My cat, Spur, had an aggressive form of cancer and survived.
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.
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 we 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.
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.
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 I 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.
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.
Dilyana on December 04, 2018:
Thank you for sharing Spur's story. He was a wonderful cat and a real trooper. Just wanted to say that your story gives me a lot of hope for my cat Nathan who was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma today too. He is 12 and is now recovering from surgery that took the tumor out with apparently clean margins. I hope Nathan has the same outcome as Spur...
Erika on June 25, 2017:
I am looking for information from anyone who's cat has been diagnoses with subcutaneous angiosarcoma. Warmly, Erika
Amy on May 10, 2017:
Thanks for sharing your story. My kitty was just diagnosed with Dermal Hemangiosarcoma and had the tumor removed, but it was hard for the vet to get it all as it was near his wrist. He's also been on hyperthyroid medication for the past year, has some arthritis, and beginning kidney issues. Not great news to hear on your birthday, I tell ya.
Celine K. on December 12, 2016:
Thanks for sharing your story. I hope Spur is still doing well.
My cat Annabelle had a lump removed from her chest that was just tested to be cutaneous hemangiosarcoma. She is 14 years old. The vet offered to do "staging" (scans to see if the cancer spread internally), and to look into chemo. There are no oncologist vets anywhere near my rural area. I am still digesting this, but will probably not go for the "staging". Chemo, according to what I've read, won't cure the cat...it may only extend her life.
I'm hoping the cancer did not spread, and won't come back, but if it does I'll deal with the symptoms to make Annabelle's life as comfortable as possible. It's all about quality of life, not trying to eek out a few more months.
theresa on November 20, 2016:
I just found out about a week ago that the tumor removed from my cat's ankle area came back as Cutaneous Hemangiosarcoma. I have been to 2 Oncologists now. Because the margins were still not clear, they recommend Chemo. I am thinking of amputation, and still conflicted on what to do. I know I need to do something quickly though. But you did not have the Chemo on Spur, correct? I am thinking of having a second surgery to get the clear margins first so not quite sure. The expenses are another issue also. $2,600 for Chemo or Amputation..wow.
Nicole on November 07, 2016:
Our cat, Rori, was diagnosed last week with hemangiosarcoma, she just turned 6. We are waiting to get in with the oncologist, and am starting to do my research. Seeing your post has given me hope. Thank you so much for sharing. Please let me know if you have given Spur any special diet or any other things you think may have helped. I will do whatever I can to make sure that she is with us for as long as possible. So happy that your family has had such a long time together.
Jody on November 23, 2015:
Hello again Im sorry it took me so long to write back I'm so happy to hear it's been 3 years for Spur! Every day I have with my Joba I consider a miracle. Next week will be 8 months post op for him. All of his fur has grown back which like you I thought I'd never see. He's doing great! We go every 3 months to the vet to check him and so far there are no issues. We are giving him a daily supplement of Imunity everyday to boost his immune system and he also gets vascustatin. He's doing great with both. He's a happy playful boy again and I hope we never have to go through all that again.
Aaron on August 09, 2015:
Thanks so much. It helps just being able to talk to someone about it. I will check out the book you mentioned.
Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on August 09, 2015:
I found this book on a pet bereavement website, it's worth checking out "Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet" by Moira Anderson Allen. If you found this book helpful, please let us know.
Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on August 09, 2015:
Hi Aaron, I understand the sadness you feel. We had to euthanize Spur's best friend Felix when he had a brain tumor. He was in the animal hospital and was looking awful, washed out color, glassy watery eyes. The vet suggested we euthanize him ASAP. The sadness and pain hit me hard, like a ton of bricks landed on me, put me out for a while, I fell into a deep depression. You can't really prepare for this reaction. I'd suggest that you do find as much support as you can. Time does help. Take time to mourn, you have to go through the process. Spur was also sad for a while. It took him a while to accept Twinkle. My household is much better now, but Felix's loss will always leave a void in our lives. Hugs to you.
