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  • Writer's pictureVetMed Team

Lung Cancer in Cats: 7 Symptoms To Look Out For

Lung cancer in cats is a topic that many pet owners may find concerning and intimidating. While the incidence is relatively low compared to other feline diseases, the seriousness of a lung cancer diagnosis cannot be underestimated. This article aims to provide an in-depth understanding of feline lung cancer, from its causes and symptoms to diagnostic methods and treatment options. Knowing the signs and staying informed can make all the difference when it comes to early detection and successful treatment.

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What is Lung Cancer in Cats?

Lung cancer refers to the uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells within the lung tissue. These cells can either originate in the lungs, known as primary lung cancer, or spread from other parts of the body, termed as metastatic lung cancer. The two most common types of primary lung cancer in cats are adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. While primary lung cancer is relatively rare in cats, it is a condition that is increasingly diagnosed due to advanced imaging techniques. Metastatic lung cancer is more commonly seen and often stems from other primary cancers like mammary or skin cancer.

What Causes Lung Cancer?

The exact cause of lung cancer in cats remains largely unknown, but there are several factors that may increase the risk. Age is one such factor; older cats are more susceptible to developing lung cancer. Environmental factors such as exposure to second-hand smoke, air pollution, or certain chemicals can also contribute to the risk. Genetic predisposition may play a role, although the evidence is not conclusive. Some studies suggest that certain breeds may be more prone to lung cancer, but more research is needed to substantiate this claim.

Can You Prevent Lung Cancer?

Prevention of lung cancer in cats is challenging due to the various factors that can contribute to its development. However, there are some precautionary steps that can be taken to reduce risk.

  • Limit Exposure to Carcinogens: Keep your cat away from environments where they might inhale second-hand smoke or be exposed to harmful chemicals.

  • Regular Veterinary Check-Ups: Frequent visits to the vet can help in the early detection of any irregularities, increasing the chances of effective treatment.

  • Genetic Testing: While not a guarantee, knowing your cat's genetic predisposition to cancer can provide valuable insights. However, genetics are only one risk factor among many.

  • Healthy Diet: Provide a balanced diet rich in nutrients, as good nutrition can support overall health, although it's not a foolproof preventive measure.

  • Healthy Lifestyle: Exercise and environmental enrichment can promote overall well-being, though they can't completely negate the risk of cancer.

7 Symptoms of Lung Cancer in Cats

Lung cancer can be particularly hard to detect in its early stages due to the lack of specific symptoms. However, recognizing any of the following signs can be critical for early diagnosis and treatment.

1. Coughing

One of the first and most common symptoms you might notice is a persistent cough. This happens because the tumor can irritate the airway or take up space within the lung, making it difficult for your cat to breathe comfortably. If the coughing becomes frequent or is accompanied by other symptoms, seek veterinary advice immediately.

2. Respiratory Distress

Cats with lung cancer may show signs of respiratory distress, such as rapid breathing, panting, or wheezing. The tumor can obstruct airflow, making it difficult for your cat to breathe normally. It's crucial to treat respiratory distress as an emergency requiring immediate veterinary attention.

3. Lethargy

A cat with lung cancer may become increasingly lethargic. Lack of energy or decreased engagement in physical activities can be indicative of the body's reduced ability to function optimally due to the growing tumor.

4. Weight Loss

Unexplained weight loss is a red flag for a variety of health issues, including lung cancer. The metabolic demands of a growing tumor can lead to muscle wasting and overall weight loss over time.

5. Loss of Appetite

Decreased or total loss of appetite may be seen in cats suffering from lung cancer. This may be due to general malaise or because the body is channeling all its resources into fighting the tumor.

6. Hemoptysis (Coughing Up Blood)

In advanced cases, a cat may cough up blood due to tumor degradation or ulceration. This is a critical symptom and warrants immediate veterinary care.

7. Abnormal Lung Sounds

During a veterinary examination, abnormal lung sounds such as crackles or wheezes may be detected. These sounds can arise from fluid accumulation or airway constriction caused by the tumor.

Recognizing any of these symptoms should prompt a thorough veterinary evaluation, as early diagnosis greatly improves the chances of successful treatment.

