Nasal Lymphoma in Cats: A Guide

Cats are wonderful pet companions with a wide range of personalities, but they have one troubling thing in common: they’re predisposed to conceal potential health issues. This happens because if they allowed weaknesses to show in the wild – limping, slow reaction time, vocalizations of discomfort – they would be quickly targeted by larger predators.

Those instincts stay firmly in place even when cats live as indoor-only companions, which means that health concerns are often very serious by the time they’re observed. Nasal lymphoma in cats is one of those serious ailments, but pet owners will stand a better chance of catching any “red flags” if they’re armed with plenty of knowledge. How can one tell the difference, then, between an innocent sneeze and a symptom of something more sinister? Here’s a few things cat lovers need to know:

Does My Cat Have Nasal Lymphoma?

Cats are fastidious groomers, often spending most of their scant waking hours grooming themselves by licking their fur directly, or licking a paw and wiping it over hard-to-reach areas. It’s normal and healthy for your cat to groom his face regularly, particularly if he’s just finished eating or drinking. If he exhibits any of these signs, however, you may want to take a closer look at his behavior:

  • Rubbing his face on the ground with body language that indicates discomfort: This is different than “marking” behavior, which prompts him to scrub his cheek against his owner or the edges of his pet parents’ belongings and property with long, single-direction passes. He may tilt his head into these marking moves and purr loudly – he’s letting the world know “this is mine, and I consider it a safe place of contentment for me.” Rubbing, by contrast, will be a move that looks like he is trying to scratch an itch; he may vocalize as he’s pushing his face against a surface or object with erratic movements and pained body language.
  • Over-grooming to the end of losing fur: Grooming can indeed go too far, and a cat under stress or pain may stop grooming his face altogether or groom so frequently his fur falls out in patches or refuses to grow back in. If a domestic cat is missing fur on his face or cheeks and hasn’t been in a catfight anytime recently, there could be deeper health concerns affecting him. Anytime your cat is experiencing feline hair loss you should take him in to the veterinarian for further examination.
  • Odd head movements or a loss of grace or balance: Just as people’s faces make some odd expressions when a sneeze is about to occur, health issues with a cat’s nose could leave him in a perpetual pre-sneeze state, with irritation or tickling in his nostrils. As cats rely upon stealth and focus to hunt, any nose issues will be especially sensitive for them, so don’t be surprised if he’s grumpy as well. If pet parents notice their cat shaking his head a great deal or failing to make graceful leaps up onto furniture as usual, there may be a nose issue at play.
  • Excessive fluid from the nose, especially with a pink tinge: Cats can certainly get sick, and even get feline colds, but lingering nasal discharge is a sure sign a cat requires professional care. Clear mucous could indicate a cat allergy to a seasonal plant, while yellow or greenish-hued mucous points to a bacterial infection that could spread to the lungs, and pink indicates a potential injury that has caused bleeding inside the nose.
  • Constant sneezing: While allergies could be the culprit for this symptom, it’s still a good guide tip, particularly when noticed along with other signs. If the sneezing is accompanied by mucous in the nose, a cat is either sick or having an issue with his surroundings – in either case, it’s important to act quickly and bring him to the vet.
  • Loud snoring: The average cat sleeps between 12 and 16 hours a day, making them surprisingly easy to catch “in the act” of sawing wood as they’re enjoying their cat nap. Snoring generally happens when there’s an obstruction in the airway of the sufferer, and felines are unfortunately not immune to that phenomena.
  • Facial deformities: While some insect stings, snakebites, or parasites will cause a spot to swell up, lymphoma has the potential to cause large, ugly sores or warts to grow on a pet’s face and muzzle, causing them discomfort and potentially even difficulty eating and drinking.
  • Lethargy and/or weight loss: If a pet cat is habitually sleeping in and doesn’t seem very alert and active when he’s awake, his body may be exhausted from fighting back against an illness such as lymphoma. Likewise, if his appetite wanes or vanishes completely, get him to a vet as soon as possible for assessment.

Why Early Detection of Feline Nasal Lymphoma is Crucial

While it’s important to catch any cancer as early as possible, nasal lymphoma is important to fight immediately, as it can be locally aggressive. Rather than spreading throughout a cat’s body, it could compromise the healthy surrounding tissues of the face and nose and require removal, exposing him to additional germs and illnesses.

When nasal lymphoma is found, a vet will need to then diagnose the type of nasal lymphoma affecting the afflicted feline. Different tumors are treated in different ways, and there’s no “silver bullet” that will necessary cure lymphoma, no matter what type it may be. While modern veterinary medicine has come a long way in treating lymphoma, cats will still need the affection and support of their pet parents throughout the process to stay strong.

I’m Worried My Cat Has Nasal Lymphoma: Now What?