Aaron on August 09, 2015:
Hello again and thank you for your response. The night that I wrote to you, as I believe I said, I could tell that Callie really wasn't doing well and that it was weighing very heavily on me. The next morning I awoke to the horrible sound of her continually crying out in pain. I went and found her in my mother's dog's carrier. She of course looked terrible; glassy eyed, tongue sticking out and completely white, trying to stand up but basically just writhing around. It was one of the worst things I've ever had to see. The only thing I could do was shut the door to the carrier and rush her to the vet's office, which is only about five minutes from my house. While we were waiting for the vet to come in she went completely limp and didn't appear to be breathing. When the vet came in I said, "we won't need to do euthanasia, she just died." The vet checked her for a heartbeat and her heart was still faintly beating but she was not breathing on her own at all. She was in complete respiratory failure. The vet asked if I wanted them to perform CPR and I said no. It was just too late. The hemangiosarcoma had spread all through her body. Even though she would have died within a few minutes because of a lack of oxygen, the vet put an IV in and euthanized her while I held her. I'm having a very hard time dealing with this. I wish there were more resources in my community for pet loss group therapy or something. My family and friends have been very supportive but no one really knows what to say. I know that nothing but time can make it hurt any less but it seems with every passing hour it just hurts more and more. I knew this day would come and I knew it would be around now based on her expected life span. I still was unwilling to accept that she and I would ever be apart. As the saying goes, "if love could have saved her, she would have lived forever".
Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on August 06, 2015:
Did she pass on her own, or euthanized? I'm sorry to hear all this about Callie. But she's not suffering any more. Rest in peace, little angel. Take time to mourn, Aaron. Those who've never gone through this won't understand the emotional toll on the pet parent. It is like losing a child. Sending positive vibes. And thanks for reaching out and sharing your story here.
Aaron on August 06, 2015:
Never mind. She died this morning.
Aaron on August 05, 2015:
Hi there. It's amazing to hear your story of your cats recovery from hemangiosarcoma. My 15-year-old cat Callie was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma in the beginning of July of this year. They weren't sure at first what it was when they performed surgery to remove a huge mass in her abdomen but the biopsy came back as a malignant tumor. About a week after the surgery she started acting like her old self again and I thought things were going to go OK. Two weeks after her surgery I met with an oncologist who told me that as far she knew the surgeon had one a very aggressive job of removing all cancerous tissue. She said we should just follow up in three months. Well, maybe another week and a half or so after that I was palpating her abdomen and felt that a golf ball sized tumor had returned. I took her back to the vets office where she saw a different oncologist who basically told me that she might have a couple of months left and I need to just monitor her for signs of pain so we can decide when the time is right to euthanize her. After that to euthanize her. After that she has continued eating and drinking and using the litter box properly but her spunk is definitely gone. Today, as I do every day I palpated her abdomen. Today however I can feel more masses in her abdomen. They are smaller and almost feel like a row of BBs. She doesn't seem like she's in pain but she can't seem to get comfortable in the usual places where she would sleep before all this happened. I suppose my question for you is, do you think I should let them open her up again and remove the cancerous tissue and hope they get it all this time? One of the oncologists that I spoke to said that if it came back this quickly that she wouldn't recommend a second surgery because of how aggressively the cancer is behaving. I also can't really afford a second surgery unless I can find a surgeon who will let me pay it off over time. I hate seeing her acting so unlike herself and I feel like the time has come to either euthanize her or start a whole new round of tests and anesthesia and surgery and recovery that she may not live through. She had a hard time coming out of the anesthesia last time but by the next day they let me take her home. As you can tell this is weighing heavily on me. Please let me know your thoughts as soon as you can. I am not registered on here but you can email me at aaronlevymusic at gee mail dot com (not sure if I'm allowed to put my address down so I wrote it out. Hope that makes sense). Thank you so much.
Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on August 01, 2015:
Thank you for sharing your story here Jennifer. I am so glad my hub could help you out during this difficult time. I'm sending you and Charlie positive vibes.
Jennifer on August 01, 2015:
We decided that we will not go through the chemo. It was a very hard decision to make but after talking with my vet she worries about the kidneys with chemo. We will monitor him closely and hope that he has a story like Spur. I have so happy for your story and thankful for this web page.
All the best!!! Jennifer
Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on July 30, 2015:
Hi Jennifer, that's great to hear. Charlie sounds healthy. Spur is doing great too, he's enjoying the summer. Good luck, I'm sure you'll do what's best for Charlie, I know these decisions are tough but you know your cat well.
Jennifer on July 18, 2015:
Thank you, I'll continue to keep you updated on his progress. :)
Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on July 17, 2015:
I've been thinking of you and Charlie, thanks for the update
Jennifer on July 17, 2015:
I am happy to report that Charlie's pathology report can back with clear margins!!!! We will
Follow up with the ontologies in 2 weeks.
Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on July 09, 2015:
That's great news, Jennifer! :D
Jennifer on July 09, 2015:
Update on Charlie the radiologist wasn't in to look at ct scan. But the surgeon and oncologist both look it over in great detail and didn't see anything that looked suspicious. They did the surgery and it went extremely well the surgeon said. He is awake now and I can get him tomorrow if he does well tonight. They should have the pathology report 3-4 business days.
Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on July 07, 2015:
Sending positive vibes your way, Jennifer. I'm sure all will be fine.
Jennifer on July 07, 2015:
I juts got back from the oncologist and they are recommending a second surgery for Charlie with hope we can get clear margins. They have it set up for this Thursday morning. They recommended a CT scan before the surgery but said they can work without it.
Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on July 07, 2015:
Spur is healthier than ever, I'm glad to report :)
Jennifer on July 07, 2015:
Thank you, I had the 1st surgery June 26th and I am meeting with the surgeon today at 3. They did a chest x-Ray yesterday and the oncologist said from what she saw it looked clear they will do an ultrasound before the survey of his belly.
Thank you so much for getting back to me.
Ps how is your kitty
Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on July 07, 2015:
Hi Jennifer, my only advise is act quickly. The faster they act the faster your cat recovers. Please keep us updated on your kitty's progress. Good luck!
Jennifer on July 07, 2015:
Your story gives me what little hope I need. My cat (a bangal 11.5 years old) was diagnosised last week they removed the tumor but the margins are not clear. They are recommending a seconded surgery to remove more tissue with hope that they can get clean margins. I am devastated and hoping for the best. And very nervous about another surgery. If you have any advise please let me know. So happy your kitty is doing great :).
Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on April 24, 2015:
Hi Jody, keep us up to date about your kitty. Glad to hear you found this out and went with surgery but no chemo. It will be 3 yrs in June for Spur. And he's doing just great, full of life and fun.
Jody on April 23, 2015:
So glad to hear your story. My kitty had a hemangioma sarcoma tumor removed 4 weeks ago and like you I decided against the chemo as there are too many dangers with it. It was in the same area as your kitty and they removed it with clean margins I'm praying our story goes as well as yours. My Joba will be 8 in June. Thank You so much for sharing this it really gives me hope!
Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on March 13, 2015:
Hi Tiger. Thanks for asking about Spur. He is better than ever! He can't wait to get out and roll around on the grass, hoping Spring will get here soon.
Tiger on March 13, 2015:
How is he doing now?
Brandywine on January 07, 2015:
Your article peefrctly shows what I needed to know, thanks!
Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on September 12, 2013:
I always appreciate your comments, teaches12345 :)
Dianna Mendez on September 11, 2013:
What a great warrior Spur is! I love this good story with a good ending. It is wonderful that there are such cures for pets today.
Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on September 02, 2013:
Thanks for stopping by, lifelovemystery. That's nice of you to say that. You're right, and the feeling is mutual, I feel lucky that he's part of our family.
Michelle Orelup from Las Vegas, NV on September 01, 2013:
Poor guy, he's been through a lot but he's lucky to be part of your family. Thank you for sharing.
Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on September 01, 2013:
Hi nArchuleta, thanks for reading and commenting. In Spur's case, they couldn't determine what caused this tumor. He's always had sensitive skin, he doesn't like being petted too much, he'll get very twitchy. Years ago he lost some of his fur on his tummy, looked like a skin allergy. That cleared up when we switched to a sensitive skin formula dry food. Maybe too much sun caused the tumor. He does love lying in the sunshine.
I also found this from http://voices.yahoo.com/: "One theory suggests that sunlight exposure may cause the dermal form (which frequently occurs on the head). But no one knows for sure what causes feline hemangiosarcoma, or many other cancers for that matter. Environmental factors (toxins, carcinogens, ultraviolet rays), genetic factors (heredity), and viral factors (feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, feline sarcoma virus) have all been suggested."
Nadia Archuleta from Denver, Colorado on September 01, 2013:
Bless Spur's heart -- I hope he lives a long, cancer-free life. Is skin cancer in cats caused by the sun like it is for humans? Is there animal sunscreen? Lindemann doesn't go outside, but he spends a lot of time in the window... Anyway, thanks for sharing!