My 14-year-old cat has a large, rapidly-growing tumour in her abdomen - scared she is near the end - advice and personal stories appreciated

(69 Posts)
MyLittleFluffball Sat 15-Oct-11 11:49:32

Hello,

My beautiful and beloved 14-year-old cat, who has been with me for over half my life, went to the vet on Friday because she was a bit lethargic and less interested in her food over the past 3 weeks or so. She had also lost around 1-1.5 kilograms. We just hoped it was her getting old, but were worried. The vet found a huge tumour in her torso - between the ribs, over the whole abdomen, probably the same size or larger than my hand just in terms of the surface it covers. You can feel it through her skin - a very hard, unmoving lump. I have no idea how I did not notice this, but my sister first felt it a week ago but did not think into it because my cat had lost some weight and so assumed it was a reflection of her being "skinnier". Even if I had noticed it I don't think I would have made the connection that it could be a tumour, it feels flat and very hard and not like a sticking-out lump because it is so internal, I guess. Anyway, the vet was very sombre and essentially said that this was very likely a cancer, he didn't know how long she had, but we had some "big questions to think about". He did not recommend chemotherapy, radiation or surgery and discussed why. My cat has been to the vet a few times recently, including to get her teeth cleaned, and this was never picked up/ felt, despite her having hyperthyroidism and feline asthma and being palpated at each vet visit. So I imagine it's a tumour that grew very rapidly, though I cannot know.

I absolutely adore my cat and don't want her to suffer needlessly. To me that is so much more important than any selfish desire of my own to keep her with me for as long as I can. My problem is that I don't know "when" to know that it is time to "let her go" - have a vet do a house call and put her to sleep (I won't mince words). She is terrified of the vet - will meow relentlessly during the drive, begin to pant due to her asthma and stress, and usually evacuate her bladder or bowel during the car trip. I don't want to put her through anything unnecessarily distressing.

The problem is that she seems to be deteriorating quite quickly, but at the same time is not showing any "classic" signs of extreme discomfort (though I know she is in discomfort as the tumour is large and pressing against her ribs/ internal organs, no doubt - she is spending all her time lying down and repositioning herself, and you can see the tumour sticking out a bit like she has a bloated tummy even though she is skinny elsewhere). She will still eat, though her appetite has waned today; she is not vocally expressing discomfort, incontinent, vomiting, or experiencing diarrhoea. At the moment she is hiding underneath a table in the living room, lying down/ trying to sleep and breathing quite quickly/ her heart pumping quite fast. I think that if the tumour grew rapidly, it is likely still growing rapidly and causing her increasing discomfort. Earlier today she purred when I approached her/ patted her but this afternoon that has stopped, she tries to move away or just tolerates me. We have a very close bond and she adores me so this behaviour is unusual.

I just want to know from fellow cat-lovers who have been through this kind of thing: What cues would you take to know that it is time to say goodbye to your beloved cat? What level of illness/ distress/ symptoms would you look for to know? Where do you draw the line? Do you have any idea how long she might have left to live, based on any similar experiences? Do you have any regrets about how you dealt with similar situations with your own cat, that I can try to avoid? I am considering taking her to the local university vet clinic, the best in our region, on Monday, as it is only emergencies on the weekend (though they said they'd take her - my rationale for not doing so is it will stress her out, they may want to keep her overnight there which will distress her and she may die in that environment, and there are no specialists there on the weekends - plus I only saw a vet yesterday to learn what was wrong with her and seeing a vet again will not really accomplish anything as far as I know). My aim with that is to get a second opinion and maybe a scan to see where the tumour is - is it isolated or separate/ potentially treatable. Do you think this is a good idea for my cat, the likely "wasted" money doesn't bother me but the distress of the car ride for her does, it is 30 minutes away.

Thank you. Any advice would be hugely appreciated.

Grumpla Sat 15-Oct-11 11:58:53

I'm really sorry to hear about your cat sad

If she were mine, I would have her put to sleep as soon as possible. I wouldn't want to prolong her suffering, especially if she was past the point where I could comfort her. If she was still able to enjoy cuddles etc I would be tempted to hold on a little longer, but it sounds as though that may not be the case.

