What is Throat Cancer?
While various forms of cancer can be quite common in older cats, cancer of the throat and larynx are fairly rare in cats of any age. These cancers, of which lymphoma is the most highly reported, can cause tumors to form throughout the throat and on the larynx, which is the area of the throat that contains the vocal chords. These tumors can be very painful, which can make it difficult for your cat to swallow. and will change the sound of your cat’s voice. Any time your cat has stopped eating normally, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. If this cessation of normal eating is accompanied by changes in the voice, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Symptoms of Throat Cancer in Cats
Internal medical issues can be very difficult for a pet owner to notice. Many times the only way to determine if your cat is ill is to pay attention for changes in the cat’s behaviors. This is certainly true when a cat is suffering from a rare occurrence of throat cancer. The two main behaviors to watch for in regard to this condition are progressive changes in the sound of the cat’s voice when it vocalizes and an unwillingness or inability to eat. If you observe the following symptoms, it is important that you make an appointment with your veterinarian immediately as your cat may be in significant pain and possibly suffering from a life-threatening condition.
- Progressive change in voice, hoarseness
- Inability to vocalize
- Labored breathing due to obstruction of airways
- Coughing, which is a rare behavior for cats
- Lethargy and exercise intolerance
- Loss of appetite, possibly due to the pain caused by swallowing
- Loss of weight
Causes of Throat Cancer in Cats
There are several different kinds of cancer that could result in tumors in your cat, although overall, tumors in the throat and larynx are quite rare. In most cases of cancer in a cat, your vet will likely spend much more time on diagnosis and treatment options than trying to determine what might have contributed to your cat’s development of cancer. The following information, however, may be of help to you as you seek treatment for your cat.
- Causes are not known for many types of cancer.
- If your cat has lymphoma tumors in its throat, the cause of those tumors could possibly be connected to feline leukemia virus (FeLV), but this connection is less likely than in the past because most cats now receive FeLV vaccinations.
- The feline AIDS virus (FIV) has also been connected to lymphoma in some cases.
- Some studies have shown a connection with long-term exposure to smoke.
Diagnosis of Throat Cancer in Cats
Your veterinarian will ask you about the symptoms you have observed in your cat. As a part of a thorough physical examination, if you have described the above symptoms to your vet, the vet will likely examine the throat and larynx using an endoscope. The vet will be looking for anything that might be obstructing your cat’s airway or making it difficult for your cat to swallow. If the vet finds tumors in the throat and larynx, biopsies can be done to determine if the tumors are cancerous. If the vet cannot see any tumors or other obstructions, X-rays of the throat and larynx may be necessary. These x-rays may be ordered even if the vet is able to find tumors with the endoscope, in order to determine the size and exact location of the tumors. In addition, the vet will likely take blood, urine, and feces samples for testing as well.
Treatment of Throat Cancer in Cats
Treatments will vary based upon the location of tumors, the kind of cancer, the rate of growth and invasiveness of the cancer, how advanced the cancer is, the age and health of the cat, and the willingness of pet owners to undertake what can be very costly treatments. In addition, it must be noted that aggressive cancer treatments will likely be a very difficult experience for your cat. Your veterinarian is your best resource for determining how to treat your cat’s condition. In most cases of throat cancer in cats, one or more of the following treatments will likely be used.
- Surgical removal of the tumors
- Chemotherapy, which can sometimes cause nausea and vomiting
- Radiation therapy, which can sometimes cause mouth inflammation
- High-quality nutritional diet to aid in the healing process
- Medications for pain management
Because throat cancer in cats is quite rare, there is very little data that can help a veterinarian and pet owner make educated predictions of long-term prognosis for cats with throat cancer.
Recovery of Throat Cancer in Cats
If your cat has had surgery to remove tumors, it will likely take several days to a few weeks for it to heal. Your cat will usually require pain medications during the healing process. As is the case with humans and many other animals, after chemotherapy and radiation treatments are completed it can take several weeks or months for a cat to recover strength and appetite. Although there is little data available regarding throat cancer in cats, any time cancer has been treated, there is always the possibility that the cancer will return.
Throat Cancer Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My cat Pluto, chokes himself. He pushes his neck up against objects (such as fabric storage bins, or small trash cans) and continues to do it until he starts coughing and makes this awful sound when he does, he honestly sounds like the squeaky part of a dog toy when he does it. We’ve seen plenty of vets about it, and no ones heard of a cat doing it! They say he could be seeking attention, but he gets A LOT of attention, as my cats are my children! The other thing they said would be anxiety, we got the pet pheromone diffuser, calming treats, thundershirt and other anxiety products for him and it hasn’t stopped. He’s done it since we got him. Not every day but most days he will do it, and won’t stop unless we physically pull him away from the basket. We’ve given him laxatone to try and get anything that could be in there out, like a hairball and everything came out but he continues to do it. The only other thing I could think of would be a tumor. Any ideas on what else we should try or do?? Do I have him get x rays or ultrasound his neck area? Please help me, as it breaks my heart seeing my baby do this...
