Brain tumors are a serious, albeit rare, type of cancer and can, unfortunately, affect cats. Since these types of tumors are internal, they are not able to be seen without advanced imaging, but that doesn't mean you can't watch for symptoms that they cause. Knowing what kind of symptoms brain tumors can cause in cats can help you to seek help for them as soon as possible.
What Are Brain Tumors?
A tumor in your cat's brain is a growth of abnormal cells. These growths are usually classified as primary or secondary.
- Primary brain tumors are ones where the abnormal cells originated in the brain or its membrane.
- Secondary brain tumors are usually cancers that have spread from other parts of the body, known as metastases. It can also relate to cancer in another part of the body (such as the nasal cavity) that impacts the brain by local extension.
Symptoms of Brain Tumors in Cats
Different types of tumors can cause different symptoms in your cat, but they are usually broken down into two types: neurological (affecting the nervous system) and vestibular (affecting body movement).
Excessive Pacing and Circling
Most commonly you will see compulsive circling and excessive pacing, especially if the tumor is located in the forebrain.
Issues with the cranial nerves will cause problems with eyesight and eye reflexes and may result in a cat bumping into things.
A seizure is an aggressive symptom that is often observed in a cat with a brain tumor. It is typically one of the first indications that a cat is ill.
Disturbed Sleep Patterns
Some conditions occur depending on the location of the tumor. If the tumor is swelling or painful it can cause sleep abnormalities in a cat.
Eye twitching called nystagmus, an unfocused rolling of the eyes, and a head tilt are classic signs of a vestibular problem, but they can also indicate vestibular disease and not just a brain tumor.
Weakness and Balance Issues
As the tumor grows in the brain, it can put pressure on various areas that control bodily functions. As a result, your cat may fall over involuntarily if it has a brain tumor. Weakness and ataxia (stumbling or staggering when a cat walks) are also commonly seen in a cat with a brain tumor.
Causes of Brain Tumors
There isn't a lot of research regarding the causes of brain tumors in cats. However, it is thought that factors that could have an impact include genetics, environmental causes, diet, certain viruses, and trauma. There is emerging research regarding familial meningioma in cats in which multiple cats from the same litter could potentially develop this common type of tumor, but more studies are necessary to confirm this possibility.
Diagnosing Brain Tumors in Cats
The first step in finding out whether or not your cat has a brain tumor is to take it to the vet. Your vet will discuss the symptoms you are seeing at home, observe your cat in the exam room, and perform a thorough physical examination to check for abnormalities. If a brain tumor is still suspected, other tests can be run, including:
- X-rays of the chest to look for lesions in the lungs indicating the cancer has spread
- CT scans or MRI scans of the head to look for the actual tumor
- Blood work to analyze organ function
- Blood cell and platelet counts
- Surgery or a biopsy to get a sample of the tumor for testing
Some owners opt to run these diagnostic tests so that they can know exactly what their cat has and provide a course of treatment. Others opt not to do testing and choose to just keep their cat comfortable with palliative care.
Chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery may be options that are discussed to treat your cat's specific brain tumor. Even without running diagnostic tests, some of these options may still be available.
Over half of the brain tumors found in cats are intracranial meningiomas. This type of tumor may be able to be completely removed so surgical treatment is often the best option for a cat. Meningioma may be considered a type of a benign tumor since it's slow-growing and rarely returns, however, it will still cause neurological symptoms in your cat.
For many brain tumors, though, there is no cure, but some treatments may buy you some extra time with your cat by delaying growth and spread.
Palliative care is an option that provides management of the symptoms of a brain tumor for as long as possible. It aims to maintain or improve your cat's quality of life and may include pain medications and steroids.
You'll want to discuss your options and what they involve with your family and veterinarian to choose the right steps for you and your cat. Not every cat is well-suited for chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, and many drug options require special at-home care for the safe removal of feces as well as a strict schedule of medication administration.
Prognosis of Cats With Brain Tumors
The prognosis for a cat with a brain tumor will vary depending on the type of tumor, severity, stage, and chosen treatment. For example, some cats diagnosed with meningiomas may live up to ten years with surgery to remove the tumor while others may only live one or two years.
The most important thing to monitor is your cat's quality of life, regardless of whether or not treatment is selected. Appetite, eliminating in the litter box, socialization, playing with favorite toys, and other normal activities for your cat are things to monitor. When these things are no longer normal daily activities, it may, unfortunately, be time to discuss euthanasia with your veterinarian.
How to Prevent Brain Tumors
There is no prevention for brain tumors in cats. Both males and females are equally at risk, and older cats may be more likely to develop brain tumors.