Any way you cut, even just the word cancer, is scary. It can affect any part of the body, and the consequences are often dire. For pet owners, the thought of cancer is a particularly frightening one. The good news, though, is that while the disease is not 100% preventable, there are several things you can do to mitigate your cat’s risk of getting cancer.
Remember, too, that cancer is more treatable now than ever before. Even in animals, it is no longer the death sentence it once was. With appropriate veterinary care, countless pets have gone on to spend several happy, healthy years by their owner’s side following a cancer diagnosis. Still, taking steps to protect your cat is part of being a responsible and loving pet parent. As veterinarians, we are here to help keep your cat healthy. Read on to discover a few things you can do to lower your feline friend’s cancer risk.
It may seem obvious to avoid things that are known to cause cancer. Unfortunately, you likely have known carcinogens in your home without even realizing it. Check the ingredients in household cleaners and any other chemicals you have lying around. If the products you use regularly are carcinogenic, swap them out for safer options. Because cats are such meticulous groomers, they ingest just about everything that ends up on their fur. For this reason, it is crucial to keep the toxic chemicals and carcinogens in your kitty’s environment to a minimum.
Have Your Cat Spayed or Neutered
Having your cat spayed or neutered drastically lowers the cat's risk of certain types of cancer (as well as other health problems). In females, going through repeated heat cycles without breeding increases the risk of mammary cancer. Spaying lowers this risk while eliminating the risk of ovarian and uterine cancers.
Neutering lowers your male cat’s cancer risk, too. It eliminates the possibility of testicular cancer and reduces the risk of prostate issues.
Unless your cat is used for breeding or has health issues that make it unsafe for them to undergo surgery, all veterinarians will recommend having cats spayed or neutered. These routine procedures are safe, effective, and provide numerous health benefits.
We should also point out that intact cats are also at risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases, which can lead to cancer.
Try to Keep Cats Indoors
As veterinarians, we know that some cats seem like they were born to be outdoor kitties. The thing is, though, you can minimize so many risks by keeping your cats indoors (or on a leash for outdoor walks).
Some of the dangers that your outdoor cat may face are as follows:
- Outdoor cats are much more likely to encounter carcinogenic chemicals than their indoor counterparts. Pesticides applied to neighbors’ lawns, automotive fluids in puddles, etc., all pose a threat to your furry friend. In addition to making them more susceptible to cancer, such chemicals could cause poisoning.
- If your cat goes outside, you have no real way of knowing what they have access to. Keeping them inside is the best way to protect them from the unknown. There are plenty of ways to give your indoor cat an enriching life, and keeping them indoors will likely allow them to enjoy more years by your side.
- Outdoor cats are also much more likely to get into fights with other cats who may not be vaccinated or well cared for. They can contract diseases such as feline leukemia by fighting with other cats.
Vaccinate Your Cat(s)
Having your cat vaccinated is part of being a responsible pet parent. If your feline friend is not already vaccinated against the feline leukemia virus, schedule an appointment as soon as possible. The feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is highly contagious, especially among young cats. To boot, cats who are infected are much more susceptible to several types of cancer.
The FeLV vaccine protects cats by preventing infection from the virus. If your cat is already infected, the vaccine will not cure the virus. Infected cats need to be kept away from unvaccinated FeLV-free cats, but FeLV-positive cats can live healthy lives with appropriate care.
Do Not Smoke
If you are a smoker and have a hard time convincing yourself to quit, consider this: Secondhand smoke is just as bad for cats as it is for people. It may be even more dangerous because cats are so much smaller than humans. Smoke damages your cat’s lungs and could make them more susceptible to asthma and lung cancer. Plus, the chemicals from the smoke settle on cats’ fur and are ingested during grooming. Yikes.
Stick to smoking outdoors if you or someone in your household is unable to break the habit. Doing so does not completely eliminate your cat’s risk of exposure to toxic chemicals, but it is much better than smoking inside or near your furry friend.
Maintain Your Cat's Health
A healthy lifestyle minimizes your cat’s risk of many health problems, including cancer. Feed a high-quality diet that meets their nutritional needs, but avoid overfeeding. Maintain a healthy weight, and make sure your cat always has access to fresh, clean water. Keep your home as comfortable and stress-free as possible, and provide things like scratching posts, vertical space, etc., to meet your cat’s needs.
Be sure to schedule regular cat wellness exams with your veterinarian, too. Even if your cat seems healthy, they need (at least) annual wellness exams. This provides an opportunity for minor issues to be detected and resolved before they become serious. Additionally, your cat’s yearly wellness appointment is a good time to get them caught up on vaccinations, prescribe parasite preventatives, and discuss their nutritional needs or any changes you have noticed.
While there is no way to guarantee your pet will never get cancer, following the suggestions above can considerably lower the risk of cat cancer. Maintain a good relationship with your cat’s vet and be mindful of any changes in your pet’s appearance or behavior. If you have any concerns or it’s been a while since your cat’s last checkup, give us a call to schedule an appointment.