My Cat Beat Skin Cancer (Feline Subcutaneous Hemangiosarcoma)
How 'Spur' Came Into Our Life
'Spur' is a domestic short-haired male cat with lovely apple-green eyes and a teardrop-shaped nose. We estimate that he was born in 2000. We got him from a friend of a friend, so we don't know much about him other than he's a sweet, lovable guy who acts much like a playful, attention-loving puppy.
He came along at a perfect time to be a companion to our male cat who was acting lonely in his old age and they were wonderful companions for years. We have a young female cat who is now Spur's frisky little sister. Spur is an indoor cat but loves to roll around on the lawn, chew on grass and spy on the neighbors from under a lilac bush.
For owners facing the dilemma of your cat having cancer, I hope this article helps to reassure you that it is possible for your cat to survive even an aggressive form of cancer.
How We Found Out Our Cat Had Cancer
We discovered a lump in the right side of Spur's abdomen in April 2012. After doing some research on the Internet as to what it could be, we didn't make much of it. We thought it could be fat, but decided to take him to the vet for an exam just in case. The vet looked him over but needed to do a biopsy to determine the nature of the lump.
Unfortunately, because Spur was uncooperative, they needed to sedate him for the procedure. (During this whole ordeal, Spur developed a fear of needles.) We had to find the time to drop him off and pick him up the same day as they did not provide overnight boarding. We became concerned after a week when we felt that the lump had grown larger and was firm.
Getting a Second Opinion
We decided to take him to another vet and we found an animal hospital that was open seven days a week. They did a biopsy but could not determine what the lump was from the sample. We told them to go ahead and remove the lump. Because more tests were required, we had to talk to an oncologist, so we took him to the University of Guelph (in Canada).
The University did tests on the tumor. They also did an ultrasound of his abdomen and an MRI. They determined that he had feline subcutaneous hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer.
We Agreed to Go Ahead With Surgery
The university vets suggested doing another surgery right away to remove more of the tissue around where the lump was located. His second surgery was a month after his first surgery. They ended up taking muscle out of his right flank and put polypropylene mesh in to patch the abdominal wall.
Thank goodness the surgery went very well. He recovered quickly without any signs of lethargy or pain or changes in behavior. In fact, he acted so normal that we had to keep him in a wire kennel (for a large dog) while he healed because he kept jumping up on things.
Before SurgeryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Deciding Whether or Not to Do Chemotherapy
After surgery, an oncologist said we could consider chemotherapy to prevent recurrence. After discussing the pros and cons, we decided not to pursue this. Chemo would damage his organs, especially the liver.
The vets couldn't give us any specific advice as very little research has been done for cats with this type of cancer. We were told that they come across this more in dogs than cats, and cats with cancer are usually put down immediately. They do have some data for dogs with this form of cancer, which usually shortens the life of dogs, especially older dogs. But as with humans, results vary for each case, and we chose to give Spur all the help he needed since he was healthy and full of life.
The only negative about the whole ordeal is now he hates going to the vet. Each time we take him for a checkup, he puts up a huge fight along with blood-curdling screams when they try to take a blood or urine sample. Poor guy.
After SurgeryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Spur's Recovery Went Well
In the photo below, you can see how the pattern on his coat is a little crooked, but it is hardly noticeable that he lost some of his fur. It took about 6 months for his fur to grow back in completely.
For a while, I was worried how his fur would end up looking because it was growing back in clumps at a very slow pace. But as you can see in the before and after pictures, he didn't change much. What a happy outcome to his ordeal; he was as energetic and lovable as ever after the surgery.
The Risk of Developing a Hernia With Mesh
Around October 2015, Spur developed a hernia where the mesh was inserted. The vets think the mesh dissolved. It was not life-threatening at this point, so we decided to leave things alone and monitor any change in size or shape. (If it became twisted or tangled in his organs it would be fatal.)
The vets said because of his age, Spur may not be able to survive anesthesia without complications. Apparently, Spur wasn't bothered by these issues and he still had a very healthy appetite.
Spur's Diagnosis: Managing Hyperthyroidism in Cats
In the fall of 2016, Spur was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and was put on Tapazole which stabilizes hormone levels. Unfortunately, his weight was slowly declining. Almost half a year later, his weight decreased to 8 pounds. By March, it was 7.6 pounds; it went down to 6.4 pounds in April.
The vets, however, did not recommend anything. All they said to me was that he would likely last weeks to months in his condition. They did not suggest any special food. They could not determine the cause of his weight loss either without further intrusive tests which we did not agree to. They did agree to give him subcutaneous fluids to keep him going, which owners can easily administer themselves twice a week at home with a little training.
Kidney Health and Subcutaneous Fluids
I agreed to subcutaneous fluids when required, but declined to administer the fluids myself. He was still going through his daily routine: waking me up, taking a little walk outside for some fresh air and drinking from the tub.
