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Life and Death Decisions Part III: Mojo's Story

Posted April 29, 2013 in A Vet's Life

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. Find him online at He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (

Chris Longenecker, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Reading, PA, contributed to this article.

Mojo, a 14-year old cat, presented to the surgery consultation with a history of poor appetite and weight loss for 2 weeks. A physical exam was performed.  Mojo was on the thin side but otherwise healthy. Because he was thin, a mass, likely attached to the intestine, was felt.  Blood work showed no significant findings.

Radiographs confirmed that a mass was present in the belly. Since cancer had to be suspected, the next step was to take chest X-rays, to make sure it had not spread to the lungs.  Chest X-rays did not show any sign of obvious spreading, but it did reveal a single lung mass.  Again, based on statistics, it was mostly likely cancer.

Mojo’s owners, devastated, wanted to know more and decided to do an ultrasound.  The ultrasound confirmed a mass in the intestine, with enlarged lymph nodes.

Based on this information, what would you do if you were the owner of this 14 year old cat, with a suspicion of cancer in the chest and the belly?

I suspect that most owners would take Mojo home, give him a big comfy bed to sleep in, feed him anything he would want to eat and plenty of catnip toys to play with.

But Mojo’s owners did not choose that option. They elected surgery to remove both masses.

Now, here is where my ethical dilemma as a surgeon comes up. Even though I’m the first one to say that "age is not a disease", is it fair to do surgery on a 14 year old cat who is sick and is likely to have cancer in the chest and the belly? Is it humane to put a cat through a double, invasive surgery?

Since I knew we could provide safe anesthesia and excellent pain management, we decided to proceed with surgery.

We first performed open chest surgery and found a single mass in a lung lobe, which was removed. We then performed abdominal surgery and discovered a large mass involving the last part of the small intestine, the appendix, and the beginning of the large intestine. In addition, local lymph nodes were enlarged. Because

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at, and follow him at

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