Cancer and Your Cat
If you’ve read the rest of this site, you know that I lost my Baby Girl, a feline friend of twenty-three years, to cancer a few months ago. Now, I know that twenty-three years is a long time for a cat, but she was healthy and active before the cancer, and would still be here with me today if not for that horrible disease.
Cancer is the most common medical killer of cats today, and the fact that cats are living long enough to be diagnosed with it doesn’t account for it all.
At its roots, there is a common cause of cancer: a weakened immune system that has been overwhelmed, and has lost control of healthy cell division; one that can no longer properly manage metabolism, eliminate wastes, and rid the body of unwanted organisms and cells. Potentially cancerous cells are not unusual, but are routinely and effectively dealt with by a healthy immune system.
Cancer is a group of chronic, degenerative, diseases that are named for the cell type or tissue where the body allows it to grow. In the basic sense, cancer results from toxin overload in combination with a weakened immune system that can no longer differentiate between normal and abnormal cells.
Most veterinary clinics are now equipped with sophisticated equipment and procedures, such as sonograms, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) computer-aided tomography (CAT scans), and guided biopsies, which can lead to early detection of cancer, but these tests are usually brought into play only after a problem has already developed. My Baby Girl was a few months away from death before I knew that she had a problem, and that problem turned out to be a rapidly growing, inoperable, cancer under her tongue.
Some of the contributing factors to cancer are genetic, and beyond your control. But while you cannot do anything about any genetic predispositions, it is even more important that you take control of those aspect that you can control.
Recognize the dangers
By the time that your cat is diagnosed with cancer, you've already missed your best opportunity to maintain her good health. Many of our cats will face that diagnosis, and we will have to deal with it at that point, as I did, but it's fair to presume that we'd all like to put that off as long as possible, if not avoid it altogether.
Toxins in our cat's environment
What you might think of as a normal home environment may nevertheless be toxic to your cat. Pay close attention to the environment in which your cat lives, being sure to prevent your pet from gaining access to insecticides, cleaning supplies, or any other household chemicals that you might have on hand, such as the oils in potpourri, or other substances that you might not think of as being dangerous. Nicotene, discarded cigarette butts or filters, as well as nicotene gum or patches, can be lethal to your cat. Be especially careful of any medications, and if you should accidentally drop a pill or a tablet onto the floor, be absolutely certain that you locate and dispose of it properly, or your cat might consider it to be a treat.
Many of the cleaning supplies that we depend upon in order to maintain a clean home may be relatively harmless to ourselves, yet may prove to be carcinogenic to our cat over time. The same is true of many of the products that we use to protect our homes from insects and rodents.
Even when your cat may not show any immediate harmful effect from contact with these chemicals, continued exposure over time may lead to cancer or other disease.
If your cat goes outdoors, in your garage, or in other storage areas, be especially careful of hazards from chemicals used in lawn treatments, pest control, antifreeze, and motor oil, or for contact with empty containers.
2-4-Dichlorophenozyacetic acid (2,4-D), one of the active ingredients in Agent Orange, and a common synthetic herbicide used in the control of broadleaf weeds, is the most widely used herbicide in the world. Cats are instictively inclined to eat grass when out of doors, as a means of controlling hairballs, so if you are using a product containing 2,4-D on your lawn, you might want to think about that.
Toxins in our cat's food
Many of the ingredients commonly found in cat food are used for the convenience of profitability of the pet food industry, not because they are thought to be good for our cats.
BHT/BHA and ethoxyquin
These are common preservatives, heavily used in pet foods, not only to preserve fats but to stabilize the product, as well. We have heard a great deal in recent years about the carcinogenic effects of BHT/BHA in our own diets, so it doesn't take much of an imagination to speculate as to what effect it might have on our pets.
Ethozyquin was developed in the 195Os as a herbicide, similar to Agent Orange, and as a rubber stabilizer. People who worked with it in the rubber industry reported a dramatic rise in such diseases as liver and kidney damage, cancerous skin lesions, loss of hair, blindness, leukemia, fetal abnormalities, and chronic diarrhea. Used as a preservative in pet food, it has been associated with immune deficiency syndrome, cancer of the spleen, stomach, and liver, as well as the same effects that were seen through its use on humans.
