Category: cat

Feeding your kitten

The adage ‘You are what you eat’ applies to cats as well as people – however more is not necessarily better. Over-feeding and over-supplementation with unnecessary nutrients and minerals can have serious consequences. If you are getting your first kitten make sure you ask your vet for advice on feeding them.

No, it is important that kittens have a diet specially designed for growing cats. These animals have requirements which are different from adult cats, and most reputable manufacturers now make ‘growth’ or ‘junior’ foods which supply the young cat with all the essential nutrients required for normal growth and bone development.

In general, it is safer to stick to reputable brands (ask for advice at your veterinary hospital), as these are manufactured to strict quality control guidelines. Prepared mixed feeds available through other outlets, such as agricultural feed merchants, may not have the same quality control procedures applied. These may be cheaper than other commercial brands of cat food but they can have disadvantages. Some of these feeds have been shown to lack some essential diet components and may deteriorate if stored.

It is very dangerous to over-feed growing cats. This can result in severe and permanent damage to bones and joints. Steady, controlled growth should always be the aim. An over-fed young cat may remain obese, with bone and joint problems for the rest of its life.

No, cats differ from dogs and many other animals in being completely dependent on meat. A vegetarian diet would make your young cat very ill. A kitten needs a high protein diet with components that are only found in animal tissue. Veterinary advice should be sought to ensure that all nutritional requirements are being met as a haphazard approach is likely to cause problems.

If you are feeding a correctly balanced diet, it is quite unnecessary to supplement – the cat receives no benefit.

Veterinary staff can weigh and condition score your cat to ensure that body development is progressing normally. You can request this every 2 months or so. A fast growth rate should be avoided and young cats should be allowed to develop slowly if they are to avoid bone and joint problems later in life.

Most reputable cat feeds come with detailed charts showing the amount to feed. However, these recommendations are only guidelines – individual cats may require more or (quite commonly) a little less than that stated. If in doubt, seek professional advice.

If the breeder of your kitten gives you anything to supplement your kitten’s diet see your veterinary surgeon and take the product along with you. You can discuss with your vet the current diet being fed and whether any supplements are required. Most breeders are well informed about dietary matters but some persist in following their own particular beliefs, which may not be scientifically validated.

The first step in keeping your cat healthy is establishing an appropriate diet. You may be bombarded with information in the first few days of owning a kitten. Let your vet help you select an appropriate diet for the needs of your pet.

  • Feed a food from a reputable manufacturer that is appropriate for your cat’s age.
  • Do not give any form of vitamin or mineral supplement to your cat except under specific veterinary advice.
  • Avoid over-feeding young and growing cats.

Feeding your cat

The modern domestic ‘moggie’ is descended from wild cats that hunted for their living in the desert regions of North Africa and the Middle East. Although most pet cats are now fed entirely on tinned or packaged food, their nutritional requirements are exactly the same as their ancestors’ centuries ago. So to stay healthy, a domestic cat must receive a balanced diet containing all the nutrients that would be found in the natural diet of a hunting cat.

Cats differ from dogs and many other animals in being completely dependent on meat. Dogs can survive happily on an almost vegetarian diet that would make your cat very ill. A cat needs a high protein diet with components that are only found in animal tissue.

Two of the building blocks of proteins, the amino acids taurine and arginine, are rarely found in plant material. Your cat cannot manufacture its own taurine or arginine and has to get them from animal tissue. Your cat also needs vitamin A and a compound called arachidonic acid that can only be found in meat.

Your cat also needs a balance of other nutrients. Many of these are found in tissues forming part of the natural diet, like bone and skin, so a diet of lean steak will not give your cat everything it needs. Most of these ingredients are either present in, or added to, commercially prepared cat foods.

Animal fat is important both as an energy source and because it contains essential vitamins like vitamin A. Fat also gives flavour and texture to the food. The carbohydrates used for energy by humans and other animals are less important for cats because they use proteins for the same purpose. Indeed, a diet containing too much carbohydrate is likely to give a cat an upset stomach.

It is a myth that cats need to be given milk. Milk is certainly a good source of calcium for building bones but calcium is usually found in sufficient quantities in commercially prepared pet foods. As kittens are weaned they lose the ability to digest lactose, a sugar found in cow’s milk. Too much milk may therefore give an adult cat diarrhoea.

Water is the best thing for your cat to drink. As the cat is still, at heart, a desert animal it can survive on less water than many other animals. But it does need a regular supply of clean fresh water, particularly if it is being fed dried food. Canned food is three-quarters water so cats fed on a moist diet may not be seen drinking.

Anyone who has ever looked after a cat will know that they are very particular about their food. They all have individual preferences about which types of food they enjoy – cats often seem to enjoy a varied diet but will starve themselves rather than eat a food they do not like. Ill health or anxiety can also put a cat off its food.

It may be possible to persuade a cat to eat by warming up the food to about 35°C, the temperature of freshly killed live prey (another option is to feed a powerful smelling and tasty food such as tinned fish or oxtail soup). Uneaten moist or canned food should be removed after about 20 minutes as stale food smells will reduce a cat’s appetite even further.

If your cat turns its nose up at an unfamiliar food there may be a good reason, cats appear to know instinctively when a food is lacking in essential nutrients.

Generally cats are able to regulate the amount of food they eat and it is uncommon for them to become too fat (obese). However, if large quantities of tasty food are always available they may start to overeat and older, neutered cats that spend most of their time indoors are most susceptible. Weigh your cat regularly to make sure it is not gaining or losing weight and adjust the amount of food accordingly.

