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My Cat Has Been Diagnosed with Cancer: Would Chemotherapy Help or Hurt?

A Whiskers Volunteer Shares Her Experiences and What She Learned When Sammy Got Sick

Cancer. It’s a word that strikes fear in just about everybody. When diagnosed in humans, we immediately think “surgery, “radiation,” and/or “chemotherapy” treatments. All those words have scary outcomes. With chemo, we think of hair loss, days of inability to function, vomiting, and other unpleasant side effects. It is nothing we’d ever wish on anyone…especially those that we love. Now hear the word “cancer” in the same sentence as a diagnosis for your cat. It’s a horrible feeling.

Our part Siamese, Sammy, was diagnosed with cancer in late October of 2012. Four spots of lymphoma were found in his small intestine and a mass-cell tumor in his liver. He’d had digestive issues for a few years. He had been experiencing problems with constipation, which were helped by twice daily doses of Miralax in his food. The Miralax finally stopped working, hence a trip to a specialty veterinary practice for an ultrasound and biopsy, where the cancer was found. It was heart wrenching to be sure. The vet there immediately started talking about chemotherapy. We, on the other hand, were immediately just thinking of how we’d live without our chatty little guy. There was no way we were going to put him through chemo, having known what some friends had been through. We thanked the doctor and went home, figuring out ways we could keep Sammy comfortable for however long he and we had.

A few nights later, our phone rang at 9PM. It was our own personal vet, who had just read the report from the veterinary specialist. She, too, mentioned chemo as a treatment option. We asked what it entailed and she said chemotherapy is actually easier on the feline system than it is on human beings. It wouldn’t produce horrific things like hair loss or vomiting. She suggested we do some research on the Internet (why hadn’t we thought of that???) and then call her back. The next words from our vet were what convinced us to consider this treatment: “If it was my cat, I’d pursue it. We’ll know within one or two treatments if it will work. If it does, we can pretty much guarantee six months to a year of him feeling better and having a good quality of life.”

In mid-November 2012, Sammy had his first treatment. It consisted of a 10mg pill of Lomustine (also known as CCNU or CeeNu) which I picked up at the local pharmacy. We also needed to make a quick trip to the vet for easy bloodwork. They did a CBC (standard blood test) to ensure his white cell and red cell blood counts were within the correct ranges. The vet tech then administered the pill and we were out of there. Sammy was also put on prednisolone (a steroid) which he thought of as “treats” since we got the chewable chicken variety. Total cost for each visit? About $75. Our vet said he should come every six weeks for a treatment. We were there like clockwork. The hardest part, always, was simply getting Sam into the carrier to go for his doctor visits.

The change in Sammy was apparent within two weeks of his first treatment. His appetite came back, and his digestive tract was in better shape, so we discontinued the Miralax. More importantly, his personality was back. We were thrilled! We gave him even more love than we had before, any treats he wanted were his, we cuddled more, and he talked our ears off – as cats of a Siamese nature usually do!

Unfortunately, and always in the back of our minds, was the word “cancer.” Sammy had very good months and quality time with us. In early July, he became constipated again. We started Miralax again, but when that didn’t work, we were switched to Lactulose. None of it really worked, and in mid-July his constipation led us to the emergency vet on a Saturday night for an enema. When they were done with that, our Sammy began to look like a cancer patient again. We knew the end was coming, as many cat parents do. We did what we could to make him comfortable, and in mid-August our boy went to the Rainbow Bridge. While it was a horrible adjustment, we knew that if we hadn’t followed our trusted veterinarian’s advice, he would have left us a lot sooner.

If you’re faced with a similar diagnosis, which is heart-wrenching and terrifying, listen to your vet. You could have a few more good months with your kitty and improve, if even in the short run, your cat’s quality of life. We are glad we did what we did for our Sammy.


***Note: Whiskers does not diagnose conditions in cats, and it is imperative that people who are concerned about the health of their kitties visit their animal health care professional to obtain a diagnosis of any conditions and appropriate treatment plans. Below, for information only, we have provided a link that may provide more insights regarding the use of chemotherapy to treat cancer in cats and dogs.


