What is Lymphoma?
Cats diagnosed with lymphoma tend to be middle-aged or older, although cats can develop lymphoma at any age. While there are no breed dispositions for lymphoma, cats who have had either leukemia or immunodeficiency virus have a higher risk of developing lymphoma.
Lymphoma is a common type of malignant cancer that forms when there is an uncontrolled growth in the number of lymphocytes in the immune system. The primary function of lymphocytes is to protect the cat from foreign bodies or substances that may cause harm. The cancer is most commonly found within the gastrointestinal tract, though it may affect any and all parts of the lymphatic system.
Symptoms of Lymphoma in Cats
Since lymphoma can occur in various parts of the body, including the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes, symptoms may vary depending on the location of the cancer. It is imperative that you take your cat to the vet immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Enlarged or swollen lymph nodes
- Weight loss associated with loss of appetite
- Lethargy or weakness
- Insomnia or restlessness
- Muscle atrophy
If the following severe symptoms are present, the cancer is in a crisis stage and requires immediate veterinary attention.
- Labored breathing
- Excessive meowing
Lymphoma that is left untreated has a rapid and high mortality rate. Consult your vet immediately in order to ensure the best prognosis possible.
Causes of Lymphoma in Cats
Lymphoma is caused when lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, begin to proliferate, or multiply rapidly at an uncontrolled rate. These cells produce antibodies that help fight disease. Lymphocytes travel through a network of blood vessels through several parts of the body, including the kidneys, chest, gastrointestinal tract, nose, spine, and skin. This network is known as the lymphatic system.
There is also a predisposition for lymphoma in cats who have previously suffered from leukemia or the immunodeficiency virus, though this link is not fully understood. Cats who live in homes with an active smoker also have a higher risk for developing gastrointestinal lymphoma.
Different forms of the cancer will reflect different symptoms; if the lymphoma occurs in the skin, you may notice redness, flakiness, or excessive itching. If it occurs in the gastrointestinal tract, a mass may form or the abdomen may become distended.
Diagnosis of Lymphoma in Cats
Your vet will first carry out a physical examination to identify protruding tumor masses. They will likely ask you questions about the cat’s disease history, so be prepared to answer any questions they may have about this or your cat’s symptoms.
Your vet may also use a number of tests in order to confirm a diagnosis of lymphoma. These include blood tests, cell count, urinalysis, and biopsy. If cancer is suspected in the gastrointestinal tract, chest, liver, or spleen, your vet may also perform chest x-rays and ultrasounds. The vet may also test for feline leukemia and immunodeficiency viruses.
Treatment of Lymphoma in Cats
The most effective treatment for cats diagnosed with lymphoma is chemotherapy. This will involve the use of several types of chemotherapeutic drugs. Chemotherapy has the highest chance of putting affected cats into the remission stage.
In some cases, particularly with lymphoma located in the gastrointestinal tract, surgery may be required to remove a physical mass. Radiation treatment may also be used in cats that are unable to undergo chemotherapy.
Recovery of Lymphoma in Cats
Unlike chemotherapy for humans, chemotherapy for cats will not cause hair loss, but may cause unwanted side effects such as diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and fever. Your vet may prescribe additional palliative treatment methods to reduce these side effects, including nutritional therapy, and pain management medication.
You will need to ensure that your cat gets plenty of rest during the recovery period. If your cat has had surgery, do not allow it to irritate the surgery site. Always follow your vet’s instructions or recommended courses of treatment to the letter.
There is no cure for lymphoma, but with early detection, immediate action, and swift treatment, your cat will have a better chance of surviving the disease. Your cat will also have a reduced risk for developing lymphoma if you have them vaccinated against feline leukemia and immunodeficiency virus. Ask your vet about these vaccinations, especially if your cat is middle aged.
Unfortunately, due to the aggressive nature of the disease, cats affected by lymphoma generally have a poor prognosis. This is why early detection and treatment are key when it comes to maximizing survival time as well as quality of life. Cats that are older than seven years should have their blood tested by a vet every six months as a preventative measure.