To weigh your cat:

  1. Get onto the scales yourself and record your weight
  2. Pick up your cat and record the weight of both of you
  3. Finally deduct your weight from the second reading to find how much your cat weighs.
  4. Alternatively cats can be weighed in a carrying basket, but remember to allow for the weight of the basket when calculating its weight

If your cat needs to lose weight your vet will be able to recommend a special low calorie diet but do not attempt to put your cat on a ‘crash diet’ as this could be very damaging to its health.

There are several stages during your cat’s life when its food needs are greatly different from normal. These include:


A pregnant cat will need much larger amounts of food to support its unborn kittens. During the final stages of pregnancy the queen (mother cat) may need double her normal quantity of food. However the pressure of the growing kittens in her belly may restrict her ability to eat large meals. Feed your cat more frequently or get a high energy diet especially formulated for pregnant cats. Your vet will be able to advise you on this. When your queen is producing milk for her kittens (lactation) her nutritional requirements may increase even further.


During their first few months kittens will grow exceptionally fast. This puts a big strain on the mother cat and the kittens should be weaned on to solid food as soon as possible. Try giving some solid food at three weeks and gradually giving more until they eat only solid food at about eight weeks old. The first food should be soft and easily digestible so dry food should be soaked in water or kitten milk. A kitten’s stomach is small so it cannot eat large volumes in one go.

A kitten should be fed about five times a day at eight weeks and the frequency of meals can be gradually reduced to two a day when it reaches six months old. Your vet may recommend putting your kitten on a specially formulated high energy diet to guarantee that it gets the right balance of nutrients needed for growth.

Old age

As a cat becomes less active with age it may use up less energy, but be careful about reducing its food intake too much. Older cats are also less efficient at digesting their food so they may need to eat relatively more food to absorb all the nutrients they need. There are conveniently prepared special diets available for the older cat that can be obtained from your vet.

There is a wide range of commercially prepared foods to suit your cat’s needs. However, be cautious if you see an unfamiliar brand in the shops, especially if it is one of the cheaper foods. As in all things quality comes at a price, and a cheaper brand will often contain inferior ingredients.

The well known brands are usually formulated to give your cat everything it needs and have been tested to prove that they will be enjoyed by most cats. Your vet or veterinary nurse will be able to give you impartial and well-informed advice on feeding your pets.

Complementary therapies

Some forms of alternative or complementary medicine such as osteopathy and physiotherapy are widely used in veterinary medicine alongside conventional treatment. However, owners of dogs and other small animals are increasingly looking at other alternative therapies such as acupuncture, herbal medicine and homeopathy to help with a wide variety of common complaints.

Acupuncture is an ancient system of healing, likely to have originated in Tibet or India but developed extensively by the Chinese. It is one of the oldest therapies in the world and is essentially the stimulation of specific points on the surface of the body, either by using needles, laser or local pressure (acupressure).

The Chinese recognise that these points have a direct relationship to some of the main internal organs and with the muscles, nerves and skeleton. These points lie on specific energy channels called meridians which link all the points associated with a particular organ together. Stimulation of the points results in physiological changes which can help resolve illness, relieve symptoms and change body energy, allowing it to flow more freely, in effect re-balancing the body. Acupuncture is also used to diagnose and prevent disease, as well as treat symptoms.

Conditions in small animals that respond well to acupuncture include back and neck pain (including disc prolapse), muscle spasm, arthritis (DJD), lameness issues, injuries in general, nerve paralysis and nerve injuries, urinary incontinence, weakened immune system, lick granuloma as well as support for all the major organs of the body.

In the UK, only vets can perform acupuncture treatment on animals as the use of needles is an invasive procedure which, by law, only a vet is permitted to perform. If anyone other than a vet gives an animal acupuncture treatment they are committing a criminal act. Vets who perform acupuncture are properly trained and, ideally, should be members of the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncture (ABVA).

Useful website:

  • Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists –

Herbal medicine is essentially the art of using plants to heal. It is not a new form of therapy; in fact it is an ancient system of healing which is undergoing somewhat of a revival in the light of modern analytical methods and new-found knowledge and understanding of exactly how plants work.

Practical knowledge of herbal remedies was once ingrained in folklore and backed up by scant evidence of efficacy, but now many plant based medicines can be prescribed backed up by a sound knowledge of plant chemistry and botanical therapeutics, which can explain how plants are able to interact with the body allowing it to heal. We now know that plants are complex mixtures of compounds which support and augment each other in helping to resolve a particular health problem.

Herbal medicine has a worldwide presence, not only as represented by the use of healing plants in Western culture, but as being an integral part of Indian Ayurvedic medicine and combined with acupuncture as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM. In recognition of the growing importance of this type of treatment, herbal medicine is more often referred to by a much more appropriate term – phytotherapy.

Herbal remedies for domestic animals are widely available commercially and sold as nutritional or food supplements. However, an increasing number of vets are undertaking training, and using herbal remedies within their practices. So, for more complex health issues, or where a customised or individual prescription is needed, owners are urged to seek qualified veterinary advice.

Useful websites:

Homeopathy is a form of natural medicine that has been in regular use worldwide for over 200 years. Based on a principle that was discovered by the Greeks, and developed by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann in the late 18th century, it is based on the principle of “like cures like”.

Using infinitely diluted medicines it seeks to address the patient as a whole on a constitutional, historical or pathological basis. By carefully matching the presenting signs and symptoms to a remedy, homeopathy aims to gently ease or cure signs of illness by working energetically through the body’s own healing mechanisms.