MyLittleFluffball Sat 15-Oct-11 12:04:35

Thank you so much for your fast response Grumpla. This is the first time I've had to deal with this and I'm finding it devastating. I think others would be horrified at "giving up" so quickly but my gut instinct is that she's doing a really good job of hiding the extent of her discomfort - rather than that she is not in discomfort (e.g., by continuing to eat small amounts, etc.). I'm not sure if I'm just panicking though, it's like now I know there's a massive tumour in there I'm freaking out whereas she's been lethargic etc. for the past few weeks. But yes, the lack of joy in interacting with me is an awful development, albeit a very recent one...

SecretNutellaFix Sat 15-Oct-11 12:05:43

I'm sorry, but I think that it may be time to start your goodbyes. It sounds like she could deteriorate quickly and it is unfair to wait until the pain gets uncontrollable. She has had an amazing life with you. Moving away from you suggests that everything hurts her. It hurts making the decision and will hurt for a while afterwards, but it would be worse to see her go through more pain and know you could have alleviated it sooner.

I know it's not the stuff you wish to hear- I wouldn't want to hear it either, but I've had to make the decision for one cat and one dog. The cat eventually died in his sleep the night before he was due to be pts. Dog had a huge fast growing tumour and was in too much pain, so it took us a couple of weeks to be truly sure it was time as she would rally, then get worse. It's coming up to a year now for her. Still hurts, but it's worse thinking of how muych pain she was in.

MyLittleFluffball Sat 15-Oct-11 12:12:50

sad

Thank you SecretNutellaFix. You're right, it's not what I wish to hear - I only got this news yesterday and now I'm seriously contemplating putting her to sleep. The poor thing trusts me so much and I feel like I'm making a decision to execute her, though I know this is the loving thing to do. She has been the same as your dog in that she "perks up" now and then which gives me hope. But I know I have to put her first and not leave it to the point where she is in a lot of pain.

I was expecting to hear stories of people whose pets got worse but still had a decent quality of life... looks like my cat does not have all the extreme physical symptoms but still has a poor quality of life right now. sad

MyLittleFluffball Sat 15-Oct-11 12:14:47

"The cat eventually died in his sleep the night before he was due to be pts."

That's what I wish would happen for my cat. sad

SecretNutellaFix Sat 15-Oct-11 12:18:01

I'll admit- we waited too long for Honey.

"just one more day", "see how he responds to this drug"

I am sorry-

tabulahrasa Sat 15-Oct-11 12:26:37

I'd take her to the university vet on Monday - it's only 2 days, they may be able to do something to improve her quality of life, even if that's temporary and I find they're much better at giving you useful information than the vet (estimating time left and things like that)

my cat has lymphoma and chemotherapy and steroids have shrunk her tumours - so she's gone from losing weight, being sick and generally lethargic to completely back to her usual self. From the sound of it though, her tumours are smaller than your cats sad

they'll try hard not to keep her in btw, they've told me that they try to send cats home as they do better there.

They might be able to do something to make her more comfortable and if not, I don't think one weekend is selfish to adjust to it and get a specialist opinion - you might end up back where you are now... But I'd take her through.

MyLittleFluffball Sat 15-Oct-11 12:33:10

Thank you tabulahrasa. That is wonderful news about your cat. I want to hear that my vet got it wrong and in fact it is, for example, a swollen bladder or something (I know for sure it's not though). I am surprised that my vet didn't prescribe painkillers or anything. How has your cat responded to chemotherapy, I read that the dose is smaller for cats as it's more about improving their length and quality of life rather than curing the cancer - has your cat gotten sick at all? My cat is on corticosteroids (a puffer) for her asthma, are you saying that steroids can reduce the size of some tumours?

My vet said that he felt that my cat's cancer probably involved the lymph nodes (lymphosarcoma, I have read online) or her spleen.

