Lymphoma In Cats: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Lymphoma is a very common type of cancer in cats. Learn to identify lymphoma before it becomes a health problem that endangers your pet’s life.
Lymphoma in cats: causes, symptoms and treatment

It is estimated that 1 in 5 cats will develop cancer throughout their lives, a probability that increases exponentially with the cat’s age. Some are more severe and difficult to treat than others, but lymphoma in cats (one of the most common) has a catastrophic prognosis in the absence of treatment. Cats with lymphoma live an average of 4 weeks if they do not receive treatment from a veterinarian.

This type of cat cancer is systemic and very difficult to treat, but with the recommended treatment, the patient’s survival can be extended somewhat. In the following lines, we discover the causes, symptoms and treatment of lymphoma in cats.

What is lymphoma in cats?

First of all, it is necessary to emphasize that the term “cancer” refers to a heterogeneous set of diseases. However, they all have something in common. Regardless of their location, atypical cell growth always occurs under these conditions due to a genetic mutation of a cell line.

Normally, the uninhibited growth of a specific tissue gives rise to a tumor  that can grow and spread to other parts of the body, causing the dreaded metastasis . The rest of the tumors that arise in the body arise from the first malignant cells, which is why they are considered secondary cancers.

As indicated by the SVA veterinary  portal, feline lymphoma differs from common cancers because it occurs systemically. This disease stems from an excessive spread of lymphocytes (white blood cells) that travel through the blood and lymphatic systems, so the signs of the disease are generalized.

An example of lymphoma in the blood.

Types and symptoms

Lymphomas in cats are classified according to the type of proliferated cells (B or T lymphocytes) or the site of malignant neoplasm activity. We will now go through the different types that exist and the symptoms that they cause from a veterinary point of view.

Gastrointestinal lymphoma

As the name suggests, this is the type of lymphoma that naturally affects the cat’s gastrointestinal tract. It is the most common variant in this pathological group, as it accounts for 50-70% of all lymphomas in felines. It occurs especially in the senior age, between 9 and 13 years.

This type of cancer can be high-grade  (rapid expansion) or low-grade (slow division), which determines how fast the development of clinical signs occurs. Among the most important, we highlight the following:

  • Weight loss
  • Constant vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Poor appetite

Mediastinal lymphoma

Veterinary portals state that this type of cancer affects the lymph nodes in the mediastinum (located in the middle of the thorax) and the thymus gland. The enlargement of the lymph nodes can put pressure on the animal’s chest and thus make it difficult to breathe. It is also common for the esophagus to become compressed, which makes it difficult to swallow.

Various lymphomas

In this case, cell overgrowth occurs in different parts: central nervous system, nasal cavity, skin, kidneys and other areas. The most affected area is usually the nasal cavity and this variant is accompanied by strange secretions and difficulty breathing. It is most common in felines between 5 and 9 years of age.

Causes of lymphoma in cats

Talking about an exact causal relationship in any type of cancer is complex, as most malignant tumors are caused by a variety of factors, such as the environment, genetics, and the general health of the animal. However, some of the above variants are linked to other medical conditions.

For example, mediastinal lymphoma is associated with feline leukemia virus (FeLV) in 80% of cases. This infectious agent establishes itself in the bone marrow, which produces all blood cells (including lymphocytes), so it is easy to imagine the relationship between them. 30% of kidney lymphomas are also associated with FeLV.

Diagnosis of lymphoma in cats

The symptoms of this type of cancer are quite non-specific, so several tests may be necessary to find the disease. First, a blood test is always used to detect systemic abnormalities, but it does not give a complete diagnosis on its own.

X-ray, ultrasound or CT scans will also be necessary to find the tumor mass that is the problem. Once detected, a biopsy or fine needle stringing is performed to obtain a sample of the cell group. If the lymph nodes are abnormal and enlarged, lymphoma is confirmed.

Treatment of lymphoma in cats

Lymphoma is always treated with chemotherapy, as professionals face a systemic disease that can not be managed with just a surgical resection. Low-grade conditions are treated with a combination of the drugs prednisone and chlorambucil 20 mg / m2. Fast-growing lymphoma, on the other hand, requires more aggressive chemical injections.

Radiation therapy and surgery are designed in very specific cases, such as in nasal or abdominal lymphoma. However, this is a very rare procedure. If none of these approaches is possible (due to the fragility of the animal and its age), a palliative treatment based on prednisolone alone, a steroid that delays the development of the disease by 2 to 4 months, is used.

Weight loss in cats can have many causes.


Lymphoma in cats that are not treated with cytotoxic drugs usually causes the cat to die in less than 4 weeks. However, treatment with prednisolone alone may cause the cat to survive for another 60-90 days, although this is not guaranteed in every case.

With the right approach, 75% of cats enter a clear period of remission. But even if all goes well, their average lifespan is only about 6 months, as relapses are very common. Unfortunately, the general prognosis for this condition is very poor, and sometimes the only option is palliative care until death.


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