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My adult dilute calico whistles while she purrs ONLY as she falls asleep, not any other time she purrs. Is this normal? I don’t know what a normal throat supposed to feel like but it feels like she has a Adams apple that can move around a little. She doesn’t have any pain or any other health issues. She weighs 7 pounds
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Hi. My cat is 13 year old. Breathing hard through her nostrils. Felt my other cats throat and compared to hers. She has a bump but not outside but inside her throat. How would I know if it's cancer or feign object
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my cat had gingivitis bad was on antibiotic for a week then taken infor dental they said he was breathing thru his mouth went to do dental procedure and could not intubate had mass in rood of mouth with profuse bleeding got bleeding stopped hes 13 yrs has controlled dietabetis takes insulin i check blood sugar i had them do a xray to see if he had something stuck in throat when this all started thats how we found out about infection bad teeth gingivitis was on orabax 1 week before procedure vet suggest putting to sleep also should the xray have showed mass in roof of mouth still had good appitite but only eating half of usual amount prob because it was hurting to eat i think
we did have him put to sleep on vets advice just always will wonder if i did the right choice
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Help! My cat has completely changed since I got home from summer vacation. She hasn’t been eating well, wed be lucky to get her to eat once every 2 days. She has a big gut but nothing else is, in fact everything else is just skin and bone. She always breathes heavily and recently her voice has changed. It happened after we moved and it was difficult on her and she also got her front claws removed could that be the cause???
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My cat had trouble breathing, loosing her voice, and was wheezing. Ultimately, we decided to have her through looked at under anesthesia propofol. They determining while under there was a very large mass. Her heart stopped and she died. My question is what could have been done differently? We needed to determine if she was sick. Would she have lived a lot longer? Or did we encourage an early death.
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Our 9 year old male cat was just diagnosed with a theist rumor that is wrapping itself around the trachea. Not sure if surgery is the best option or to put him down. Don't want him suffering but also don't want surgery if his quality of life will not be good. What's your advice? What is prognosis typically?
Prognosis without surgery obviously isn’t favourable as the tumour is already affecting Fuzzy’s breathing, the progression would be dependent on the type of tumour and whether it is benign or malignant. Surgery will help alleviate some symptoms and may prolong live, but may not be curative, especially if the tumour has metastasised. A decision to euthanize is never easy, but removal of the tumour (or the majority of it) may help prolong Fuzzy’s life. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
Today I put my 20-year-old cat to sleep. Last week she lost her voice. Three days ago she started loud breathing. Had a poor appetite and difficulty swallowing. The vet said throat cancer and the tumor had wrapped around her larynx. Her age made surgery too risky. Today her breathing was worse and I didn't want her to suffer. Otherwise healthy cat and so affectionate. I miss her terribly.
I hope the best for everyone here. I know what it's like to see your baby sick and unable to do anything about it.
One more thing--my cat's blood work was totally normal, too, though the X-ray my vet succeeded in getting (cat on her back) did not show anything. One of the X-rays, on her side, was compromised by the cat raising her head during the procedure, though, so that might have been a better view if it had worked. My vet said that since the tumor was seen as a "soft-tissue mass," per the US, it is unlikely to have shown on an X-ray, though
Hi, JScovergirl, again, thanks for writing back. No problem about the typo...
I too am grapping with what to do next.
Right now my cat is stable, though I feel like the lump on her neck, near the base of her jaw, may be getting bigger. Also, her loud purr while sleeping, which I always accepted before--makes me wonder how much of the growth on her trachea/back of pharynx (back of the throat), found in the ultrasound, could be the cause, and how it will worsen in, say, a few weeks--will she have trouble breathing if/when it invades her trachea?....
While the radiologist who did the US offered to do a fine needle aspirate of the tissues under anesthesia, using either ultrasound or CT, to identify the type of cancer, and the oncologist at this practice also suggested we do this, I have concerns about them mucking up her throat during anesthesia. The rad vet that my cat might bleed during the procedure, in which case he would have to "intubate" her.
I always thought they intubated pets anyway when they are "under," and even the idea of that (much less anything more aggressive, like an emergency procedure to open an airway, which may NOT be what he means) is scaring me off, as right now the cat is doing OK.