Kormachameleon Sat 15-Oct-11 12:33:40

I'm a veterinary nurse and my opinion is that you should consider letting your sweet cat go

I know it's so hard, I am still mourning the loss if my dog 3 years later sad

But it certainly sounds to me as though she is nearing the end and from here she will just deteriorate

Better to let her go a day too soon than a moment too late

Grumpla Sat 15-Oct-11 12:38:43

I think Korma has it spot on there. If she is in pain, waiting for another vet in two days plus a car journey you know will distress her - are you sure you want to put her through that?

She is being brave for you. Be brave for her.

cece Sat 15-Oct-11 12:45:02

My cat had similar. Noticed weight loss so took her to vet who diagnosed tumour in tummy.

In less than a week it had reached her lungs and she was gasping for breath. I did the kind thing and had her put to sleep.

tabulahrasa Sat 15-Oct-11 12:50:30

I don't know the ins and outs of which drug does what I'm afraid, but I'm sure i was told they do - it's prednisoline she's on. And leukeran if that means anything to you <is not a medical type person lol>

yeah it's not about curing it at all, she's still got cancer, the tumours have shrunk just enough to stop it pressing on her stomach, which is why she was being sick.

She's absolutely fine on chemotherapy, she's thirstier, but that's the steroids, her fur has gone slightly paler, lol and where she was shaved for tests hasn't quite reached full length after 6 months, but she's eating, playing, going outside again, is back to her normal weight - I'm fairly amazed tbh.

In may I was told if I didn't treat her, she had between 3-6 months, so even if she starts going downhill again now, she's had an extra 6 months of normal life, it's definitely been worth it.

Her protocol is fairly straightforward though and I know it's different for different cancers - she gets blood tests every 8 weeks (it started off closer together) the leukeran tablets once a fortnight ( I do that at home) and th. Prednisolone once every two days.

If I'd chosen not to try the chemo, they would have put her on just the prednisolone - so although it's a completely different situation, I'd expect them to be able to do something even if it's just to make her a bit more comfortable temporarily.

Joolyjoolyjoo Sat 15-Oct-11 13:02:21

sorry to hear about your cat sad It's unfortunately not an uncommon finding in older cats, even where nothing was palpable a week previously- these type of masses do seem to suddenly grow, and are usually nasty- sorry sad I don't usually recommend surgery etc, because any that I have done an exploratory on tend to have obvious spread throughout the alimentary tract, or to involve so much of the tract that operating is not feasible.

If the cat is well in itself, I do sometimes put them onto steroids (prednisolone) as it can reduce the inflammation associated with tumour expansion, and sometimes seems to help slow the growth for a wee while (but ultimately doesn't give you longer, if you see what I mean)

In your case, it does sound as if your wee cat is starting to feel the effects. It's the behavioural signs that give you the best clue. I often say to people that when cats stop eating and stop wanting to interact with anyone, preferring to go away on their own, it's not a good sign sad I feel mean saying this, and you should feel free to go to the vet school for a second opinion if you need to be sure, but my feeling is there probably wouldn't be a lot they could do, tbh, and blood tests and ultrasounds etc could be a little bit stressful for your cat by the sounds of it. Sorry. sad

MyLittleFluffball Sat 15-Oct-11 13:03:47

Thank you all.

"Better to let her go a day too soon than a moment too late."

A beautiful quote that captures my gut feeling, and thank you for your advice from a veterinary perspective. cece, what you describe with gasping for breath would be so traumatic. And with my cat's lung problems already it's a very possible scenario. Did your cat's tumour noticeably/ visibly grow rapidly over that week?

Thanks tabulahrasa for the information regarding the steroids. I've been feeling horribly guilty that I may have caused the cancer somehow - e.g., by giving her the puffer to treat her asthma. It's reassuring to know that this is unlikely, at least in the case of the steroids. (The vet also reassured me that the medications she was on are not associated with triggering tumours.)

MyLittleFluffball Sat 15-Oct-11 13:08:42

Thanks Joolyjoolyjoo, I noticed in reading another thread that you're a vet and was really hoping you'd write on this thread. It is very kind of you to offer your professional opinion to random people online, I really appreciate it.