Currently the mechanism by which homeopathy works is not understood, although ongoing research suggests that it is linked with quantum physics and the ability of water molecules to remember or store energetic vibrational imprints.

Homeopathy can be used for a wide range of conditions in small animals, including arthritis and lameness, skin problems such eczema, dermatitis and allergies, recurrent ear infections, epilepsy, behavioural problems, digestive problems such as diarrhoea and colitis, liver, bladder and kidney disease as well as chronic conditions affecting many other areas of the body.

In the UK, vets who practice homeopathy are registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and must retain their professional membership of this body in order to practice. Ideally, they should also be registered with the Faculty of Homeopathy and have undergone suitable training. It is illegal for anyone to treat animals homeopathically if they are not a qualified vet.

Useful websites:

This evidence-based discipline is used to deal with the assessment and treatment of a wide range of musculoskeletal disorders. It can also be applied to the rehabilitation of animals after surgery or injury as well as in a preventive role.

Physiotherapy can help animals suffering from a wide range of conditions, including back pain, sprains and strains, injuries, gait abnormalities, reduced performance and a number of other conditions, such as changes in behaviour that can be linked with these problems. It can be used to improve the biomechanics of the musculoskeletal system and in rehabilitation after surgery.

Techniques employed using manual therapies include manipulation, massage and mobilization, as well as machine based treatments such as laser therapy, ultrasound, pulse magnets, H-wave, shockwave, spa treatment and hydrotherapy.

In the UK, a veterinary physiotherapist will have undergone several years of training with a recognised school of physiotherapy to become a ‘chartered physiotherapist’. Animal physiotherapists must see practice with veterinary practices and become a member of either the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT), or the National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists (NAVP), to be able to treat animals.

A code of professional conduct for animal physiotherapists has been agreed between the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, and they are bound by the Veterinary Act. However, non-chartered physiotherapists, i.e. people that have no formal training, are still allowed to use the title ‘physiotherapist’, so be sure to check the qualifications of any therapist you intend to use.

Useful websites:

  • Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy –
  • National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists –
  • Institute of Registered Veterinary and Animal Physiotherapists –
  • Chartered Society of Physiotherapy –

Osteopathy is an established science and system of healing using manual techniques, in order to remove tension and restriction and encourage structural and physiological harmony. Treatment is aimed at improving mobility and reducing inflammation using gentle, manual osteopathic techniques on the musculoskeletal system, i.e. joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Osteopathy is useful for a number of problems, including loss of mobility, joint, neck and back pain, muscle stiffness and to help recovery from injuries. Veterinary osteopaths are trained to recognise and treat many causes of pain with their hands, using a variety of different techniques, including soft massage, stretches, and various joint movements.

By law, an osteopath will need to get permission from your vet to undertake any treatment, and you should always consult your vet before having your animal treated. It is an offence for anyone to treat your pet without referral from a vet first. Many insurance companies will cover osteopathic treatment but only if the animal has been referred by a vet.

Always make sure that the osteopath you are going to use is a qualified therapist and has the appropriate insurance to allow them to practice.

Useful website:

Chiropractic is a healthcare discipline using manual techniques that emphasise diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, in particular the spine. It focuses specifically on the biomechanical dysfunction of the skeleton, muscles, tendons and ligaments and its effects on the nervous system and general well-being of the whole body.

Chiropractic is useful for treating chronic musculoskeletal disorders, e.g. lameness, tension and stiffness, and pain in general; it is also used in a preventive role to maintain fitness and soundness, and to enhance general well-being.

Currently, it is only possible for vets and human chiropractors to become qualified veterinary chiropractors. You should always check that a practitioner has recognised qualifications before you allow them to treat your animal.

Useful websites:

Cat flaps

Fed up with playing doorman to your cat, without a tip? A cat flap could be the solution, allowing your cat free or restricted access to the outside world.

A cat flap can be fitted to just about any door, wall or window. Wooden doors, walls and glass each need different types of cat flap, so make sure you choose the right one. Cat flaps are normally used to allow your cat access to the house but an alternative is to fit one to a shed or outbuilding, so that your cat can shelter somewhere dry.

Glass doors or windows

Fitting cat flaps to glass doors or windows can be tricky and you should get a qualified glazier to do the job. If you have single glazed glass doors the glazier should be able to cut a circular hole for a cat flap. However all doors in modern buildings have to be fitted with safety glass. It is possible to fit cat flaps in double-glazed doors and safety glass but the holes need to be cut when the glass is being made. Replacing all the glass in your door may be expensive, so see if it is possible to replace just the lower door panel with a piece of glass with a hole for the cat flap. Alternatively, since windows do not have to have safety glass, think about fitting a flap in a kitchen window, if your cat can easily obtain access to it.

Wooden or metal doors

If the cat flap is going to be positioned in a door, measure the thickness of the door and choose a suitable cat flap. A tunnel or inner liner will make a neater finish in a wider door and usually tunnel extensions are available. Plastic cat flaps can be used in metal doors, but aluminium types are available and usually preferable.

A cat flap should not be fitted to a fire door as the fire retardant properties will be seriously altered. Measure the height from the floor to the belly of your cat, usually 100-150mm (4-6 inches), and this is the height you should fit the cat flap.

Brick walls

Consult a builder if you want to fit a cat flap in a wall, and choose a cat flap suitable for the thickness of the wall. The cat flap may need a tunnel, or another method, to connect the front and back parts.

