Cat Lymphoma When To Euthanize (Our Opinion)

Lymphoma in cats is an invasive disease that can deeply impact a cat’s life. It can be challenging to know when a cat’s lymphoma has begun to affect their quality of life, causing many cat owners to search for answers about a potential timeline.

In this article we will discuss the details of lymphoma in cats, and help you better understand when it might be time to say goodbye.

What Is Cat Lymphoma?

Cat Lymphoma When to Euthanize

Lymphoma in cats is a cancer of the lymphocytes. Due to lymphocytes being a cell that is involved with supporting the immune system, lymphoma is usually considered a systemic disease. This condition may begin in a certain area in the body, but quickly spreads to become a widespread issue. While lymphoma in cats is considered a systemic disease, you can usually narrow it down to three original sites.

Renal Lymphoma

This type of lymphoma originates in the kidneys. Renal lymphoma can lead to signs of kidney failure, ranging from changes in urinary habits to significant weight loss. Cancer cells will slowly take over healthy kidney cells, leading to the ultimate failure of the organ.

Intestinal Lymphoma

Intestinal lymphoma is the most common form of lymphoma in cats. This type of lymphoma is linked to nearly 70% of cases in cats (source), and is most common in seniors ranging from 10-13 years old. Intestinal lymphoma originates in the GI tract, and will often be accompanied by severe gastrointestinal symptoms.

Mediastinal Lymphoma

Mediastinal lymphoma affects the lymphoid organs in the chest such as the thymus and lymph nodes. This type of lymphoma is more common in younger cats, and will often present as a cat in respiratory distress. The presence of lymphoma in the chest will often lead to fluid accumulation, leading to respiratory symptoms in many cats.

No matter the type of lymphoma a cat is experiencing, it is almost always connected to feline leukemia. Though it differs a bit based on the type of lymphoma in question, 50-80% of diagnosed lymphoma cases are in cats that are leukemia positive. Thankfully, more cats are being vaccinated now against leukemia than ever. This is why it’s so important to not only vaccinate your cat, but try your best to keep them indoors and away from other infected cats.

Symptoms Of Cat Lymphoma

The symptoms of cat lymphoma will vary based on the organ system that is affected. To help you better understand this disease going forward, let’s break it down to each lymphoma type.

  • Renal Lymphoma: These symptoms often include weight loss, change in appetite, increased thirst, vomiting, changes in urinary habits, and even neurological symptoms.
  • Intestinal Lymphoma: These symptoms often include weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, and changes in appetite.
  • Mediastinal Lymphoma: These symptoms often include respiratory difficulties such as labored breathing, coughing, panting, increased respirations, open mouth breathing, and other signs of respiratory distress.

Diagnosing Lymphoma In Cats

The only way to accurately diagnose lymphoma in cats is by identifying the cancerous cells under microscopic examination. Your veterinarian may perform diagnostic blood work and x-rays to get a full picture of what your cat is facing, but will require more to give you an exact answer. The only way to examine the potentially cancerous cells under microscopic examination is by performing a fine needle aspirate (FNA) or a surgical biopsy.

An FNA can be used if your veterinarian can easily feel and make contact with the area in question. For example, if your veterinarian can feel a thickened area in your cat’s GI tract, they may be able to reach the area with a needle and obtain a small sample. Your veterinarian can then examine this sample under the microscope themselves, or send the slides to a diagnostic lab for a more extensive search. This is usually the first diagnostic performed due to it being minimally invasive, as well as much more budget friendly.

If your veterinarian is unable to perform a fine needle aspirate, the next step would be a surgical biopsy. This will be performed under general anesthesia, and will involve your veterinarian collecting a sample of the tissue in question. This is usually only possible in cases of potential GI lymphoma, as your vet can remove a small section of the thickened intestine. This becomes much more challenging in cases of renal or mediastinal lymphoma.

Your veterinarian can also perform an ultrasound to search for signs of systemic lymphoma. This will involve scanning through the lymph nodes, kidneys, chest, and any other region they are concerned with. The radiologist performing the ultrasound may be able to collect a few samples along the way.

Treatment Options For Lymphoma In Cats

The treatment options for lymphoma will often vary based on the physical condition of the cat, and the financial constraints of the owner. Aggressive treatments can be effective in extending a cat’s time or even putting them into remission, but these options are more involved and much more costly.

The first potential treatment option for lymphoma is chemotherapy. Due to cats tolerating chemotherapy much better than humans, they can often make it through their sessions with minimal side effects. While they may still experience vomiting or decreased appetite, it is not often debilitating.

The next treatment option for lymphoma in cats is surgery and/or radiation. This is usually only successful in cats with localized lymphoma, as the vet will be able to remove the cancerous area. The cat will often follow up with radiation treatment, along with chemotherapy if needed.

The last management option involves offering palliative care. This is a common option for owners that are on a budget, or in cats that are in poor physical health. Your veterinarian can prescribe prednisone as a way to make your cat more comfortable, as well as offer symptomatic care for any of their symptoms. This will offer the cat some relief as their disease progresses, and will give the owner more time with their feline friend.

Life Expectancy For Lymphoma In Cats

Now that you understand the details of this disease, you may be wondering how long can a cat live with lymphoma once they are diagnosed. The answer to this question varies based on how advanced your cat’s lymphoma is. If your cat is diagnosed with low grade lymphoma and they are in generally good health, they can typically go into remission with the use of chemotherapy or surgical revision. Your cat can never be cured of lymphoma, but may experience remission for up to 4 years.

However, if your cat’s lymphoma is advanced, the outlook is not so positive. High-grade lymphoma in cats has a standard life expectancy of 3-10 months, even with aggressive treatment. They may have an initial response to the selected treatment, but may decline in the months following.

Every cat is different, and will require a unique approach to their condition. By establishing a close relationship with your veterinarian, you can determine the best plan of action going forward.

When To Euthanize A Cat With Lymphoma

If your cat has been diagnosed with lymphoma, you may be questioning what this means for your furry friend’s future. The thought of saying goodbye is a difficult one, but is almost unavoidable in situations involving this aggressive cancer. To help you better understand when it may be time to let go, let’s list the signs of a cat that is struggling in their lymphoma diagnosis.

It may be time to say goodbye if your cat is experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe weight loss
  • Inability to put on weight
  • Lethargy
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Dehydration 
  • No longer interested in eating
  • Urinating inappropriately around the house
  • Respiratory distress
  • Labored breathing
  • Coughing
  • Increased respirations
  • Disinterest in things they once enjoyed

If your cat is experiencing any of the above symptoms, it may be time to discuss their quality of life with your veterinarian.

Lymphoma in cats is a complicated diagnosis with a terrifying reputation. Be sure to review the information that we discussed above, and you can better understand your cat’s treatment plan going forward.

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