My vet said the same - surgery would be exploratory and would probably confirm what he could already feel and then what? A whole lot more trauma for my cat.

Your opinion is not mean at all, if anything it's reassuring. Regardless of what anyone says, the large mass is there and undeniable. I have to grapple with whether I want to regret not getting a second opinion/ cutting off treatment options, or regret causing her unnecessary pain and suffering by drawing this out and taking her for drives/ tests.

cece Sat 15-Oct-11 13:13:49

Not sure about the size of the tumour as it was inside her but she got noticibly more porrrly with each day.

I would do the same again and I remember thinking I wish we could have done the same for my FIL who died a horrible death due to a similar type of tumour but he wasn't lucky enough to have the option of being put to sleep. sad

MyLittleFluffball Sat 15-Oct-11 13:37:40

Yes, it is horrendous that humans go through this kind of thing with no legal way out.

I am in Australia and it is 10.30pm here so I am going to bed. I have just come back from feeding my cat some liverwurst, which she ate reluctantly, but substantially enough. She also ate liverwurst earlier this evening after rejecting her usual food. Liverwurst is her favourite food, but I had to hand-feed her.

Even though I can't answer while I'm asleep I really appreciate everyone's replies, and would really appreciate any further advice/ thoughts/ stories of others' experiences. I want whatever I do to be a well-thought-out, informed and not regrettable decision. As you may have worked out I really love my cat and she has really loved me and this is such a hard time. sad

ben5 Sat 15-Oct-11 13:54:11

We put our kitten down in July. We aren't to sure what was wrong with him but he wasnt like the normal Sam we had when we first got him. He went down hill very quickly. He went off his food and he was unable to walk far. we took him to the vet and they gave him fluids to begin with over 2 nights which did help but afer 2 weeks at home he never really got any better. We were advised to syringe him baby food. He liked this and it seemed to work abit but when he wouldn't take much and then was sick aswell, we just knew it was time to put him down. Dh took him to the surgery on the Monday evening and the vet asked if we would like him home for one more night to say good bye. It was lovely to have him home that night but on the Tuesday morning he didn't even bother to get of his bed to say hello to me. He seemed in pain. It was hard and I cried all day but it was the best thing we did. Good luck and a big hug to youthanks

MyLittleFluffball Sat 15-Oct-11 14:50:06

Thank you so much ben5 for telling me about your experience, and for the hug and virtual flowers. It sounds like that experience was devastating for you. Your kitten sounds similar to my cat in terms of how sick he was. I'm glad you don't regret putting Sam to sleep.

I am still awake because when I went to say good night to my cat, I discovered a hard lump under her neck the size of a small marble. I just wanted to say this as I imagine it may influence people's ideas of the usefulness of getting scans/ a second opinion/ trialling treatment, and the value of driving her to the university vet.

I just want her to be out of her misery, she is coming across as lethargic and bewildered at the moment - like her eyes are confused and sad. She is not making any noises to suggest pain when touched/ picked up, though. Some of my family wants to wait until Monday when we can see a specialist vet but she is my cat and I have a good intuition for her and the authority to make any decision.

TalkinPeace2 Sat 15-Oct-11 14:56:42

I left my cat - who had an abdominal tumour the size of a grapefruit by the end - too long
she had a stroke and was paralysed and blinded on the last day
the vet said that to take her down there would be too scary
so I sat with her as she died of multiple organ failure on the lawn
NOT pretty
the final bowel evacuation was pitiful

three years later her brother was taken to the vet after the first of the massive strokes and was still sniffing my hand happily as he flumped down dead with the injection
MUCH better

do it now

MyLittleFluffball Sat 15-Oct-11 23:13:50

TalkinPeace2 that is horrifying. To be honest I wouldn't be surprised if my cat's tumour is the size of a grapefruit already, internally. I have very much taken your advice on board.

