Reducing the Risk of Cancer in Cats: How to Prevent Cancer in Your Feline Friend
Even Cats Can Develop Cancer
Cats are susceptible to many of the same diseases as humans, including many types of cancer. Though cancer isn’t as common in cats as it is in humans and dogs, cancer in cats tends to be more aggressive and deadly. Because of this, it is important for cat owners to be aware of things they can do to help prevent their cats from developing cancer in the first place. Though cancer risks cannot be completely eliminated, the risks can be mitigated by taking a proactive approach in protecting your feline friend’s health.
Spay or Neuter Your Cat
Spaying or neutering your pet cat is one of the most important things you can do for their health. Not only does spaying and neutering reduce cat overpopulation, but these procedures also reduce the risk that your feline friend will develop certain types of cancers.
For female cats, spaying before the first heat cycle and prior to 6 months of age greatly reduces the risk of mammary cancer (breast cancer), and virtually eliminates the risk of ovarian and uterine cancer. Though many pet owners still believe the myth that female cats receive health benefits from being allowed to have at least one litter of kittens before being spayed, this simply is not true. Not only does allowing your cat to have a litter of kittens add to the population of unwanted kittens, but you are also exposing your cat to unnecessary health risks. Allowing your cat to have kittens before being spayed increases the risk of her developing these cancers as well as experiencing complications related to the pregnancy.
Male cats also see a reduction in the likelihood of developing certain cancers after being neutered. By having your male cat neutered, you eliminate the risk of him developing testicular cancer later in his life. Neutering male cats may also reduce their risk of prostate cancer.
Feed Your Cat a High-Quality Diet
As with humans, diet plays a major role in the overall health of cats. A poor diet has been linked to an increased risk of cancer in cats. It is important to make sure your cat eats a healthy diet consisting of high-quality cat food. A healthy diet for cats consists of food that provides the proper nutrition and is free of dangerous carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds) such as preservatives, artificial colors, and unnecessary filler ingredients. Look for foods that don’t contain byproducts, grain, or other low-quality fillers. There is evidence that certain fatty acids in the diet, such as EPA and DHA, could be helpful in preventing cancer, as well as in helping to treat cats who already have cancer. A proper diet will help to maintain your cat’s overall health and will strengthen their immune system.
Keep Your Cat Physically Fit and Active
In addition to feeding your cat a high-quality diet, keeping your cat physically fit and active has also been shown to reduce the risk of cancer in cats. Cats that are not physically active are more prone to developing certain types of cancer, as well as heart disease and diabetes. Obesity may increase the risk of certain cancers in cats, so it is important to make sure your cat is active and stays physically fit in addition to being fed a proper diet. Excess fat may secrete hormones and other substances that may have undesirable effects on your cat’s body, including increasing inflammatory responses, which may increase your cat’s risk of developing certain types of cancer.
Don’t Smoke Around Your Cat
Secondhand smoke puts cats at an increased risk for developing lung cancer, just like humans. In addition to cancer, secondhand cigarette smoke may contribute to other lung diseases in cats as well. Cigarette smoke is a major environmental carcinogen that can cause cancer in humans, cats, and other pets including dogs. If you have pets (or other family members) it is very important to avoid smoking in your home. Ideally, you should avoid smoking altogether to reduce the risk of cancer in yourself, as well as in your human family members and pets.
Avoid Other Carcinogens in Your Cat's Environment
In addition to protecting your feline friend from secondhand smoke, it is also important to avoid introducing other carcinogens into your cat’s environment. Many common household and lawn products are known carcinogens.
Many common cleaning products contain carcinogenic chemicals. When in doubt, switch to organic, all-natural, pet-safe cleaning products for use in your home. This will also keep you and your human family safer from cancer risks as well.
While it is always best to keep your cats as indoor cats, sometimes you may wish to let them go outside in a catio or on a leash if they will allow it. While outside, your cat may be exposed to lawn chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides. Avoid using these products on your own lawn and limit your cat’s access to outdoor areas where you are unsure of the products used. Stick to organic, non-toxic products for your own lawn and garden.
Test and Vaccinate for FeLV and FIV
Viruses such as the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) are major causes of cancer in cats. It is important to have your cat tested for these viruses. Testing for these viruses can be done at your regular veterinarian’s office, or at some mobile vet clinics that take place at certain pet stores on certain days of the week or month.
FeLV may cause leukemia and lymphoma in cats, but there is a vaccine available to protect your cat from becoming infected. This is one of the most common vaccines offered to kittens and newly-acquired cats after testing negative for the virus.
FIV may also increase the risk of your cat developing these cancers. There may be a vaccine available to protect your cat against this virus, though it might not be as effective as the FeLV vaccine.
Both of these viruses are transmitted through deep bite wounds and saliva. They may also be transmitted through close contact with infected cats. In very rare circumstances, they may also be transmitted by cats sharing a food bowl or litterbox. It is important that any new cat you introduce to your resident cats is tested for these viruses prior to introduction.
Don’t Forget Your Cat’s Yearly Vet Checkup
While early detection of cancer won’t prevent it, cancer is often easier to treat if detected early. It is important to keep up with your cat’s year checkups at the vet. Your cat’s veterinarian will be able to detect early signs of cancer, and it can be treated before it spreads and becomes more life-threatening.
Reducing Your Cat’s Cancer Risk
Though there is no way to completely prevent all types of cancer, you can greatly reduce your cat’s chances of developing many types of cancer by spaying or neutering your pet at a young age, keeping your cat physically fit, feeding a proper diet, avoiding environmental carcinogens (including cigarette smoke), and taking steps to avoid exposure to certain potentially deadly viruses. Regular vet checkups can also go a long way in maintaining your cat’s health for years to come. By understanding cancer risks in cats, you can help your furry friend to live a long, happy, and healthy life.
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.
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber