Dr. Mark is a veterinarian with over 40 years of experience in the field. He works with dogs, cats, exotics, and livestock.
Can an X-Ray Interpretation Tell Me How Long My Cat Has to Live?
"I had a second opinion done for a radiograph on my female 13-year-old cat for a supposed lung mass on her left caudal lung lobe. The second opinion states that it may be a 'cavitated pulmonary lesion, consider primary neoplasia, metastatic neoplasia, or abscess/granuloma, bronchitis of allergic infectious or irritant etiology; feline asthma is most common. Atelectasis, caudal subsegment of left cranial lung lobe and left caudal lung lobe. This may be a sequela of the feline asthma due to obstruction of the bronchus with mucus.'
I just wanted to know what all this means and why are they not sure what it is. Is it cancer or an infection? What are the chances of my cat's survival? Is it operable?
My cat is currently under treatment since a year ago with Lotensin and Lasix for heart problems. She also has a heart murmur. I’m devastated, and I feel horrible I blame myself for not advocating for my cat by insisting that there was something wrong with her. Even though I took her to the vet many many times, it never dawned on them to take a radiograph because I kept telling them she would breathe fast. They would tell me it was caused by her heart problem.
My cat is so traumatized by all those endless rides to the vet, and I don’t understand why they didn’t bother to do a radiograph after I told them her symptoms and asked them to do whatever test was necessary to find out. I know they did a radiograph about a year ago because a kitten gave her a respiratory virus, but the radiograph came back clear at the time.
So my question is how long does my kitty have to live? The vet has recommended putting her down, but I’m still waiting for God to do a miracle on my cat. She eats and drinks water and poops but she just looks sad. Can you help me? I really don’t know what to do. I love my cat very much and have come to the point where I can’t eat or even go to work. I’m extremely devastated and it feels horrible to see her like that." —Lilian
Lung Ailments in Cats
With that radiograph interpretation, it is impossible to tell you how long your cat has in front of her. All of those possible interpretations mean that the radiologist was not able to figure out exactly what was wrong with your cat, only that it involved the lungs, and only that the lung was collapsed. The interpretation lists numerous reasons the lung could have collapsed.
The radiologist listed about everything possible, with the primary interpretations suspecting bronchitis or cancer.
- Bronchitis: If it is bronchitis secondary to feline allergy, your cat will need to be treated for that and although it is not going to go away is not a life-threatening problem.
- Cancer: If it is cancer, then the time ahead of her varies depending on what type it is, and whether this is a primary tumor or metastasis from some other area. Studies have shown anywhere from less than three months to several years survival time after surgery. (1)
I am sorry it was so vague. Another radiologist might be able to tell you more, or they might just recommend it be done again.
Another Radiograph and an Ultrasound
If you want to try to extend your cat's life, you could take her to a university and have the radiographs repeated and evaluated there. They will also want to do an ultrasound, which will give them more information. They may recommend medication but may also recommend surgery to remove a tumor and most of the lung.
Antibiotics and a Bronchodilator
The vet indicated they sent home antibiotics and a prescription for a bronchodilator to make your cat more comfortable. She might respond to bronchodilators if she has bronchitis.
If she has cancer she might feel a little better for a while too, but the medication is no cure. (The Lasix she is taking for her heart is probably helping her too.)
Acknowledge When Her Time Has Come
If you decide to try treatment please look over the signs that your cat is dying and take her back to your vet when she is in too much pain to go on.
From your description, it sounds like she is already stressed from the numerous vet visits she has made. You mentioned that the veterinarian already suggested euthanizing her and this is probably because she has a poor quality of life. I cannot in good conscience tell you that having more radiographs, diagnostics, medications, and possibly surgery are going to improve her quality of life at this point.
(1) Hahn KA, McEntee MF. Prognosis factors for survival in cats after removal of a primary lung tumor: 21 cases (1979-1994). Vet Surg. 1998 Jul-Aug;27(4):307-11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9662772/
This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Mark dos Anjos DVM