For security purposes, a cat flap should be fitted on the side of a door away from the handle, so that a burglar cannot put their hand through and reach the lock or key. A self-locking cat flap which can only be operated by your cat can help keep would-be feline, or human intruders out.

Young cats usually learn to use their cat flaps very quickly. Older cats may find them confusing at first and need some training to use them.

When you first fit the cat flap, prop the flap permanently open and entice your cat to go through. Placing a bowl of favoured food on the other side may do the trick! Once your cat is happy to go through the open hole, prop the flap slightly less open. Gradually lower the flap a bit at a time until eventually your cat is starting to push the flap just a little to get at her treat.

Use plenty of praise as she begins to work the device on her own. If your cat is litter trained moving her litter tray outside the cat flap may make her go through once she is desperate. Sometimes a catnip spray may help to attract your cat to the other side of the cat flap.

If other cats come into your house through the cat flap your own cat may start to feel insecure in her own home. If your cat starts spraying urine inside the house after you have fitted a cat flap, this might be the cause.

There are several types of cat flap that can only be opened by an electronic or magnetic key which your cat wears on her collar. The flap automatically unlocks when it recognises your cat approaching (even if this happens at speed). This will keep out all cats not wearing the magnetic key collars, but you could be unlucky and find that the invading cat has a similar collar of their own.

To keep out all other cats get a flap worked by a programmable key collar that uses an electronic ‘password’.

If you want to have control over your cat’s movements in and out of your home choose a locking cat flap which restricts access. The four-way locking system uses ‘out only’, ‘in only’, ‘open’ and ‘locked’ settings. If you like your cat to come in at night, but don’t want to wait up, then the ‘in only’ setting will allow you to get to bed on time. There are also simple locking cat flaps which allow you to determine what side of the flap your cats stays.

The flap is so light that it is unlikely to hurt a cat’s tail, back or paws even when they fly through at great speed! For exceptionally acrobatic cats think about getting a flexible, rather than solid flap.

Cat bite abscesses

If you notice small lumps or swellings when stroking or brushing your cat do not be unduly alarmed. There are many possible causes: growths, cancers, infections, allergic reactions to flea bites or foreign bodies such as thorns or airgun pellets. Occasionally your cat may pick up ticks that swell up as they feed on cat’s blood and can easily be mistaken for a skin lump. However, the most likely cause of a lump in your cat is an abscess.

Abscesses are more common in cats than other domestic animals and are usually the result of fighting. Cats have powerful jaws and a variety of unpleasant bacteria live in their mouths that can be injected deep below the skin surface by biting. The bacteria cause an infection that eventually develops into an abscess, a mass of pus walled up inside scar tissue. Cats also use their claws to fight but abscesses caused by scratches are much less common because the wounds are not as deep.

Signs of infection may be present before any swellings develop. Your cat will be listless, go off its food and its nose may become dry. Your cat may resent being handled and a normally docile cat may hiss and scratch when you try to pick it up. If your cat has been bitten on a leg it will probably limp. These signs last for about 3 days before the swelling appears.

Abscesses are most often found on the face, neck and tail although any part of the body can be bitten during a fight. The swellings are painful when touched and the skin surface will feel hot. The swelling often gets bigger for 3-5 days and then may burst, discharging a smelly yellow/green fluid (pus).

It is much more common to see abscesses in tomcats than in neutered male or female cats. Tomcats often fight with one another over territory or sexual favours. However, any cat can be involved in a fight. Shortly after moving house your cat may be more likely to get into fights with resident cats until it has established its own territory.

It is important to take your cat to your vet if you find any sort of lump. It is also worth checking your cat for bite marks if you suspect it has been in a fight. The telltale signs of a fight are a torn or bleeding ear, marks around the eyes and missing lumps of fur. Also look out for limping, lethargy and other signs of infection. If your cat has been bitten there may be a tiny area of matted fur around the bite wounds. Unfortunately wounds are often difficult to spot and the skin surface may heal fast, leaving infection still there beneath the surface.

If you find a bite wound on your cat it should be bathed with a salt solution (1 tablespoon of salt in a pint of water) and the wound watched closely for signs of swelling over the next few days. Sometimes the first indication that your cat has an abscess is when the swelling bursts, releasing foul smelling, creamy white or green pus. If the abscess doesn’t burst naturally your vet will lance it, flush out the remaining pus and then wash it with an antiseptic solution.

Your cat will probably be put on a course of antibiotics lasting between three and seven days. There are many different types of antibiotic that kill different types of bacteria. Your vet will use his experience to select the right antibiotic for the job. If the wound is still infected after a few days tests may be necessary to find which particular bacteria are present and help your vet choose an alternative antibiotic.

Unless your cat is kept permanently indoors there is always a chance of it getting into a fight. But having an intact tomcat neutered will significantly reduce the risk. Cats with certain diseases such as Feline Leukaemia (FeLV) or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) have weaker defences against infection and are likely to have more severe problems if they do get bitten. Other diseases can also be spread when cats get together to fight, so always make sure that your cat’s vaccinations are up to date.

Feline oral squamous cell carcinoma

Oral squamous cell carcinoma is a nasty disease in cats. Frequently, these cancers are not identified until the lesion has progressed significantly with associated oral pain and halitosis due to bacterial infection.

Oral squamous cell carcinoma is a cancer that arises from the cells lining the mouth and throat including the gums, tongue, cheeks and tonsils. This cancer has an ability to grow invasively into the surrounding tissues and the visible part of the tumour is all too often just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Most cats with this disease are middle-aged (average 11-12 years), although it has been described in cats from 2-18 years old.

