Cats And Cancer

Kitty KittyKitty Kitty by
Stephanie Harry

My rescue had a terrible tragedy last week. We lost our beloved Kitty Kitty to lung cancer. She seemed fine one day and was deathly ill the next. And that’s the problem with cats. They hide their health problems so well, we often don’t find them until it’s too late to help.

That seems to be especially true of many kinds of cancer. It lurks in the cats’ bodies, hiding and quietly doing its damage, and then it suddenly appears with a vengeance. The vet found the mass on Kitty Kitty’s lungs on Monday. Tuesday, she was gone.

The sad news for all of us who love cats is that the rate of cancer in cats is growing. Statistics are hard to find, but according to the Pet Health 101 website, 50 years ago, one animal companion in 1,000 developed cancer. Today, cancer kills 33 percent of cats. That’s six million cats a year, the Morris Animal Foundation says.

While researchers seem unsure of the causes of cancer in companion animals, it looks like we might be killing our cats. These are some of the deadly suspects.

  • Vaccinations: In addition to the almost always fatal vaccination site sarcomas, vaccinations can cause cancer in other parts of the body.
  • Cigarette smoke: Our cigarette smoke lands on our cats’ fur, and they lick it off. If you must smoke, don’t smoke around your cat or her food!
  • Lawn chemicals: These deadly products also cause birth defects, seizures and other health problems, not to mention what they do to the wildlife and birds. Do we really need green, weed-free grass that badly?
  • Flea and tick preventatives: Believe it or not, cats with healthy immune systems don’t get fleas. If you provide a stress-free lifestyle and healthy food and make sure your cat has access to some fresh air and sunshine, and you won’t even need this toxic stuff.
  • Cleaning products and air fresheners: These toxic products can also cause seizures in cats. For cleaning, try vinegar. It works, and it won’t make your cat sick.
  • The chemicals used in pet food packaging: The BPA used in the liners of cat food cans is especially suspect. The liners of large cans are more likely to contain BPA than the lining of small cans. Even though they’re more expensive, use small cans or pouches. Even better, consider making your cat’s food.
  • Some brands of cat food contain known carcinogens, like ethoxyguin, BHA and BHT. Read the ingredients on your cat’s cans and bags of food. If you wouldn’t eat it, probably your cat shouldn’t either.
  • Sunlight: The ultraviolet rays can cause skin cancer in some cats. Light-skinned cats are most at risk, and yes, they can wear sunscreen if they’re outside during midday hours.
  • Inflammation can lead to cancer. Fish oil is accepted by most cats and reduces inflammation.
  • Estrogen/Progesterone: These hormones are used to treat some health problems and can increase the risk of mammary cancer. Female cats who are spayed before six months of age have a decreased chance of developing breast cancer, the Pet Cancer Center website says.
  • Retroviruses: Cats with feline leukemia and FIV are at increased risk of developing cancer.
  • Genetics: Unfortunately, some cats just have “bad genes” and are more likely to get cancer than others.

While surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are all cancer treatments for cats, the outcome is often disappointing. I’ve had the most success with homeopathy and supplements prescribed by my holistic vet. But even those didn’t work for long. So to my mind, the best cure is prevention. And I’m working on that. I’m going to keep an even closer eye on what my cats eat and breathe. I’m going to ask my neighbors to join me in asking our condo association to spray lawn chemicals even less than they do now. And I’m going to redouble my efforts to reduce stress, because that weakens the immune system and leaves the cat even more prone to diseases like cancer.

I’m reassessing our shelter cats’ lives, too. Kitty Kitty had health problems from the moment she arrived, and I suspect that’s why the people who said they found her gave her up. But I’m thinking about what else we can do to make the cats’ lives happier and healthier.

If you follow the shelter posts on Facebook or elsewhere, you probably see “staff favorite” a lot. Kitty Kitty was our “volunteer favorite.” She was a wise older cat with a gentle heart. She loved our outdoor enclosure, she loved laps, and she loved the other cats. The cats and volunteers loved her in return. I always envisioned her going to a home with a young child. She would have loved being a nanny. Maybe in her next life… ‘

In the meantime, fly free, dear Kitty Kitty and enjoy your angel wings. Cats and cancer is almost always a sad story, and we wish more than anything that yours had had a happier ending.

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