Research has determined that daily doses of chemical additives and preservatives, even in small quantities, can build up in the body and prove carcinogenic. The steady increase in cancer among dogs and cats has paralelled the increased use of chemical preservatives by the pet food industry over the past thirty years.
Poultry and meat by-products and digest
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is no mandatory inspection of the ingredients used in the manufacture of pet food. The law permits the use of what is known as 4-D (dying, dead, diseased, disabled) sources; that is, meat that is not fit for human consumption.
Animal digest is the dry by-product of rendered meat. During rendering, all usable animal parts (including fetal tissues and glandular wastes) are heated in vats and the liquid is separated from the dry meal. This meal is covered with charcoal and labeled "unfit for human consumption" before processing it into pet food. Digest can also include intestines, as well as the contents of those intestines, such as stool, bile, parasites and chemicals.
According to leading veterinarians, the use of meat or poultry by-products, as well as animal digest, in pet food increases the animal's chances of getting cancer and other degenerative diseases.
The laws governing the listing of ingredients used in pet food are weak, and manufacturers sometimes list ingredients in such a manner that tells very little about what is actually in the product.
You will notice that some pet food bags list "artificial coloring" as an ingredient. Such coloring often includes known carcinogens that are no longer approved for human consumption, including sodium nitrate, which is widely used as a red coloring and preservative, although it produces nitrosamines, a strong carcinogen. People have died from accidental nitrate poisoning, yet animals ingest larger amounts of these carcinogens and other chemicals each day than is allowed in food intended for humans.
Propylene glycol is added to assist in maintaining the right texture and moisture of the food. Along with ethoxyquin, propylene glycol ties up the water content, prohibiting the growth of bacteria, which allows both dry and wet pet foods to remain on the shelves longer. It also helps to produce small, hard, dry stools, that are easier to clean up.
However, beyond inhibiting the growth of bacteria in the product, they inhibit the necessary growth of friendly flora in the digestive tract, thus leading to intestinal blockage and other digestive problems, including cancerous intestinal lesions.
Toxins in your cat's flea control products
I understand, very well, the urgency upon which we are inclined to view a flea infestation. No one wants their pets, their furniture, and their home to be overrun with fleas.
When this occurs, however, we sometimes overreact, taking actions which are the equivalent to dropping a nuclear bomb on Canada, while there is a south wind. It's hard to tell who is going to be hurt the most.
Too often, despite your good intentions, the victim is your cat. While fleas tend to acclimate to continued exposure to insecticides, becoming stronger, your cat is harmed.
Toxic medicines, flea and tick shampoos powders, sprays, dips, bombs, and foggers are poisoning our pets. In our desperation, wanting to produce a more comfortable environment for our cats, we are too often producing a toxic environment, one that the fleas may adapt to, but which may lead to the development of cancer or other diseases in the cat that you were trying to protect.
If you've done that, don't waste time and emotional effort by kicking yourself over it at this point, but consider that there might be a better, more effective, way of dealing with fleas.
For more information, see my page on fleas.
Toxins in your cat's medications
It has been proven that excessive vaccinations can weaken the body's immune system, setting the stage for cancer. In cats, there is a specific type of cancer that comes as a side effect of over-vaccination, and which occurs at the injection site. This type of cancer is known as vaccine-induced fibrosarcoma. For additional information, please see my page on vaccinations.
Long-term exposure to antibiotics, corticosteroids, and other systemic medications, such as heartworm and flea-control products, contribute to the deterioration of the cat's immune system, paving the way for cancer or other opportunistic diseases.
Help your cat to help herself
Most, if not all, of the medical threats that your cat might be faced with can be most effectively avoided through good nutrition. In fact, a healthy, well-nutritioned cat, will be better able to survive even the physical dangers, and be victorious over some of them, such as threats caused by fleas and ticks.
If feline cancer results from the inability of a cat's immune system to fight off toxins, there are two fronts on which we can fight this battle before it even begins:
- Reduce the level of toxins in your cat's environment by eliminating chemical-laden foods, discontinuing the use of dangerous pesticides, and vaccinating wisely.
