Sian Tranter MA VetMB CertAVP MRCVS
- October 10, 2020
A surprising question…….
Since the 1970’s vets have advocated neutering for prevention of cancer in dogs and cats. There is evidence for a reduction in breast cancer in neutered female dogs(1) and cats (2). Surgical neutering also eliminates the risk of testicular or ovarian cancer.
Brain tumours can occur in dogs, just as in people, and account for 2-5% of all canine cancers. When they happen, they can be devastating, as although there are many different types of tumour, most are eventually fatal, with or without treatment. Here we will cover some basics about brain tumours, which enable us to later navigate some of the difficulties associated with picking up the signs and diagnosing them.
It happens to most of us at some time or another. You bend down to give your pet an absent-minded stroke, or a tickle behind the ear, or a tummy-rub perhaps, and your fingers close on something - a bit of pet - that wasn't there before: a lump.
And of course, once you've found it, you can’t un-find it. Your mind begins to whirl. Supposing - just supposing - that the lump is actually cancer?
I knew it was going to be a rough day when I walked in and saw that three of my ten morning appointments were vomiting cats. Second only to the chronically itchy dog, vomiting cats can be one of the most frustrating things we have to deal with as vets because there are so many possible reasons why it can happen. Anything from what the cat had for dinner last night to metabolic diseases that may have been brewing for years could be the cause, and distinguishing between them can take a lot of time, money and effort. And that’s just for the vet – as the owner of a cat that vomits frequently myself, I understand how unpleasant it is to walk downstairs in the middle of the night and step in a pile of cat sick. Be it on the new white carpeting or the beat up old sofa, it’s not pretty. It may be a harmless hairball, but it can also be a sign of serious illness in your cat so it’s definitely worth getting it checked out by your vet. If you are unlucky enough to have a vomiting cat, here are some things you may want to consider.
Why do cats vomit so much?Vomiting in cats is extremely common, but that doesn’t mean that it’s normal. Some cats are simply prone to hairballs, especially long-haired cats or those that groom excessively. Others are particularly sensitive to the kinds of food they eat and may not be able to tolerate a particular protein such as beef or additive such as wheat gluten. Intestinal worms can cause vomiting sometimes, and you may even see them wriggling around after they come up! Poisonings are rare (cats have a much more discerning palate than dogs) but do occur. Sometimes playful kittens will swallow things such as pieces of string which can be very dangerous indeed. Metabolic disorders such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes and liver problems can all cause vomiting too as can tumours of the intestinal tract such as lymphoma. Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas, an organ which secretes digestive enzymes) or inflammatory bowel disease are other common causes which can present themselves in a wide array of confusing ways. And of course there is one of my favourite terms, “dietary indiscretion”, which can describe the ingestion of anything from rancid rat remnants to last week’s chicken chow mein from the bin. With such a huge range of possibilities, it’s easy to see how difficult it can be to find the underlying cause.
What should I do if my cat vomits?
As with any medical condition, the best thing to do is contact your vet. They may tell you to simply starve your cat for a few hours (cats should never be starved for long periods of time though, and should always be brought to the vet if they go more than 24 hours without eating, as this can lead to other serious problems) and reintroduce a bland diet such as plain boiled chicken, as this may fix many acute cases of vomiting. As always, fresh water should be available at all times. Or, if your cat is displaying other symptoms such as lethargy, inappetence or diarrhoea they may recommend you bring him straight down to the clinic. The vet will do a physical exam and take a detailed history, so try to remember as many details as you can about your cat’s behaviour in the past few days. They may take a blood test or check the urine to rule out metabolic diseases. Depending on the symptoms they may also choose to take some x-rays of the abdomen to look for anything that the cat may have swallowed, or perhaps perform an ultrasound scan to check for any tumours or other problems with the internal organs. Because there are so many possible causes for vomiting, sometimes many different tests will be needed so it can become quite expensive at times. Yet another case where pet insurance is a real plus!
How is vomiting treated?
As previously mentioned, if your cat is otherwise well, you may be asked to feed him something bland such as chicken or white fish with no flavourings or fats added. Although dogs often appreciate rice or pasta mixed with their meat, cats usually do better without the addition of a carbohydrate. Or, if you’re not up for cooking, there are a number of prescription pet foods available that can help as well. If hairballs seem to be the problem, there are special pastes and foods that will help them pass through the body instead of being vomited up. A worming tablet or liquid may be prescribed if there is evidence of worms. An anti-emetic (medication that stops vomiting) can be given to help calm things for a bit, and sometimes other medications such as antibiotics or steroids are used as well. If a foreign body is found (in other words, your cat ate something that got stuck), surgery will be performed to remove it. Surgery can also be used to remove some types of tumours, or to take biopsy samples of different parts of the intestinal tract to help diagnose the problem.
Some cases of vomiting will resolve on their own, while others can require weeks of intensive diagnostics and treatments. If left untreated, excessive vomiting can make the cat very ill and you also risk missing any underlying medical problems so make sure you talk to your veterinary surgeon right away if you are at all concerned. But please be patient with your vet if they can’t fix the problem right away – and remember that we can be just as frustrated by it as you!