The onco doc told my regular vet she has had some success, for palliative purposes (as my vet asked about this, since surgery seems unlikely)--of treating squamous cell carcinoma as well as a thyroid tumor on the trachea--both of which are possibilities--using a pill drug called Palladia as well as radiation therapy, the latter of which she said is well tolerated even in this area, though my vet was concerned about burning. She also told my vet it could be a type of lymphoma, too, for which pred and other chemo might help.
I did a little research on Palladia--in cats, it's use is "off label" (it's OK'd for dogs)--it's a pill given at home usually M-W-F with a pain medicine (NSAID) called Meloxicam on the other days (you can google to see some very recent articles on this). There seems to be some success in adding time to the lives of cats that have received this protocol. However, what I don't like about either drug is that it appears they can cause kidney problems, though I am sure the vets would say that, if the cat is going to die anyway, so what....Again, I am struggling with whether to even investigate this path, before my cat starts to show any real problems....
I also am going to reach out to a naturopathic/regular vet my regular vet suggested when I asked about that route. This alternative vet is at some distance, and specializes in house calls, but I suspect she may be too far for her to come to my home, but I am going to look into that, or if she has other options to offer, too.
Sorry to run on but I thought I'd give you the info I've collected so far, in case it might help.
Silly auto spell while typing on my phone....is should have said "throat tumor"! The diagnosis was taken from the X-ray mainly. You can see the tumor size and that it is wrapping around the trachea. Doctor also performed complete blood work and urinalysis which didn't show any evidence at all of an issue. Trying to decide whether or not to have a biopsy at this point. Not sure I want to put my cat through any more distress. And I also don't think the outcome is going to be much different whether it is cancer or benign. There will still be extensive surgery, possible trach, and painful recovery. Torn between what is our best option. Even looking into holistic/natural approach to possibly shrink the tumor. Thanks for sharing your story.
HI, Jscovergirl, I am sorry to hear about your kitty.
My cat, Olivia, has a lump on her neck that just got ultrasounded, and the vet seems to think it also is attached to her trachea as well as going behind her pharynx (back of the throat). I did check some sites that talk about trachea cancer in cats, and thought they said it was quite rare (which is no consolation to those of us with cats that may have it). If there is a surgery possible, I got the feeling it was pretty extreme--possible removal of the affected part of the trachea, with replacement with some surgical-type material. I am not sure I could go there--even if I could get anyone around here (suburban Philly, loaded with Penn vets) to agree to the surgery.
(I had a cat with intestinal lymphoma who lived 4 years from diagnosis and had 17 chemo treatments after surgery, then died as a consequence of a second cancer, which I think he got from the chemo--my opinion only. I think the surgery was the BEST thing I did, and if surgery can be safely done, I think I would do it with my cat now. With my lymphoma cat, he had an inflamed part of intestine taken out, and I wonder now it he may have lived just as long without the chemo, with less stress on the both of us, and might not have developed the second cancer. Note this was NOT throat cancer, though.)
What diagnostics were done for your cat? What is a "theist" tumor (I figure that's what you mean, versus "rumor").
The rad doctor today pretty much only told me 1 new thing beyond what I knew already--that my cat's growth was more extensive than we figured--not what type (sarcoma, carcinoma being the two main types, my vet said) or its speed of growth--as he didn't want to do a biopsy--thought it was too risky, and since the surgical staff were nearly gone for the day, he wanted them around in case she bled in the throat. This after I'd already fasted her 12 hours.... So, I'd be interested in finding out what was done to get your diagnosis?
My kitty is not struggling to breathe, and I don't see her as "low energy," but she's 12 and is not a spring chicken any more. Her appetite is good if I present her with stuff she likes--shrimp was her reward for the trials of today, and if the Fancy Feast is a good flavor, she eats it, but also leaves some uneaten. This seems to have gone on for awhile now. She does have a heavy purr and does snore when she sleeps, so I guess that could be "loud breathing," but maybe not. The one thing I noticed over the past few months is that, before she beds down in another room, I will hear her crying/meowing--and I wonder about that now, if it has anything to do with what's going on in her throat area.
Anyway, I wish I could be of more help, but am new learning about what I may be up against, or if I just need to accept that at some point she may start showing the symptoms of your cat, or worse. Frankly, I am really down about it.
If you have any info to share on your experience, let me know. I will check the board later. Thanks!
I too had to put to sleep my 20 year old cat Benson, he too very affectionate. He lost his voice about 1 and half year ago - hoarse miaow only and he made an exaggerated swallow at times. We never got a diagnosis, vets didnt say anything to us even though we mentioned the loss of voice. His breathing was affected about 2 months ago and one week ago he started mouth breathing. Was horrible to watch. We still dont know what was wrong but think it could have been a tumour from what ive read. I wish I had pushed more for diagnosis. Seems looking back that vets are not interested in doing tests on older cats. I miss him soooo much.
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