Presenting complaints commonly include deformity of the face, loose teeth (which may result in difficulty eating), weight loss and halitosis. Other, more subtle signs include mouth pain and dribbling.

You should be aware that it is important to get all mouth problems checked out as there are many other conditions that can affect the oral cavity and resemble squamous cell carcinoma, such as eosinophilic granuloma complex, and mouth ulcers.

When examining your cat your vet may see a mass or a sore in your cat’s mouth or throat. Biopsy provides the best means of diagnosis of oral cancers. In older cats with dribbling or other evidence of mouth pain, your vet should always consider the possibility of oral squamous cell carcinoma as a cause. Sometimes oral squamous cell carcinoma is misdiagnosed as a dental complaint.

Early diagnosis is the cornerstone of successful therapy. Undoubtedly, many cases are presented to their veterinary surgeon at a time when the disease has already progressed too far. Feline oral squamous cell carcinoma rarely spreads to the lymph nodes or through the blood stream. Despite this, following diagnosis or on suspicion of a diagnosis, it is important that the lymph nodes and the lungs are assessed to check that there is no evidence of cancer spread.

Sadly, at this time the prognosis for affected cats is usually poor regardless of treatment. Multiple different treatments have been explored including radical surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hyperthermia (heat treatment), cryotherapy (freezing), anti-inflammatory therapy and combinations of the above.

Consistently, studies indicate an average life expectancy of only 1 to 3 months. In some cases, the cancer arises in a site that is amenable to surgical excision; these are usually small cancers in the cheek or the mandible.

A small proportion of cases do respond well to radiotherapy with about 1 in 10 of these cases living for a year or more. Side effects from radiotherapy are few. While skin and gum irritation is described, this happens extremely infrequently using the treatment strategy that most UK oncologists favour.

Paradoxically, the greatest problems arise in the patients who demonstrate an excellent response to therapy. If a large proportion of a cancer is killed by the radiation, this can leave a hole in the mouth which may harbour infections or may allow food and water access to the nasal cavity.

Radiotherapy for your cat

Pets today are healthier and, in general, living longer than ever before. However the increasing numbers of ageing pets mean that they are at increasing risk of developing cancer later in life. Radiotherapy aims to give a high dose of radiation to the cancer cells (doing maximum damage) whilst minimising the dose to the rest of the body.

Radiotherapy uses radiation (like a powerful type of X-rays) to damage and destroy cancer cells. The radiation can be administered in a number of ways but when it contacts cells it causes permanent damage. Most commonly radiation is delivered from an external source for a short period of time on a regular basis (external beam therapy). Radiation delivered in high doses can do damage very rapidly so a short exposure to the radiation beam will damage the cells which die off over the next few days.

The aim with radiotherapy is to give a high dose of radiation to the cancer cells (doing maximum damage) whilst minimising the dose to the rest of the body.

It is quite expensive to have radiotherapy and you will probably have to travel to a specialist centre to get treatment so your vet will not recommend the procedure unless they think it is likely to help in the treatment of your pet.

Cancers can be treated using surgery, drugs (chemotherapy), radiotherapy or often a combination of these. Each type of cancer is best treated in a particular way and if your vet has recommended one form of treatment it is likely that this is the best option for your pet. However, if you are concerned about the treatment then discuss your worries with your vet.

Radiotherapy is usually given as a course of treatments. It is very important that all treatments in the course are given at the right time so make sure before agreeing to treatment that you can take your pet for every session. The damage to cancer cells caused by radiotherapy builds up over time so each treatment kills off cells missed by the previous one. The time between each treatment in the course allows the normal healthy tissues to recover and grow. So the course maximises the damage to cancer cells whilst reducing the risk of side effects.

Many owners are worried by the idea of radiotherapy for their pet because they have heard of the side-effects suffered by human cancer patients. In people the aim of cancer treatment is to kill all cancer cells and cure disease doses of radiotherapy are therefore high and side-effects such as vomiting and hairloss are relatively common.

Although it does sometimes cure cancer, the aim of cancer treatment in pets is to prolong a good quality of life (rather than necessarily trying to cure the cancer). This means that treatment sessions are designed to have the maximum beneficial effect without causing severe side effects. Your pet should remain well throughout the course of treatment.

If your pet is having external beam radiotherapy the radiation does not stay in their body so they are able to come home between treatments. However, it is very important that the treatment is delivered at regular intervals and so if the treatment interval is short (e.g. alternate days) your vet may recommend that they stay in hospital so that you do not have to keep travelling back and forward.

It is essential that your pet remains still throughout the whole treatment as this must be directed at a very specific area of the body. Severe damage can be caused if the radiation beam strikes the wrong tissue during the procedure.

Modern anaesthetics are very safe and your pet will probably recover more rapidly from an anaesthetic than any form of sedation. As radiotherapy is usually performed at specialist centres it is likely that your pet’s anaesthetic will be monitored by a vet with a special interest in anaesthesia and the anaesthetic will be very safe. You will usually be able to take your pet home as soon as they have recovered from the anaesthetic unless they are receiving further treatment.

As your pet will be having an anaesthetic your vet will ask you not to feed your pet the evening before the day of the treatment. Occasionally drugs are given before treatment to increase the effect of the radiation on cancer cells – if your vet gives you specific instructions make sure you follow them carefully.

There is a small risk associated with repeated anaesthetics, but your pet’s health will be closely monitored and modern anaesthetics are very safe.

Radiotherapy is a very powerful treatment and the aim is to give a dose that will destroy most of the cancer cells whilst allowing the normal tissue to recover between treatments. Some cells are very sensitive to the effects of radiation so when treatment is planned your vet will try to avoid particularly sensitive areas (such as the eye).

After treatment the area of skin around the tumour may become red or sore looking. Your vet will prescribe tablets if they are concerned about your pet, but if you are worried make sure you voice your concerns at your next visit. Long term problems are usually changes at the site of the treatment such as bald patches or white hair regrowing (where it should be coloured).

If your pet has had an anaesthetic they should be fully recovered by the time you get home. Offer a light meal at tea time but do not be alarmed if your pet does not want to eat until the following day. Often a course of radiotherapy is given after a cancer has been removed – if your pet has stitches keep a close eye on these as the radiation treatment may delay healing and the wound could open up.

If your pet is receiving medication for other conditions check with your vet that you should continue these throughout the radiotherapy course.

Radio-iodine treatment for thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer (hyperthyroidism or over-active thyroid gland) is quite common in middle-aged cats. If your cat has been diagnosed with cancer of the thyroid gland there may well be an effective treatment for your pet. The disease can often be successfully treated by surgery but a form of radiotherapy (radio-iodine treatment) is another option and this has fewer complications and a higher success rate than surgery or other forms of treatment.

Radiotherapy uses radiation to damage and destroy cancer cells. The radiation can be administered in a number of ways. However the radiation is given, when it contacts cells it causes permanent damage. In some types of cancer radioactive implants can also be placed in the cancer itself, for treatment of others a beam of radiation is delivered from outside of the body. Cats with cancer of the thyroid gland can be treated with radioactive injections (radio-iodine therapy).

In the treatment of thyroid cancer a radioactive injection is given under the skin. The radioactive material enters the blood and is transported around the body – radiation is concentrated in the cancer cells of the thyroid glands whilst the rest of the body receives a lower dose. The aim with radiotherapy is to give a high dose of radiation to the cancer cells (doing maximum damage) whilst minimising the dose to the rest of the body.

It is quite expensive to have radiotherapy and you will probably have to travel to a specialist centre to get treatment so your vet will not recommend the procedure unless they think it is likely to help in the treatment of your cat. There are many ways of tackling cancer – surgery, drugs (chemotherapy), radiotherapy or often a combination of these. Each type of cancer is best treated in a particular way and if your vet has recommended one form of treatment it is likely that this is the best option for your pet. However, if you are concerned about the treatment then discuss your worries with your vet.

Thyroid cancer is quite common in middle-aged cats. It can often be successfully treated by surgery but this requires a general anaesthetic. Radio-iodine treatment has fewer complications and a higher success rate than surgery or other forms of treatment.

In people the aim of cancer treatment is to kill all cancer cells and cure disease – doses of chemotherapy are therefore high and side-effects such as vomiting and hairloss are relatively common. Although it does sometimes cure cancer the aim of cancer treatment in pets is to prolong a good quality of life (rather than necessarily trying to cure the cancer). This means that treatment sessions are designed to have the maximum beneficial effect without causing side effects. Your pet should remain well throughout the course of treatment.

Radio-iodine treatment is generally the safest method of treating thyroid tumours in cats. However, it is not suitable for cats with other diseases that require regular monitoring and therapy as cats have to remain in isolation during the treatment. People looking after cats receiving radio-iodine therapy cannot handle them while they are radioactive.

In most cats the treatment destroys all the cancer and the disease does not come back. However in a few cats the disease might come back months or years after treatment.

If your pet is having a radioactive injection or implant they will be giving off radiation for the time the radiation is active. Although the dose of radiation is unlikely to be harmful to a healthy person there are long term risks associated with radiation exposure so pets are kept in special areas of the hospital for the duration of treatment. Cats will usually be kept in isolation for 4 weeks, and may have to stay in hospital for longer than this. They will only be released from hospital when it is safe to do so – so you do not need to adopt any special precautions once they come home.

There should be no particular problems once your pet comes home – if you are concerned about any aspect of their health contact your vet for advice. If your pet is receiving medication for other conditions check with your vet that you should continue these throughout the radiotherapy course.

Signs should start to resolve within 2 weeks of injection but a full response may take up to 3 months. Most cats only need one course of treatment but sometimes a second injection is needed.

Cancer of the thyroid gland is relatively common in cats but can usually be easily controlled. It is important that treatment starts early before other damage has occurred in the body.

Lymphoma chemotherapy

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph cells and can arise almost anywhere in the body. Lymphoma is one of the most commonly treated forms of the disease. Modern treatment protocols can be highly effective in controlling lymphoma and affected cats can have several years of normal life with appropriate treatment.

Chemotherapy is a highly toxic drug given alone or in combination with other drugs to damage and destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs can kill all cells (healthy ones as well as cancer cells) and great care is necessary when using them. When treating lymphoma more than one type of chemotherapy is given at the same time the aim of this is to attack the cancer cells from two or more sides whilst minimising the amount of damage to normal tissue by using lower doses of each drug.

Doses are given at intervals (which may be days, weeks or months apart) and during the interval healthy tissue is able to recover and regenerate. Unfortunately in most cases the cancer cells also start to recover and over time the cancer cells often develop a resistance to the drug that is being used for treatment. Treatments must be given regularly so before agreeing to start treatment make sure you are able to give regular medication or can take your pet to hospital for regular treatment sessions as necessary.

