Brain Tumors in Cats

Tabby and white cat with senior male
Short haired cats make easy companions for senior citizens

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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 in Cats?

A tumor in your cat's brain relates to when there 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 impact on the brain by local extension.

Signs of Brain Tumors in Cats

  • Excessive pacing and circling
  • Eyesight problems
  • Seizures
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Head tilt
  • Balance issues
  • Weakness

Different types of tumors can cause different symptoms in your cat, but they are usually broken down into neurological and vestibular types.

Neurological Signs

Brain tumors can cause a range of neurological symptoms in your cat. 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. Seizures and sleep abnormalities may also be observed.

Vestibular Signs

Eye twitching called nystagmus, rolling, falling over, 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 ataxia are also commonly seen.

Causes of Brain Tumors in Cats

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.

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, a discussion of whether or not you'd like to run some tests may occur.

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 as well as blood cell and platelet counts, and potentially even surgery or a biopsy to get a sample of the tumor to test may be recommended.

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.

Treatment of Brain Tumors in Cats

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.

In cats, meningiomas may be able to be completely removed so surgical treatment is often the best option for cats. Over 70% of brain tumors in cats are this type.

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, steroids, and other things.

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.

Monitor Quality of Life

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 start becoming less of a normal activity, it may, unfortunately, be time to discuss euthanasia with your veterinarian.

The prognosis for cats with brain tumors will vary depending on the type of tumor, the severity, the stage, and the 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.

Palliative care aimed at managing only the symptoms of the brain tumor is typically only a couple of weeks, though.