One vet gave me the 'end of life talk' and said that I should keep a calendar of his activity level so that when his 'bad days' are more frequent than his 'good days' I should consider euthanasia. The sooner the better, she said, because prolonging his state would be painful and cruel.
Difficulties With Keeping an Appetite
Spur's appetite had been finicky and he experienced occasional constipation. When he started taking Tapazole, we also gave him a steroid (Prednisolone) to stimulate his appetite. At one point, his constipation got so bad that he had to get an enema. We tried lactulose (non-absorbable sugar in syrup form) and cisapride (a pill that increases motility in the upper gastrointestinal tract) to help with his bowel movements. Some trial and error was necessary as the lactulose and cisapride made his stool runny.
Offering Palatable Food
I also started giving him pureed pumpkin using a syringe (about 1.5 mL daily). I was skeptical about this, but it helps since pumpkin has lots of fiber. I like it because it is all-natural. I also read that powdered cellulose, an ingredient often used in pet food, can cause constipation.
Spur Drinking From the Tap
Spur's Diagnosis: Kidney Disease in Cats
In February 2017, Spur was diagnosed with level 2 chronic kidney disease. The vets suggested giving him Hill's Prescription Diet k/d and g/d canned wet food, but these formulas are low in protein, so Spur refused to eat them. Instead, he would eat chicken-flavored Authority (a PetSmart brand) canned pate which is fairly high in calories, according to the vet (144 kcal/kg, which is probably why he likes it). This, unfortunately, did not help keep his weight up. Around that time, he also stopped eating treats and dry food.
Weight Loss and Medication
When his weight reached 6.4 pounds, we requested to start Spur on steroid pills (Prednisolone) to stimulate his appetite and give Hill's Prescription Diet a/d a try. We hit the mark this time. We gave him as much a/d as we wanted (like regular food, not mixed with water), and he ate it non-stop.
The best thing about this food is it is easy to digest—so no constipation or diarrhea. His bowel movement had never been better. He had a bowel movement every day (it was every other day for months prior) and we didn't have to use pumpkin puree. We saw him gain weight quickly, and by day 6 he weighed around 7 pounds on an empty stomach. My only regret is not trying this sooner.
Hill's a/d Did the Trick
As for his feeding regimen, I continued to feed him the a/d until he got tired of it. I also gave him Performatrin Ultra adult chicken and turkey pate wet food because it does not have phosphorus and is high in calories. He loved this, thankfully. I was also able to carefully cut back on the steroid dose by half as the regular dose made him groggy and slightly off-balance.
Since he started on the Hill's a/d, he was not begging for water and did not seem needy or stressed. He seemed calmer and content. Many people swear by Hill's a/d and I've joined the club.
Experienced Cat Owners Shared Their Advice
The Internet has been great—thanks to the folks who shared their cat photos and advice online. It helped me to see that Spur's weight loss was related to his thyroid issue. I learned that even though the medication may help to stabilize his condition, the disease burns up a lot of energy, so he needs more calories and protein intake to keep his weight up (and limited carbohydrate intake). According to the AVMI.net:
The most commonly reported symptom of hyperthyroidism in cats is weight loss that occurs despite a good appetite. The nature of cats unique metabolic needs as obligate carnivores means that this weight loss comes with the added symptom of muscle wasting. Despite the increase in food consumption that virtually always accompanies hyperthyroidism, these cats are simply unable to meet their daily caloric and protein intake needs. Hyperthyroid cats need high calorie and high protein diets to reduce the rate of weight loss and muscle wasting that accompanies the disease.
At this point, we decided to take him to a new vet clinic which had better hours.
When We Had to Say Goodbye to Spur
Sadly, we had to put Spur down on July 28, 2017. He was such a trooper—he was so easygoing right to the last second, wagging his tail though he could no longer walk properly and was dehydrated.
He was functioning fine, eating, drinking and eliminating normally for a few months after we changed vets. Even the fur that fell out before we gave him thyroid meds grew back in. He was prescribed a renal powder (RenalPro), a protein blocker (Fortekor benazepril hydrochloride tablets) and an omega-3 liquid supplement. I also took home a bag of saline to give him fluids under the skin.
But in his final weeks, his hernia and liver were starting to get larger, which made him unbalanced and got in the way of his back legs. The vet took x-rays and saw that fluid was building up in his liver.
We decided it was the end when he could no longer stand to eat and was unable to use the litterbox without me helping him in and out. He sure loved his life and wasn't eager to leave us and he always had a great attitude. It was a tough decision, but we knew we were doing the right thing.
You'll always be in our hearts, Spur. Thanks for being part of our journey. Love always.
Spur even outlived his adopted sister, Twinkle. Sadly, we had to put down Twinkle in May 2016; she had a neurological disorder.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.