While nervous pet parents tend to jump to conclusions when it involves their furry companions, don’t panic. Although it may be easier said than done not to worry, the only person that can reliably give you a yes or no on feline nasal lymphoma is your vet. The best course of action is to:

  • Call to make an appointment with the vet’s office, and explain it may be an emergency if the cat in question isn’t looking and acting normal
  • Write down observations (including the color of his nasal discharge) to offer to the vet upon arrival
  • Request a nasal lymphoma screening from the vet, and ensure that the procedure is within the family’s budget
  • Commit to checkups or treatment plans that are agreed upon with the veterinarian

If it turns out that the family cat receives a positive test result for nasal lymphoma, listen carefully to the vet’s advice on treatment. Since cat parents may also be overwhelmed, it’s suggested to ask the vet to write it down to review at home: getting the information is the important part, no matter how it’s collected.

Nasal Lymphoma in Cats Treatment Options

Depending on the type of tumor in a cat’s nose, the vet may elect to perform either radiation therapy or chemotherapy, and may combine the efforts with surgery to extract the tumor as well. The course of treatment recommended by a veterinarian will take into account the location of the cat’s nasal tumor or tumors, how large they are, and how aggressive or non-aggressive the lymphoma is currently. For example, if the tumor is too close to certain facial structures, directly removing it could potentially do more harm than good. If, on the other hand, the tumor is small and easy to access, surgery would be the best bet before it has a chance to grow any larger.

Cats afflicted with nasal lymphoma may need to undergo anesthesia for X-rays or CT scans in order to properly diagnose the state and location of his nose cancer. If pet owners are aware of any allergies to anesthesia or pain medications their cat may have, they need to mention and/or remind the vet of these harmful interactions. Remember that after coming out of anesthesia, cats may behave oddly, seem exceptionally lethargic, or may even take an uncharacteristic swipe or two at parents through his cat carrier on the way home. Just give him some time and a quiet, calm place to “wake up”, and he’ll be back up on his paws in no time. As a predatory animal that relies on sharp instincts to hunt, anesthesia can be particularly disorienting to feline friends.

Is Feline Nasal Lymphoma Contagious?

Cancer cannot be spread through casual contact in both the human and animal kingdom, cats included. That means that pet owners shouldn’t worry about petting or cuddling their cats – the affection and extra attention will only help their recovery with lifted spirits. Feline nasal lymphoma cannot be transmitted cat-to-person or even cat-to-cat; it’s a cancerous infection of the lymphocyte cells and is one of the few cancers that is localized and thus easier to treat.

It also cannot be passed to other animals in a household, including dogs, lizards, birds, and other exotic animals, so don’t worry if one cat shares a play space or a food dish with another. For domestic cats recovering from surgery or chemotherapy, however, pet parents should isolate them from other pets so they can rest and recover properly – ask the vet for their recommendations if there are any questions or concerns.

Why Did My Cat Get Nasal Lymphoma?

There are a wide variety of reasons that cancer occurs in cats, but one thing is reasonably certain: the pet parents didn’t have anything to do with it. Nasal lymphoma doesn’t arise from feeding one’s cat the “wrong” kind of kibble, or using a certain flea treatment: just as in humans, cancer can strike an otherwise perfectly healthy cat with no notice or warning. Thankfully, nasal lymphoma is far easier to treat than other forms of feline cancer, and occurs rarely in cats – for feline enthusiasts who have a multi-cat household, it’s likely to encounter this particular ailment only once.

What Can I Do to Support My Cat’s Health?

For cat owners who would like to help boost their furry friend’s immune system – either before lymphoma has a chance to rear its head or while he’s in recovery – there are a few things fur baby parents can do to help:

  • Wholesome cat food that’s well-balanced with vitamins and minerals will help give his body the fuel it needs to fight off infections 
  • Regular supplements for mood or vitamin deficiencies. A calm cat is a happy cat, so feel free to boost his regular food intake with feline-formulated mood supplements that will help him stay focused and well-rested.
  • Clean his sleeping and bathroom areas regularly. If a cat doesn’t have a safe place to “escape” to for a nap or is constantly dealing with dirty litter, he’s bound to get stressed, and that doesn’t bode well for his immune system.
  • Keep regular check-up appointments for your cat, ideally at least once a year. Go more often at the vet’s discretion, upon injury or other emergency situation, if a cat is in recovery from a surgery, or chemotherapy for a lymphoma tumor.
  • Don’t allow other outside pets in the house to chase or harass your cat, and don’t leave your cat alone with unfamiliar pets. Cats are very territorial at times, and household cats are bound to get very upset and stressed out very quickly.
  • Don’t wait if something “off”, particularly if it persists for more than a few days. If a pet cat is expelling any bloody mucous, even if it only has a slight pink tinge, make an appointment immediately to have him checked out.
  • If a cat is sick and his pet parents are unable to take him to the vet until later in the week, it’s important to take notes of his behavior – when he’s eating, sleeping, and using the litter box – so owners can communicate clearly at future appointments. This may seem like overkill, but knowing a cat’s routine will help the vet determine if the animal is in discomfort or pain and hiding it.

For owners who suspect their cat may have nasal lymphoma, be aware that there’s no definitive way to diagnose a furry friend at home. While there are some cat problems that can be treated without a vet, lymphoma will require either surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy in order to remove it. Don’t take a chance if any of the warning signs have been observed – even if it ends up being “nothing,” a pet cat’s health and well-being still depend on his parents’ watchful eye and commitment to their care.

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