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Cancer and Cats: What Every Pet Parent Should Know

Posted December 15, 2014 in Cat Diseases & Conditions A-Z

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Dr. Ruth Macpete talks about cats and cancer -- what every pet parent should know.

While most people know that cancer is a leading cause of death in humans, many are unaware that cancer is also one of the leading causes of death in older cats. Like their human counterparts, cats can develop different types of cancers, such as mammary cancers, lymphoma, leukemia, and skin cancers to name a few. Another important point about cancer is that not all cancers are the same. Although some are resistant to treatment, many respond well to treatment. In fact, if detected early, cancer can often be more treatable than other geriatric diseases such as renal and cardiac disease. As is the case with many other diseases, earlier diagnosis and treatment can improve the prognosis.

So what can you do to lower your cat’s risk of dying from cancer? Fortunately there are a few steps you can take to improve your cat’s odds:

1. Spay your cat. Everyone should be spaying their cat to prevent overpopulation, but spaying has an additional cancer benefit many cat parents don’t realize. Spaying a cat before their first heat cycle lowers their risk of developing mammary adenocarcinoma by lowering estrogen levels that promote cancer cell growth.

2. Keep your cat indoor. Cats should be kept indoors for a variety of reasons. For starters, indoor cats typically outlive their outdoor counterparts. The average life span for an indoor cat ranges from 12-18 years, while the average life span for an outdoor cat is 4-5 years. However, besides protecting them from outdoor dangers, keeping your cat indoors and away from the sun also protects them against squamous cell carcinoma. This is especially true for white or lightly pigmented cats that are at an increased risk for getting squamous cell cancer on their ears, nose and eyelids. Keeping them indoors lowers their ultraviolet light exposure and helps protect them from this type of cancer.

3. See your veterinarian regularly. Insuring that your cat has regular veterinary exams is the best chance to detect cancer early. Screening examinations are important because they allow your vet to look for any “lumps and bumps,” and check for subtle signs of cancer or diseases. Remember earlier diagnosis and treatment can improve the prognosis for many cancers.

4. Vaccine risk. Have your veterinarian tailor your cat’s vaccines according to their particular exposure risk. There is

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Ruth has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry as a companion animal veterinarian in private practice. Along with being a writer and media personality, she is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.