung fluid is not present, the best option would be to do a biopsy of the tumor to determine whether it is malignant or benign.