There are many chemotherapy treatment plans (also known as protocols) that have been used for the management of lymphoma in cats. The most commonly used include Cyclophosphamide, Vincristine (known as Oncovin) and Prednisolone. This is often called the COP protocol. Sometimes another drug, doxorubicin (also called Hydroxydaunorubicin or Adriamycin), is added and this is called a CHOP or COAP protocol.

Treatment for lymphoma is usually a combination of tablets given at home and hospital visits for your vet to administer some drugs intravenously (directly into the blood stream). Remember that all these drugs are toxic and must be handled carefully. Drugs should always be handled with gloves and must be given according to the schedule prescribed by your vet.

Obviously it is particularly important that these drugs are kept out of the reach of children and pregnant women should not be exposed to them. If you accidently give too many tablets in one dose or give the doses too close together you must contact your vet or veterinary oncologist immediately.

All chemotherapy drugs can cause side effects but these vary depending on the type of drug and the way it works.


Prednisolone is a steroid but in cancer therapy it is given at very high doses initially. It would be usual for cats receiving prednisolone to drink more than normal and hence wee more often! The drug given to otherwise healthy animals is a potent appetite stimulant. However cats receiving chemotherapy may have a poor appetite due to the cancer or the other chemotherapy drugs and so excessive appetite may not be a problem.

Some cats are more affected by high doses of steroids and may have muscle weakness and show excessive panting. Stomach ulceration is also a potential side effect of high doses of steroids and may cause blood in the vomit or in bowel movements.

Vincristine (Oncovin)

Side effects are rare following treatment with vincristine. The drug is given by your vet into the vein in the leg – if the drug leaks out of the vein it may cause damage and soreness around the site of injection. Weakness and neurological changes are reported by people receiving vincristine but these are rare in domestic pets.

Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan/Endoxana)

Like many chemotherapy drugs cyclophosphamide can reduce production of white blood cells by the bone marrow, making your pet more prone to infection. This effect usually starts around 1 week after treatment has been given, and reaches its lowest point at 1014 days. The bone marrow should naturally recover and will usually have returned to normal function before the next dose of doxorubicin is due. Your vet will usually check blood samples regularly from your pet to ensure that the bone marrow is working properly.

You should contact your vet straight away if:

  • Your pet has a high temperature (above 38.9°C / 102°F) – if your pet has a fever they will usually be quiet and unwilling to eat
  • Your pet is unwell (even without a high temperature)

Nausea and vomiting have been reported but in most cases this is mild and usually resolves without any treatment.

Hair loss following chemotherapy is not common in dogs. However, poodles and old English sheepdogs may be more at risk. Certainly clipped areas may take longer to regrow if your pet is receiving chemotherapy.

The main problem with cyclophosphamide is the risk of a form of cystitis. This is caused by irritation of the bladder by the chemicals formed when the drug is broken down in the body. To try to prevent cystitis the drug should be given in the morning and the cat should be encouraged to empty their bladder before bedtime. If you see any blood in the urine or your cat shows any signs of cystitis (frequent urination, discomfort on urination, or frequent squatting or straining) do not give any more cyclophosphamide until you have spoken to your vet.


Doxorubicin may also affect bone marrow function and you should be alert for signs of infection or anaemia. Doxorubicin can also reduce the production of other cells from the marrow, e.g. platelets (which help the blood to clot). Call your vet if your pet has any unexplained bruising or bleeding, such as nosebleeds, blood spots or bleeding gums.

Nausea can occur within a few hours of treatment with doxorubicin but this can be effectively controlled with drugs. If your cat is reluctant to eat or vomits after treatment make sure your vet knows. If your pet vomits after treatment do not offer them anything more to eat for 12 hours and then offer them a small tempting snack. Ensure that water is available and encourage them to drink if possible. Cats with diarrhoea should be allowed to eat as normal but if you are concerned or the diarrhoea continues for more than 24 hours call your vet for further advice.

Some cats receiving doxorubicin are anorexic after treatment. This may be due to sores in the mouth or in some people the drug alters the taste of food and this may be unpleasant for some animals. Try feeding tempting small meals more frequently to encourage your cat to eat.

Hair loss can also occur after doxorubicin treatment but this is a rare complication and not of any clinical significance.

Lomustine (CCNU)

Lomustine can cause severe suppression of the bone marrow and regular monitoring of blood cell counts is important if your pet is receiving this.

Inappetence, vomiting and/or diarrhoea are also relatively common side effects but these can usually be controlled if the dose is tailored appropriately to the patient.

Many of the chemotherapy drugs have cumulative toxic effects (meaning that the effect of each dose builds up in the body).

Many of the drugs are processed or removed from the body by the liver or kidneys. Your vet may need to check liver and kidney function with regular blood tests, particularly if your pet is receiving drugs which can cause damage to these organs. Lomustine can cause liver damage and permanent bone marrow injury so long term monitoring by blood tests is required.

Doxorubicin can cause damage to the heart muscles and if your pet is receiving this you may be asked to take them for regular ultrasound scans of the heart.

Long term side effects of steroids are not uncommon but these are usually not a significant health risk. Skin may become thinner and darker in colour, hairloss is quite common and cats may develop a pot-bellied appearance.

Lumps and bumps

Finding a lump on your pet can be a worrying experience. Although most lumps are harmless it is impossible to tell what a lump is simply by looking at it. If your pet has a swelling that lasts for more than a few days always ask your vet to check it for you.

There are many different things that can cause swellings: bruising or fluid build-up, abscesses, things attached to the skin, e.g. ticks (small parasites which latch onto your pet and suck blood swelling as they do so), and of course cancers. If you find any unusual lump or swelling on your pet you should make an appointment for your vet to check it out. Although most lumps are harmless, some can be very dangerous if left untreated. The biggest concern for most people is whether their pet has cancer.