It is 8am Sunday here and a beautiful day. My cat has been much better today. Purring in my company, staying near me, nuzzling my fingers, doing a little trot to the fridge when I went towards it, drinking a whole bowl of milk (I know milk is not good for cats but I am just basically wanting to feed her anything she will consume) and also reportedly eating more liverwurst earlier and then some of her standard food later. She showed interest in a scrub turkey in our backyard, went to the toilet and buried it at the side of the yard, and is currently lying on the next-door neighbour's lawn. I can still tell she is in discomfort though, though am unsure about pain, because she is very slow and tentative when she lays herself down or moves about. She isn't vocalising any indication of pain generally or when someone picks her up.

Regardless, the marble-sized lump I could only feel yesterday, has now become a visible puffy lump at the side of her neck that she doesn't like me to touch, so I haven't palpated it today. Also, she frequently swallows and licks her lips.

Considering her improvement today, my plan at this stage is to have our standard vet, a gentle man who she knows and who is a good vet, do a home visit tomorrow and let us know where he thinks she's at. I am not going to drive her to the university vet I think - what is the point when her cancer has clearly metastasized (it probably had already, just not visibly). I will ask our vet to bring along a sedative and whatever is needed to euthanise her so that if it's recommended, she can be put to sleep in her home/ garden.

If anyone disagrees with my thinking or has other suggestions please let me know... it would be particularly helpful to hear from those who have worked as vets/ vet nurses, though everyone's stories/ experiences are valued and helpful. Your advice has really turned around my family members' ways of thinking and has strengthened my own gut feelings on the matter.

Joolyjoolyjoo Sat 15-Oct-11 23:24:05

Hi, fluffball. The lump could be a lymph node, if it is below her chin. She sounds a bit brighter today, which is great as it gives you more time to make any decisions smile

I often say to my clients that the great things about cats and dogs with cancer is that they don't know they have cancer. Their bodies therefore seem to use any physiological "coping" mechanisms they can until they just can't. I find these guys cope, and cope, and cope...until suddenly they just don't. Animals tend to drop off a steep curve rather than a slow downhill slide. If she is having a good day, enjoy it. It's so so hard for us as owners to "know" but you will know. I strongly believe that my clients know their own animals better than I can assess them in a 10/15 minute appointment. You will do the right thing for your cat, trust yourself. let us know how you get on with your vet tomorrow.

MyLittleFluffball Sat 15-Oct-11 23:33:19

Thanks. I thought it was a lymph node too but because it's like a hard marble and has now gotten puffy, rather than a soft malleable lump, I am worried that it's another cancer rather than a sign of her fighting illness - especially because the vet said he felt her abdominal cancer was a cancer primarily arising from the lymph system or the spleen. Then again I don't know much at all about animal medicine.

Yes I know my cat extremely well. We have a very close bond. I will definitely let you know how the vet visit goes.

tabulahrasa Sun 16-Oct-11 00:43:20

It's a personal thing - I doubt anyone's going to disagree with your thinking...

I'm treating my cat purely because it's not particularly invasive, she's coping fine and she's having no side effects - if any of that changes, that will be that. sad also, she's fantastic at taking tablets and while she's not happy about going to the vets, she's not massively stressed by it either- so it's very easy on her altogether.

Like Jooly says - I think you do know, I had my dog put to sleep a year ago (it's not been a good year, lol) he had a tumour on his front leg and arthritis in his back hips - so it was a case of just giving him painkillers, one day he just lost his spark and I knew I couldn't leave him much longer. My DS has AS and he was going on a trip, which was kind of a big deal (his first overnight one, he was 14 and had never been able to before) so I was trying to wait until after that, so as not to ruin it for him. The dog was examined and given stronger painkillers on the Wednesday and on the Friday ( the day my DS was leaving) the tumour ulcerated. I had him put to sleep an hour after dropping my DS off. The vet was willing to cover it to get past the weekend, but I couldn't do that to him - and he'd have chewed off any covering anyway, rofl.

I knew on the Wednesday though, and if I hadn't been trying to just get him to Monday for DS, that would have been the day I chose to do it.

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