How Quickly Can Lung Cancer Form and Progress?

The rate at which lung cancer forms and progresses in cats can vary widely depending on multiple factors such as the type of cancer, the stage at which it is diagnosed, and the overall health of the animal. Some types of lung cancer can be relatively slow-growing, taking months or even years to become symptomatic. Others can be aggressive, spreading rapidly to other organs and deteriorating the cat's health in a matter of weeks.

Early detection plays a crucial role in managing the speed of progression. Cancers caught in their initial stages are generally more treatable and might offer the possibility of removal before metastasis (spreading to other parts of the body).

Different treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery can sometimes slow the rate of progression, but these are generally more successful in the earlier stages of the disease.

Given these complexities, it's essential for pet owners to consult with a veterinary oncologist for the most accurate prognosis and treatment options tailored to their pet's specific condition.

How Lung Cancer is Diagnosed in Cats

Diagnosing lung cancer in cats involves multiple steps and tests to confirm the type of cancer and to determine its stage. Here's a breakdown of the common diagnostic techniques used:

Physical Examination

The first step in diagnosing lung cancer is usually a thorough physical examination by a veterinarian. This includes listening to the cat's chest with a stethoscope for any abnormalities in breathing sounds. While this won't confirm lung cancer, it can give the veterinarian a starting point for further tests.

Blood Tests

Blood tests, such as a Complete Blood Count (CBC) and a blood chemistry profile, can provide a general idea of the cat's overall health. These tests can also reveal the presence of any infections or anemia that might be either a symptom or a cause of the lung condition.

Chest X-rays

Chest X-rays are among the most commonly used diagnostic tools for detecting lung cancer. They can reveal the presence, size, and location of tumors. However, an X-ray can't confirm that a mass is cancerous, so additional tests are often necessary for a definitive diagnosis.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan

A CT scan offers a more detailed look at the lungs than an X-ray and can be crucial for planning treatment options like surgery or radiation. The scan can also help in identifying any metastasis to other areas, such as the lymph nodes or other organs.

Fine-Needle Aspiration (FNA) or Biopsy

A fine-needle aspiration involves using a thin needle to remove cells or fluid from the suspected tumor for microscopic examination. This is usually performed under sedation or anesthesia. A biopsy provides a larger tissue sample and can give a more definitive diagnosis but is a more invasive procedure.


In some cases, a bronchoscopy may be performed to get a closer look inside the airways and to possibly obtain tissue samples. This involves inserting a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera into the airways. The procedure typically requires general anesthesia.

Lung Flushing

Also known as bronchoalveolar lavage, this technique involves injecting a fluid into a part of the lung and then immediately suctioning it back out. The fluid is then analyzed for cancer cells. This method is often used when other means of obtaining a tissue sample are not possible.

Each of these diagnostic techniques has its pros and cons, and often multiple tests are used in combination to diagnose lung cancer accurately. A consultation with a veterinary oncologist is essential to determine the most appropriate diagnostic path for your cat.

Treatment Options For Lung Cancer in Cats

When it comes to treating lung cancer in cats, the available options can vary depending on multiple factors including the stage of the cancer, the overall health of the cat, and the location of the tumor. Here are some commonly considered treatment methods:

HDR Brachytherapy

VetMed specializes in HDR (High Dose Rate) Brachytherapy, a revolutionary treatment option that stands as a minimally invasive and highly targeted form of radiation therapy. Under this method, a small radioactive source is placed directly into or near the tumor, allowing for a high dose of radiation to be delivered directly to the cancerous cells while sparing the surrounding healthy tissues. HDR Brachytherapy is often preferred over other treatments such as surgery or traditional radiation therapy due to its precision, reduced side effects, and quicker recovery times.


This procedure involves opening the chest cavity to remove the cancerous lung tissue. It can be effective but involves significant recovery time and risks associated with anesthesia and the surgery itself.


Chemotherapy may be recommended in cases where surgical removal isn't feasible or as a follow-up to surgery to eliminate any remaining cancerous cells. While chemotherapy can help in extending a cat's life, it comes with its own set of side effects like nausea, vomiting, and general fatigue.