If you are worried about your cat vomiting, talk to your vet or use our interactice Cat Symptom Guide to check how urgent the problem may be.
[caption id="attachment_565" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Blind cat showing dilated pupils"][/caption]
One of the most common causes of sudden blindness in an elderly cat is due to high blood pressure (hypertension). The increased pressure pushes the light sensitive layer (retina) away from the back of the eye and this can happen literally overnight.
The affected cat will have very widely dilated pupils even in bright sunlight and there might be some blood visible when looking into the eyes. They will appear to be disorientated, bump into things and might vocalise excessively.
[caption id="attachment_569" align="alignright" width="320" caption="Monitoring a cat's blood pressure"][/caption]
The usual cause of raised blood pressure in cats is an excess of thyroid hormone (hyperthyroid) but it can also be due to kidney disease or diabetes. This is why it’s important for the vet to take blood tests to decide which condition to treat.
We monitor cats’ blood pressure in a similar way to human doctors by inflating a cuff just above the paw on a front leg but we listen for blood flow with an ultrasonic probe rather than a stethoscope. Some cats are calmer if the cuff is placed around the tail base. A few readings are usually taken to make sure that the blood pressure has not been raised through stress.
[caption id="attachment_573" align="alignleft" width="192" caption="Blood Pressure Monitor"][/caption]
Drugs are very successful in bringing a cat's blood pressure down to normal but the blindness is usually permanent. Cats are extremely adaptable when it comes to finding their way around the house and finding their food but they are not safe to allow outside due to all the dangers out there.
There are a number of other causes of blindness but these generally come on more slowly:
Glaucoma is the same condition as people get where there is an increased pressure within the cat's eye. This is usually seen as a very angry painful eye and the white of the eye appears red due to the many new blood vessels. Drops can control the condition if caught early enough but if it reaches the stage where the eye is visibly swollen or ulcerated, then removal of the eye (enucleation) will usually be suggested. Glaucoma can be found in just one eye or both.
Cataracts are much less common in cats than dogs and would be seen as a misty or pearly lens. Tests would be required to rule out diabetes which can be a cause.
Tumours within the cat’s eye are occasionally discovered when the eyes are examined with an ophthalmoscope. Loss of vision would be slow to develop in these cases and often in only one eye initially.
If you have a pedigree cat (particularly an Abyssinian) who starts to slowly lose vision early in life, there is a possibility of Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) which is a genetic disease, very similar to the condition in some pedigree dogs. There is no treatment but the cat usually has time to adapt to the slow loss of vision.
Something we hardly ever see these days is Taurine (an amino acid) Deficiency. Modern complete diets have all the taurine a cat needs but it is just possible that a cat fed exclusively on tinned tuna could develop slow onset blindness due to this deficiency. If caught early enough, the loss of vision can be stopped or even reversed.
Most cats adapt very well to blindness and go on to enjoy a good quality of life. Some adapt so well that it would be hard for a casual observer to know they were blind.
If you are worried about any problems with your cat's eyes, please contact your vet or use our interactive Cat Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.
[caption id="attachment_465" align="alignleft" width="310" caption="Skitzo under anaesthetic, showing the tumor on the edge of his bottom eyelid"][/caption]
Vets are very used to dogs, cats and small furries developing growths on various parts of their anatomy. We very often take a small sample of the growth by means of a needle (known as a fine needle aspirate or FNA) before deciding what action to take. In most cases the growth is removed surgically.
Skitzo was a 9 year old cat with something of an attitude to being handled by vets (and sometimes his owner). A fast growing lump had come up beneath his right eye and was very close to the edge of the eyelid. A fine needle aspirate was impossible in this case without him being anaesthetised so we decided to remove the lump and send it off to the lab for the pathologists to tell us what tissue type we were dealing with.
The most important thing they can tell us is whether the tumour is benign or malignant. Sometimes growths can seem to be benign but still cause problems by recurring in the same place they were removed. The worst type of tumour is one which is malignant and which has the potential to spread (metastasise) to the lungs or other organs via the blood stream.
Skitzo’s tumour was a surgical challenge because it was so near to the margin of the eyelid. If too much tissue is removed, the lower lid will turn outwards (called ectropian) leaving a gaping pocket and encouraging infection, inflammation and an overspilling of tears. On the other hand, cutting too close to the growth risks tumour cells being left behind and the growth returning very quickly.
[caption id="attachment_478" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Skitzo after the operation, still under anaesthetic"][/caption]
Dissolving stitches were used because Skitzo was never going to let us take them out when he was awake. We fitted him up with an Elizabethan collar so that he could not scratch or rub the stitches out. The plastic collars look unwieldy and owners are often tempted to take them off as soon as they get home but most animals adapt to them very well and it’s only a relatively short time before the stitches are removed and life returns to normal. Nylon stitches are usually removed in 8 to 10 days after the operation but this can be extended if the skin is especially thick, under tension or if the animal is receiving steroid treatment.
Skitzo’s tissue sample came back as a benign growth and there is every prospect that the surgery has been a complete success. Fortunately Skitzo’s pet insurance company paid the bill for the surgery and the laboratory tests which were needed.
If you are concerned about lumps or any other problems with your cat, please contact your vet or use our interactive Cat Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.