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Lymphoma is a common cancer in cats, and it can severely impact their health and wellness. There are many different types of lymphoma, including cancer of the GI tract, chest, kidneys, and more. Treatment for lymphoma is necessary, and the earlier the cancer is found, the better the prognosis. Pet parents need to know the signs and symptoms of lymphoma because they can resemble other health conditions, thus preventing your cat from getting the treatment they need.

If you’re interested in learning more about lymphoma, this article will discuss what the disease entails, symptoms, treatment, and outlook.

What Is Lymphoma?

Feline lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system.1 The lymphatic system is responsible for delivering oxygen to the cells, collecting metabolic waste products, absorbing fat from the intestinal tract, and removing debris, bacteria, and viruses from the cat's body.1 Lymphoma occurs when a white blood cell mutates and allows unrestricted cell division.2 The result of lymphoma is a hard tumor.3

Lymphoma has been linked to several other health conditions, including feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).4

Types of Lymphoma

The type of lymphoma a cat has depends on the location of the tumor. Lymphoma can affect many parts of the body since the lymphatic system spreads through different organs and supports many bodily functions.1 Types of lymphoma include:

  • Gastrointestinal: Gastrointestinal (GI) lymphoma is the most common form and includes the stomach, liver, and intestines.2 Cats with gastrointestinal lymphoma typically have symptoms such as diarrhea, dehydration, decreased appetite, and weight loss.
  • Mediastinal: Lymphoma can also be found in the lymph nodes of the chest, resulting in difficulty breathing and decreased appetite.2
  • Renal: Renal lymphoma attacks the kidneys, and symptoms are similar to those of kidney failure, including increased thirst and urination, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
  • Multicentric: Multicentric lymphoma is less common, but it involves multiple lymph nodes.2
  • Extranodal: Extranodal lymphoma can also affect any area of the body and occurs when cancer affects areas outside of the lymph nodes, such as organs.2

Small cell vs. large cell lymphoma

Small Cell vs. Large Cell Lymphoma

The most common form of lymphoma is gastrointestinal, but there are two types of GI lymphoma: small cell and large cell.2

Small cell lymphoma is less malignant than large cell lymphoma because it's slow-growing and not as invasive.1 Cats with small cell GI lymphoma can be treated at home more easily and monitored regularly. Many cats can survive for about two to four years after being diagnosed with small cell lymphoma as long as they get treatment.1

On the other hand, large cell lymphoma is more malignant and aggressive because there is a tumor in the cat's intestines.1 Cats with large cell GI lymphoma typically require surgery to remove the mass.1 Cats with large cell GI lymphoma usually have a worse prognosis.

Lymphoma in cats symptoms

Cat Lymphoma Symptoms

Symptoms vary based on the type of lymphoma a cat has.5For example, cats with mediastinal lymphoma typically have trouble breathing. GI lymphoma–the most common type of lymphoma–affects the GI tract, including the intestines. Signs of lymphoma typically resemble intestinal diseases. Clinical signs include:

  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Changes in appetite1

Additionally, cats with large cell GI lymphoma may have a rapid onset of symptoms. In contrast, those with small cell lymphoma have symptoms that develop over a couple of months.5 Cats with renal lymphoma typically experience decreased appetite, weight loss, increased thirst, and vomiting, which are all signs associated with kidney failure.

Don't wait to go to the vet if you notice any of the symptoms above. While many of these symptoms can seem mild and resemble an upset stomach, they can also indicate cancer. At the very least, having your pet examined by a vet can rule out underlying illnesses, including lymphoma, to provide you with peace of mind.

How Is Lymphoma In Cats Diagnosed?

Lymphoma isn't something you can always see. Unless your cat has a visible tumor, you may not think they have cancer. While they may have symptoms of lymphoma, those symptoms can be mild enough that they’re overlooked by pet parents.

Diagnosing lymphoma is important because many symptoms of cat lymphoma resemble other health conditions. For example, renal lymphoma shares many of the same symptoms as an overactive thyroid. If you believe your cat has lymphoma, take them to the vet as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.

Your vet will need to examine your pet. However, physical exams can come out normal since the cancer is not always visible.1 To correctly diagnose your cat, your vet will likely perform a series of tests, including bloodwork and ultrasounds, which may help rule out other possible underlying illnesses.1 Cats suspected of having lymphoma may undergo a complete blood count (CBC), chemistry panel, FIV & FeLV testing, and urinalysis for a complete diagnosis.5

The most accurate way to diagnose a cat with lymphoma is to perform a biopsy via an endoscopy. Doing so allows your vet to see the stomach and intestines while taking small tissue samples.1 Your vet may also recommend surgery, which can result in more accurate diagnoses by allowing your vet to take more extensive samples of the area.1 Your vet will either examine the sample with a microscope or send it to an outside lab to diagnose lymphoma and determine if it's small cell or large cell.1

Vet listening to a cat’s heartbeat

Lymphoma In Cats Treatment

Treatment for lymphoma depends on the type of lymphoma diagnosed. However, most treatments involve chemotherapy.1 An oncologist will work with you and your cat to determine the right kind of chemotherapy. They will often review your cat's progress during their treatment. Your cat will need to be monitored for side effects, which can include vomiting and decreased appetite.1 So if your cat keeps throwing up during treatment, it may be a side effect of the chemotherapy.

