Cancer is one of the most important causes of illness and death in cats although cats develop cancer only half as often as dogs. Unfortunately, a cat’s chances of developing cancer increase with age. Why cancer develops at all, and why it is seen more commonly in older animals, is not well understood. Many factors, including genetic and environmental ones, have been identified as potential causes. However, cancer is a general term used to encompass many different diseases, and each disease may well have its own causative factors. Some of these factors are known, but in most cases, the cause of an individual cat’s cancer is not. Fortunately, cancers in cats and dogs often have counterparts in humans so that cancer research tends to benefit both our pets and us.
Some feline cancers are associated with viral infections, particularly feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Cats infected with FeLV have a greater than 60 times increase in their risk of developing lymphoma. FIV has been associated with some cancers as well. One way to decrease the risk of cancer in cats, therefore, is to protect against infection with these two viruses. Other specific ways to decrease the risk of some cancers also exist. For instance, avoiding exposure to strong sunlight reduces the risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin in white cats and early spaying reduces the risk of mammary cancer for all female cats.
Regardless of the type of cancer a cat may have, the disease usually causes common clinical signs. These may include lethargy, poor appetite, depression and weight loss. Sometimes the presence of a possible cancer is obvious (such as a skin mass) but in many cases, it is not. Veterinarians rely on a good physical examination plus diagnostic testing to pinpoint the cause of a cat’s illness. Screening tests for specific types of cancer are yet to be developed for veterinary medicine. When evaluating a cat that may have cancer, it is important not only to get a definitive diagnosis of the type of cancer, but also to evaluate the cat’s overall health status. .... [Read complete article]
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