I lost an 11-year-old

I lost an 11-year-old beautiful orange and white long-haired cat, TJ, a year ago June to lung cancer and three weeks ago lost a 15-year-old sweet black cat, Cato, to GI lymphoma. It was small cell and he was supposed to live longer but he developed an infection that his body couldn't fight. I took both cats to an oncologist at a specialty veterinary practice (Upstate). They were both given chlorambucil (chemo therapy), prednisolone (steroid) and mirtazapine (appetite stimulant). I also had to give Cato a B-12 shot every month, feed him special food and take him to my vet each month for blood work. They both tolerated the medication well and it gave them a new lease on life. They felt better and were able to live normally until it was their time to leave this earth. And I had the pleasure of their company for a little while longer. This is expensive treatment, I won't kid you. Cato's biopsy and endoscopy cost around $2,000 and his medications were $75-100 a month plus the food. If you can afford at least the initial testing, I recommend seeing a specialist if your own vet can't find a cause for the illness. Then you can decide whether to continue with treatment or put your pet down humanely (always a hard decision but at least you'll have the information necessary to make it). There are organizations that make grants available if you can't afford treatment; you can find them on the internet. Good luck to all those who have a pet with cancer. I know what you're going through.

My 14-year-old cat was

My 14-year-old cat was diagnosed with renal lymphoma, and my vet thought he would have a poor quality of life on chemo (he was FIV+ and had an infection in the other kidney). He was put on prednisolone and antibiotics, but continued to be ill and had to be pts six weeks after diagnosis. Upon reading these stories of the success of Lomustine, I very much regret that I did not pursue it. Thanks for sharing your story, as it may help others who are facing this difficult decision.

I get it & I don't get it. I

I get it & I don't get it. I know losing beloved pets is hard, been there, but keeping a precious animal alive because it's hard to let go seems....not wrong, not selfish....but not right somehow. My exboyfriend died in May of stage iv lung cancer so I have his 3 cats as well as my own three. My girl Itsy was diagnosed with intestinal lymphoma t cell type & God knows I don't want to lose her but going into debt for a lost cause when I have 5 other cats to care for is just impossible. I've already spent over $10,000 in 5 weeks for her & 2 of his cats. My heart is broken.How can anyone say they don't hurt from would they know this?

Heart broken... We are

Heart broken...
We are currently in a situation to decide if chemo is the way to go. My Nutter Butter had slowed eating and after a noticing some weight loss went in. She had a golf ball size tumor at the juncture of intestine and colon. Our vet successfully removed, losing 2" of intestine and 1.5" of colon. She removed some lympnodes for biopsy as well. The tumor came back cancerous but with the initial good news that they believed it all to be removed, lymphnodes were clear.
Then she consulted an oncologist and came back with the news that even with chemo we are only looking at months. Completely thinking we will push forward with chemo and reading your stories about how it works is comforting. My question is how long should I let her recover from her surgery before beginning treatment? She is now 2 weeks in recovery and acting back to her old self and put back on some of the weight she had lost. I do want to give her time to recover but also do not want to wait too long.
Thank you-

My cat Rowan had lymphoma in

My cat Rowan had lymphoma in his left eye conjunctiva, apparently very rare. He had his eye and surrounding tissues removed; after surgery he quit eating. With pain meds, IV fluids, and an appetite stimulant,he became himself. We are going on Monday to see an Oncologist, this article helped make it not so scary. The lymphoma was growing even on Prednisone, so I'm hoping the chemo can help him.

I am now facing what you were

I am now facing what you were facing with Sammy. Rather than putting her through biopsy my vet suggested treating for the lymphoma which was indicated by ultrasound. Like you I was afraid and concerned that she would suffer through the treatments. You have given me hope which I was very short on and now I won't be quite so afraid for her. Thank you!!

Thank you for the hope you

Thank you for the hope you have given me. My beautiful Charlotte is almost certain to have lymphoma ( GI tract) all of the symptoms come together, she has a massive white blood cell count, high Monocytes, and here Im reading 3,5,$7,000 for treatments, and I love her so much, but it would be impossible. I just want a little more time to experience "her" after losing two others earlier this year, I didnt think she was this sick. maybe I will be able to help her after all.. Thank you

Thank you for this. My cat

Thank you for this. My cat has just been diagnosed with small cell lymphoma in her duodenum, and I'm starting chlorabucil tablets today. I was having cold feet, worrying about side effects, but this is encouraging to hear good results rather than the horror stories out there..

