There are an estimated 90 million pet cats in the U.S. Less than one-half of 1 per cent of these pets will develop a feline brain tumour. However, the guardians of these estimated 3,000 cats face difficult decisions about how, and even whether, to treat their companions.
"Developing a brain tumour has serious implications and many owners feel helpless when such a diagnosis is made for their pet," according to North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. "However, these tumours vary widely in their level of malignancy and some can be treated effectively."
The most common type of brain tumour in cats, dogs and humans is a meningioma tumour, which develops in the membranes that line the brain. Meningioma tumours are usually treatable and often benign. Because of where they are located, they are usually easier to surgically remove than other types of tumours.
The most common symptoms are listlessness, behaviour changes and seizures. When a cat has a new onset of seizures and is older than 5 or 6 years, there is the possibility of a brain tumour. Older cats are more likely to develop brain tumours and most cats with meningioma tumours are older than 10 years. However, the tumours often go undiagnosed because an MRI must be performed to make a definite determination.
Diagnosing a feline brain tumour begins with a complete physical and neurological check-up, and standard blood work. The veterinarian will likely then recommend thoracic radiographs to determine if cancer has spread into the lungs, according to the veterinary hospital at NCSU. A CT or MRI scan is performed under general anaesthesia. And, finally, the doctor will take a sample of the tumour, either by surgery or biopsy.
There are three options for treating your cat's brain tumour—surgical removal, chemotherapy or radiation, or simply treating his symptoms. According to Dr. Brooks, the Educational Director of VeterinaryPartner.com, surgery is often a good option for cats. Cat meningioma tumours tend to have a "more rubbery texture," Brooks states, making them easier to remove than other types of tumours.
Because cats do well with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation are usually not recommended for treating a feline brain tumour. If you choose only to treat your cat's symptoms, medications can be prescribed to prevent swelling in the brain and to control seizures.
Even with treatment, your cat's lifespan will likely be diminished if she has a brain tumour. The veterinary hospital at NCSU states, "...The major aim of treatment is to extend a good quality of life for as long as possible."
If you treat only your cat's symptoms, the tumour will eventually grow too large for the medications to be control. With palliative treatment only, cats usually survive three to six months. With surgery, survival time is about 26 months. Outcomes for treatment with radiation or chemotherapy are not known, because not enough cats have been treated in this manner to know if will be successful.
While meningioma tumours are the most common feline brain tumour, there are other types cats may have. Among these are brainstem tumours, which can be quickly fatal. Symptoms include loss of balance, weakness on one side of the body, and a change in your cat's voice. Paralysis, coma and death can quickly follow.
A brain tumour on the cerebellum will cause your cat to have a dramatic goose-stepping gait, head tremors and swaying of the trunk. Any of these symptoms are signs that your cat is experiencing a neurological disorder and he should be taken to a veterinarian immediately.