Cancers are divided into two groups:

  • Benign: These lumps may grow bigger but do not spread elsewhere.
  • Malignant: More aggressive lumps, which not only grow but also spread through the body and may affect organs such as lungs and liver.

Some benign growths can also cause problems if they continue to grow. Even fatty lumps can grow to a huge size and may cause problems due to their size, e.g. restricting leg movement or pressing on the airways and causing breathing problems. Malignant growths are obviously more worrying – they must be removed before they have spread elsewhere.

Even your vet probably won’t be able to tell whether the lump is cancer, or some other kind of swelling, just by looking at it. There are several things to look for which may help your vet decide whether a lump on your pet is likely to be benign or malignant:

  • If the lump can be picked up in the fingers and moved around it is less likely to be aggressive. Malignant lumps often grow into the tissues beneath the skin and this makes them more difficult to remove.
  • If the lump grows very quickly it can soon cause problems even if it does not spread. Removing a large lump is much more difficult and leaves a bigger wound so fast-growing lumps should be removed while they are still small.
  • Malignant lumps often cause a reaction in the tissue around them – if any lump is red, painful when touched or is ulcerated or discharging then it should probably be removed.
  • Some cancers produce substances that make animals unwell – if your pet has a lump and shows signs of illness e.g. sickness, depression or excessive drinking then mention this to your vet when he examines your pet.

If a lump has been present for a long time without causing any problems it is unlikely to suddenly turn nasty. However, all lumps should be monitored closely. Feel the lump once a month (if you feel it too often you will not notice if it is growing slowly), and keep a note of its size. Ask your vet to measure the lump each year at the time of vaccination and record if it is growing. If the lump changes in any way, i.e. starts to grow more quickly, is sore or discharging, make an appointment for your vet to check the lump again.

If you find a lump on your pet your vet will want to examine the lump to see if they think it is likely to cause a problem. They will also examine your pet to see if they are otherwise healthy or if there are any other growths elsewhere. Unfortunately it will not be possible to say for certain that a growth will never cause problems just by looking at it.

If your vet is concerned they will take some samples from the lump to try to find out what sort of lump it is. Sampling a lump can be as easy as putting a needle into it to collect a few cells or it may be necessary to take a piece of the lump under anaesthetic. These samples can be sent to a pathologist at a laboratory who will be able to tell your vet what kind of lump it is. Once your vet knows this they will be able to advise you on the best treatment for your pet.

In most cases, the only treatment needed for small growths is to remove them. However, if it is a type of cancer that could spread elsewhere your vet may want to make sure that there is no sign of spread and to do this they may need to take X-rays or perform an ultrasound examination. If your pet is old or unwell your vet may want to take a blood sample to check your pet is healthy enough to have an anaesthetic.

In human medicine, skin lumps are often removed by a doctor using a local anaesthetic. It is unusual for this to be done in veterinary medicine. It is very important that the whole of a cancer is removed to make sure that it does not regrow. Even if the lump appears very small it may be necessary to cut quite deeply to remove all of it.

It is important that your pet lies still during the procedure – if they jump or move the operation will be more difficult and dangerous. It is necessary to give patients a sedative to make sure they stay still and sedation is no safer than a well-monitored anaesthetic. Sedated patients may take many hours to recover whereas the effects of a short anaesthetic should wear off more quickly in most animals. If you are worried about treatment of your pet, mention your concerns to your vet who will be happy to discuss all the options with you.


Most lumps on cats are abscesses (usually due to fighting). Often the abscess will need to be opened and drained and antibiotics may be needed.

Fatty lumps

Probably the most common lump found on dogs is a fatty lump (lipoma). These are more common in obese animals. These are benign cancers that rarely spread and are often quite slow growing. However, over many years they can become very large and may need to be removed because they cause physical problems.

Basal cell tumours

These are a type of skin cancer that can occur in cats. They often look like firm round masses about half a cm across. The good news is that most of these are harmless and removal results in cure.

Mast cell tumours (cancer)

These are one of the most common types of lumps found in the skin. Mast cells tumours are a type of cancer that can take on many different appearances and can easily be confused with all sorts of other lumps. Some mast cell tumours are harmless and cause no problems, others are very nasty cancers. It is difficult to tell how a mast cell tumour will behave and they can turn from a benign cancer to a malignant one so all mast cell tumours should be removed.

Injection site swellings

Swelling and discomfort at the site of a recent injection or vaccination is most likely to be due to a reaction in the skin. If swelling develops a long time after injection or continues to grow you must ask your vet for advice. Some cats have been known to develop cancer at the site of some types of vaccination.


Warts look like small tags of skin. They are more common in older animals. Often animals that have a wart will go on to develop many others. Sometimes warts bleed and may be irritating in which case they will need to be removed.

Mammary tumours (breast cancer)

Lumps in the mammary glands of female dogs are very common and account for nearly half of all cancers in bitches. Most of these are relatively harmless but some of the most aggressive types of cancer can also be found here. Mammary lumps in male animals are often very nasty. Surgical removal of all mammary lumps is advisable and in some cases removal of all mammary tissue (mastectomy) is also necessary. Before removing mammary lumps your vet will want to check your pet thoroughly to make sure that the cancer has not spread anywhere else.

The most important thing to remember is that most lumps, even cancers, can be cured if they are caught early enough – so always check with your vet if you find anything unusual on your pet. In most cases your vet will be able to reassure you.