Hello, my name is lorena. My

Hello, my name is lorena. My kitty raylin had an ultrasound 2 days ago that showed some serious abnormalities. They said it could be severe IBD or small cell lymphoma. They said I needed a surgical biopsy! Very expensive and an extensive abdominal procedure. I want to know what's giing on but don't know if I'll even do chemotherapy. How much was it for the medication?

What a lovely story. (I

What a lovely story. (I apologize if this is long, it's the only way I know how to describe it.) I started to read "Sammy had very good months and quality time with us," and remembered... When my Mother was diagnosed with brain cancer (we were estranged -- her choice), I was "volunteered" to travel 2500 miles and stay with her to the end. At the time, I wasn't thrilled, but I did it, as I would for anyone who needed me (but not in the love-your-parent) sort of way. I arrived the day after brain surgery, and literally met my Mother for the first time as she started her *recovery." She was happy, and talkative, and after 65 years of eating disorders, was delighted to eat (and died "plump!") Ironically, when she passed, she looked healthier than I had ever seen her (which, in itself, is sad). We were even "sneaking in" food -- no matter what she asked for. I had told my family and friends that I was going to make her happy and keep her laughing for as long as I could. That's one of the things she didn't allow in the house, because she always thought it was about her. She understood my jokes. She made some great ones, too. Her memory started slipping, and then the cognitive, the whole ward (including staff) knew our room and stopped by. It was great. What I'm trying to say, is that I had a 50+ years worth of mothering, condensed into three good weeks (before treatmentns started). What Sammy was doing -- in the last span of "good" time he had with you -- was giving *you* time to enjoy *him* acting at his finest. It was his time to cross, and he gave you a wonderful gift of "happy memories." (smile) I'm sure it was peaceful, like a dream.

Our cat was only 4 years old

Our cat was only 4 years old when came down with Lymphoma . We tried one cheap drug and didn't work. Our oncologist vet put her on Lomustine and it worked very well for about a year but the cancer came back and she did pass. .Lomustine did give her an extra year of quality life

A veterinary oncologist was

A veterinary oncologist was just hired at Upstate Veterinary Specialties in Latham and she started work early March 2015. (Previous employer, Angell Animal Medical Center, MA.)

My cat, Leda, had a 7cm mast cell tumor at the junction of the large & small intestine. After working with a general practice, and an internist, Leda just got sicker, even with 2 types of chemo. I found out about a visiting consulting oncologist at a local practice, who has since retired. I took Leda to see that oncologist. Getting that 3rd opinion saved her life. She has been cancer-free for over one year now, and is doing well. She had surgery (intestinal resection) at Upstate, is on a permanent regime of a chemo pill (leukeran), and a steroid, and has gained back all the weight she lost, has a good appetite, etc. I'd say she bounced back from her surgery, except it never got her down. I saw her less than 12 hours after her surgery and she acted like nothing ever happened. Excellent surgical team at Upstate!

Leda is meeting the new oncologist this Friday. I tell everyone that if their cat ever gets cancer, see an oncologist. We are now fortunate to have one locally in the capital district!

It's good to know that there

It's good to know that there is now an oncologist in the area. Always good to get a second opinion too.

This article is very

This article is very informative and heartfelt. We put our pets in our vets hands, trusting them. You had a great advisors. Thanks for writing this personal, sensitive article.

Sounds like my Sunny had what

Sounds like my Sunny had what your Sammy had. My vet sent us for an ultrasound which showed 4 spots and the vet said it could be cancer but we won't know until we do a biopsy. We decided before we put him through that we would try a new food first and he seemed to be better. A month or so later he stopped eating and very quickly lost a lot of weight. He went back to our vet and they found a large mass and we had to put him down. Wish I had known everything you just wrote about for Sammy, We may have had Sunny a little longer.

I am sure your article will be very helpful for anyone that is going through what we did. Thank you!

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