Depending on the type of lymphoma your cat has, your vet may also recommend other treatments. For example, your cat may need surgery to remove a tumor in their intestine.1

Chemotherapy is not an option for some cats, especially older cats. In these cases, a vet may treat cancer with a steroid to help the cat temporarily.1 Chemotherapy typically offers the best prognosis because it's more aggressive. Many cats treated with chemotherapy go into remission, so your pet may be able to live a quality life as long as they get the treatment they need.

Ultimately, your cat's chemotherapy treatment will depend on the cancer and how aggressive it is. Your vet will develop the best treatment plan for your cat based on various factors, such as their type of lymphoma, age, physical health, and more.

Outlook for Feline Lymphoma

The prognosis for lymphoma in cats depends on the location and type of lymphoma. However, aggressive chemotherapy treatment can help many cats achieve remission for an average duration of four to nine months.1

50-80% of cats will achieve remission for 4 and 9 months

Cats who achieve remission can live longer lives than those in partial remission. Many cats can live more than two years after being diagnosed with and treated for lymphoma.5 Cats with small cell lymphoma typically have a better outlook than those with large cell lymphoma but will require ongoing treatment at home.5

Untreated lymphoma can become fatal fast.5 Aggressive types of lymphoma require aggressive treatment. If you suspect your cat has lymphoma or you feel a hard tumor on their body, take them to the vet immediately so they can be diagnosed and begin treatment.

Minimizing Your Cat's Risk For Lymphoma

Lymphoma is not entirely preventable in cats, and cats of any age can develop lymphoma.1 While you can't prevent lymphoma, there are ways to minimize your cat's risk, including:

  • Vaccinations: Unvaccinated cats are at a higher risk for developing lymphoma because of the threat of FeLV and FIV.1 Their chances of getting lymphoma can be reduced through vaccination against FeLV and avoiding contact with cats with FIV.1 While not all cats with FeLV and FIV will get lymphoma, it's always best to keep your pet safe and away from other cats that may be sick.
  • Physical Exams: The earlier cancer is detected, the better the prognosis. Your cat should always go to their annual checkup to ensure their health. However, it's also essential to monitor your pet and let your vet know if you find any lumps or bumps on their body. Senior cats may also need to visit the vet more often to check for signs of cancer.
  • Monitoring Your Pet: Always be aware of changes in your cat's behavior or health at home. If your cat is sleeping more than usual or has any symptoms of illness, consult your vet to diagnose any underlying illnesses.

Final Notes

Lymphoma in cats is a common cancer that primarily affects older cats. However, cats of any age can get lymphoma. There are different types of lymphoma, including gastrointestinal, mediastinal, renal, multicentric, and extranodal. The most common form of lymphoma is gastrointestinal.

The type of lymphoma your cat has will determine the best course of treatment. However, most treatments will involve chemotherapy. Depending on your cat's lymphoma, a vet may also suggest surgery to remove tumors in the intestines. While there's no way to prevent lymphoma, you can help reduce your cat's risk of cancer by staying up to date on their vaccinations, taking them to their wellness exams every year, and monitoring them for signs of illness. It also helps to have a vet that you can call when there are any changes to your cat's behavior or overall health.

Dutch offers telemedicine for pets to help pet parents diagnose and treat their cats from the comfort of their own homes. With Dutch, you'll have access to a trustworthy vet who can help you understand different cat ailments that can impact your cat's quality of life. Dutch-affiliated vets are always here for you and care about your cat's health and wellness as much as you do.
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References

  1. “Lymphoma.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 17 June 2021, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/lymphoma.

  2. “New Thoughts on a Common Disease.” Understanding Feline Lymphoma, https://www.morrisanimalfoundation.org/article/lymphoma-in-cats.

  3. Care, International Cat. International Cat Care, 6 Oct. 2019, https://icatcare.org/advice/lymphoma/.

  4. Lymphoma in Cats - University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. https://www.vet.upenn.edu/docs/default-source/ryan/comprehensive-cancer-care/lymphoma-in-cats.pdf

  5. “Feline Lymphoma.” NC State Veterinary Medicine, 22 Nov. 2019, https://cvm.ncsu.edu/nc-state-vet-hospital/small-animal/oncology/feline-lymphoma/.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Dutch?

Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

What is a visit with Dutch like?

When booking a video call with a vet, you'll be asked a few questions about your pet’s health issue. Depending on the issue, you may also be asked to fill out a longer questionnaire about their symptoms and share photographs of them so our veterinarians can better understand what’s going on. You’ll then pick an appointment time that works best for you.

During your video call, one of our licensed veterinarians will talk to you about the symptoms your pet is experiencing, ask you questions, review your pet’s medical history if you’ve provided it, and answer any questions you have. The vet will ask to see your pet and their environment. And they may ask you to perform some simple checks on them if needed.

After your video call, the vet will send you a message with a custom treatment plan to help your pet feel better, including a link to buy any recommended prescription or over-the-counter medications. Place your order and we’ll ship it free.

How much will it cost for Dutch to treat my pet?

The Dutch membership starts at $15/mo for unlimited access to the vet. No more long waits for appointments or surprise bills.

In addition to the base membership plan, our veterinarians may also recommend additional medication (Rx and/or OTC) that you will have the option of adding to your plan at an additional cost.