My Cat Has Been Diagnosed with Cancer, What Now?

Author: Kim Freeman, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)

Published: June 21, 2014

Updated: June 28, 2021

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cat diagnosed with cancer-UNIt’s heart-wrenching to hear that your beloved cat has cancer. You may feel angry, confused, depressed, or otherwise emotional. You may immediately feel a sense of loss and start reminiscing about all the good times you’ve spent with your cat.

It’s important to recognize these feelings and address them. You’ll need to take time to accept the cancer diagnosis. But it’s also important to remember your cat is not gone yet and they need you now more than ever. They need you to be their advocate.

What to think about when facing medical decisions for your cat's cancer diagnosis

Rule number one: don’t panic. Great, now that you’re not panicking, take these important steps below.

Find support

As much as you need to be there for your cat, consider building your own network of support through family, friends, a counselor, and your primary veterinarian or a veterinary specialist.

Make a plan

Having a plan can help reduce stress. Know what your cat will tolerate and what they will not handle well, you don’t want to be fighting with your cat to give them their treatments. Know what you are okay with as well. This includes a medical plan of care for your cat, your own plan for scheduling medical appointments, juggling work and family responsibilities, and time to take care of yourself. You’ll also want a plan for euthanasia, if and when that becomes necessary.

Educate yourself

Learn all you can about the diagnosis. Ask questions. Learn about and seek out the help of a specialist. Know what to expect so that the process is not a surprise. All of this can help lower stress.

Learn how to administer medications

Medications often come in tablet or capsule form. However, some medications can be made into liquid compounds to make administration easier. Ask your veterinarian or veterinary technician to teach you the proper way to administer different forms of medication.

Your cat's behavior may change because of cancer

It will also be important to be aware of how this disease and subsequent therapy will affect your cat’s behavior. Take a moment to remember your cat’s “normal” behavior (before your cat was sick) so you know what behavior changes you should look for to know if they are doing well or not. Some questions you should answer for yourself include:

  • Is my cat ok with being handled frequently?
  • How is my cat with restraint?
  • Will my cat require sedation to get IV therapies?
  • Does my cat hold a grudge against me when I give him medications? What about when I take my cat to the vet?

Other questions to think about or ask your veterinarian:

  • What does the diagnosis mean?
  • Should I seek a specialist?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What is the prognosis?
  • What are signs and symptoms of my cat’s cancer or things I need to look for in the future?
  • How much of a time commitment is required if I pursue treatment? How about if I don’t pursue treatment?
  • Are their special nutritional requirements? How do I make sure my cat is getting enough calories?
  • Are there other supportive things I should consider, such as complementary medicine, such as massage therapy?
  • How do I know if my cat is in pain?
  • When is hospice indicated? What does hospice mean?
  • How do I know when it is time to euthanize my cat?
  • What do I do if I do not believe in euthanasia?

Remember: a cancer diagnosis is awful and heart-wrenching, but if you stay calm, ask the right questions, and create a plan, you and your cat can make the most of the time you have left together.

About the author

Profile picture for Kim Freeman

Kim Freeman, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)

Dr. Freeman is a board-certified veterinary oncologist and the co-owner of Veterinary Cancer & Surgery Specialists in Milwaukie, OR. She takes great joy in helping her patients and clients not just with the treatment of cancer in pets, but in doing so with a close eye and focus on maintaining and improving the quality of life in those pets in the process of treating their disease.

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