Radiation Therapy

Traditional radiation therapy involves directing high-energy radiation beams at the tumor over multiple sessions. It can be useful for treating lung cancer but may also affect some of the healthy surrounding tissues.

Palliative Care

In some cases, particularly for older cats or those with advanced stages of cancer, palliative care aimed at relieving symptoms and improving quality of life may be the most humane course of action. This could include pain management and medications to improve breathing.

Choosing the right treatment option is a decision best made in consultation with a qualified veterinary oncologist. At VetMed, we offer a range of options to best suit the needs of your feline friend, always aiming for the most effective yet least invasive treatments available.

Recovery and Management After Treatment

The post-treatment phase is critical in managing lung cancer in cats and often involves a blend of medical monitoring, symptom management, and lifestyle adjustments. Here is what you can expect in terms of recovery and ongoing care:

Post-Surgical Recovery

If your cat has undergone surgery to remove a lung tumor, the immediate post-operative period will require close monitoring to assess pain levels, respiratory function, and any possible complications. Your cat will likely be prescribed pain medications and may require supplemental oxygen. Veterinary staff will monitor vital signs and overall well-being to ensure that recovery is proceeding as expected. Once discharged, it's essential to keep your cat quiet and limit physical activity while the surgical site heals.

Follow-up Appointments

Scheduled visits to the veterinary oncologist or your regular veterinarian are crucial, regardless of the treatment method. These appointments may include additional diagnostic tests like X-rays or blood work to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment and check for signs of recurrence or metastasis.

Ongoing Medication

Cats undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, or immunotherapy may need a course of medications stretching over weeks or months. This will involve regular veterinary visits for treatment administration, and sometimes these medications can be given at home. Monitoring for side effects such as loss of appetite, vomiting, or lethargy is crucial.

Nutritional Support

Nutrition plays a pivotal role in cancer recovery. A balanced, high-quality diet can help strengthen your cat's immune system and improve overall well-being. In some cases, dietary supplements may be recommended. Consult your veterinarian for advice tailored to your cat’s specific needs.

Quality of Life Assessments

Regular evaluations of your cat’s quality of life are essential, especially if the cancer is advanced. You'll need to observe for signs of pain, breathing difficulties, changes in eating habits, or a decline in activity levels. Palliative care measures can be adjusted accordingly to maintain a comfortable and fulfilling life for your cat.

Emotional Support

Don't underestimate the importance of emotional well-being for your cat. A comfortable, low-stress environment, coupled with your attention and affection, can contribute significantly to recovery and quality of life.


Maintaining a detailed medical record can be beneficial for tracking symptoms, medication schedules, and any changes in behavior or appetite. This information can be invaluable for your veterinary team and for any future treatment adjustments.

Proactive and attentive post-treatment care can significantly impact your cat's recovery and long-term health outlook. By closely collaborating with your veterinary healthcare team, you'll provide your feline companion with the best possible support during this challenging time.

VetMed Treats Lung Cancer in Cats

At VetMed, we are committed to providing cutting-edge, compassionate care for your pets, and this extends to our specialized treatment options for feline lung cancer.

One of our most innovative treatments is HDR Brachytherapy, a minimally invasive and highly targeted form of radiation therapy. This advanced technique allows us to directly place a small radioactive source into or near the tumor, which minimizes the impact on surrounding healthy tissue while effectively treating the cancerous cells.

We prefer HDR Brachytherapy over traditional treatment methods like surgery or conventional radiation therapy due to its precision, reduced side effects, and quicker recovery times. Our expertise in this area makes VetMed a leading choice for those seeking the best in feline lung cancer treatment.


Questions You've Asked Us About Lung Cancer in Cats

Still have questions? Contact us here - we promise we'll answer them.

What is the life expectancy of a cat with lung cancer?

The life expectancy of a cat diagnosed with lung cancer can vary significantly based on factors such as the stage of the cancer, the cat's overall health, and the treatment options pursued.

What are the signs of lung cancer in cats?

When should I euthanize my cat with lung cancer?

How long can a cat live with untreated cancer?

How do you treat lung cancer in cats?


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