- Increase the strength of your cat's immune system by feeding her nutritious foods that contain essential vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants that serve to strengthen the cat's immune system so that she can fight off those toxins that she may come into contact with, despite your efforts.
Despite your best efforts, there are no guarantees that your cat will not develop cancer at some point in her life. While cancer is a very serious disease, the situation is not necessarily hopeless.
There are two significant differences in feline cancer, as compared to cancer in humans. Because a cat's metabolism is much faster than that of a person, the progression of the disease can be accelerated, and the animal can sicken quickly. On the other hand, cats can also respond faster to therapies and achieve stability or remission more quickly than a person might. Early diagnosis is important.
Early warning signs
Early diagnosis and therapy, combined with nutritional support, are important components in winning the battle against cancer. If cancer is detected early, it can be treated more effectively, so it's important to check your cat regularly for the ten early signs of cancer, as recommended by the Veterinary Cancer Society:
- Abnormal swelling that persists
- Sores that do not heal
- Loss of weight
- Loss of appetite
- Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
- Offensive odor
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Hesitation to exercise, or loss of stamina
- Persistent lameness or stiffness
- Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating
The conventional treatment choices for the treatment of cancer in a cat include those which are commonly available to humans, and they include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, medical immuno-therapy, and surgery. As with people diagnosed with cancer, some cancers are more deadly and difficult to treat than others, and the treatment recommendations will vary according to the type and location of the cancer.
I won't be describing the conventional approaches to cancer in any detail because, not being a veterinarian, I won't pretend to understand them; and because your veterinarian does, and will be recommending treatment options to you.
In my focus on alternative therapies, I am in no way suggesting that these should be used in lieu of conventional therapies. While conventional therapies focus on eliminating the cancer without regard to the cat's immune system, these medical and surgical procedures are nevertheless essential, in that it doesn't do any good to build up your cat's immune system if the animal dies of the cancer before you can reach your goals.
Conventional therapy may buy the time needed to strengthen, balance, and stimulate the cat's immune system. Together, the two approaches may increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.
Building up the immune system
If your cat is diagnosed with cancer, a proper diet is essential, whatever other therapies your veterinarian may recommend.
Cats with cancer may exhibit a lack of appetite, or difficulties eating, so whatever you can get your pet to eat will be most effective if it is fresh, organic, and free of chemical preservatives. Naturally preserved commercial cat food, supplemented with fresh meat, healthy oils, and fresh vegetables is best.
The cat with cancer should be eating a diet that is higher in fat and protein, and lower in carbohydrates. In other words, it is important that the food your cat swallows be digestible, making energy available to the cells.
High quality protein from beef, chicken, fish, and eggs, along with whole grains, and unsaturated fats, preferably organic, is what you should be looking for, as they will provide more energy than will food that contains by-products, highly processed carbohydrates, chemical additives, preservatives, dyes, and fillers.
Your cat may crave protein, necessary for fighting cancer, so offer her all the organic protein she will eat, especially raw, or lightly steamed meat, and egg yolks. Mix protein with raw, organic, vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, baked potatoes, whole grains such as brown rice, plain yogurt, chopped garlic and parsley, and fish oil, not necessarily all mixed together.
Dr. Robert S. Golstein, V.M.D., goes into some detail, including recipes, in his excellent book, entitled "The Goldsteins' Wellness & Longevity Program: Natural Care for Dogs and Cats”.
My intent is not to recommend any specific therapies to you if your cat should be diagnosed with cancer, but I do want to make you aware that there are things that you can do, which will complement the treatment plan proposed by your veterinarian. It is important that you are comfortable with your veterinarian, and that your veterinarian be aware, and supportive of the many alternative therapies that may be able to make a difference in your cat's life.
No can can live forever, and many cats will indeed die from the cancer they have been diagnosed with, despite your own efforts, and that of your veterinarian. Whatever the outcome, you will feel better knowing that you've done what you could.
The main thing that I'd like you take from this page is that there are things that you can do, right now, to reduce the likelihood that your cat will ever have to face the diagnosis of cancer.
Be happy with your cat, and with yourself.