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Health & Wellness

Understanding the 5 stages of lymphoma in cats

Lymphoma symptoms depend on where the cancer’s located.

You might know that lymphoma affects humans, but unfortunately, this is a medical condition that cats can develop, too. This cancer has five stages, and symptoms differ depending on its location and the cell types it affects. 

Continue reading to learn what happens at each stage and the various treatment options. 

What’s lymphoma in cats? 

“Feline lymphoma refers to malignant cancer lymphoma, or lymphosarcoma, in cats,” Dr. Emily Singler, VMD, Fetch by The Dodo’s on-staff veterinarian, says. “It’s a cancer of the lymphocytes, which are cells that are an important part of the immune system.”

Lymphoma can affect pretty much any part of a cat’s body, sometimes without showing an obvious tumor, Dr. Singler shares. Not only are there different lymphoma types based on where it’s located in the body, but there are also different versions based on the lymphocytes that are affected. 

What’s small cell lymphoma in cats? 

Certain types of lymphoma are named after the lymphocytes that make up cancer. Small cell lymphoma, where Dr. Singler says the cells are small and differentiated, is an example of this. 

Small cell lymphoma tends to be low-grade, more chronic and slower-growing, Dr. Singler explains. Unfortunately, that means it may be present for a while before it becomes noticeable.

“This is in contrast to high-grade lymphoma, affecting large lymphoblasts, which has a rapid onset of disease and clinical signs,” Dr. Singler adds. “Low-grade lymphoma may have a longer remission and survival time after chemotherapy, and may not need as intensive chemotherapy protocol as high-grade lymphomas.”

RELATED: Kidney failure in cats

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Symptoms of lymphoma in cats

The signs of lymphoma differ based on the area it’s affecting. However, there are some general symptoms you can watch out for. 

Lymphoma symptoms can include weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, lethargy, increased thirst and urination, nasal congestion, trouble breathing, nostril bleeding, facial swelling, hind-leg weakness, difficulty walking, limping and other signs, depending on the location and type,” Dr. Singler explains. 

It’s important to note that these symptoms aren’t unique to just lymphoma. Scheduling regular checkups with your pet’s veterinarian will help to detect if they’re experiencing early signs of cancer. 

How do veterinarians treat lymphoma in cats?

Since lymphoma can appear in any part of the body (some areas more commonly than others), the treatment plans differ depending on where the cancer is located. However, one hopeful thing to note is that lymphoma typically responds better to chemotherapy than other pet cancers. 

“Gastrointestinal lymphoma can invade any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the stomach to the rectum, and is the most common form of lymphoma in cats,” Dr. Singler says. This cancer type is typically treated with chemotherapy.

On the other hand, nasal lymphoma is contained in the nasal cavity and doesn’t spread throughout a cat’s body. This location is typically treated with radiation therapy, Dr. Singler adds. 

What are the stages of feline lymphoma?

There are several stages of feline lymphoma, from stage I to V. Within each period, there are substages where the cat either does or doesn’t show sickness signs.

In stage I of feline lymphoma, cancer cells are only present in a single lymph node. Stage II is where cells begin to appear in more than one node (while remaining in the same area of the body). Next, stage III means cancer cells are present in lymph nodes throughout the body.

Stages IV and V distinguish specific body parts that the cancer cells are affecting (and are generally the most serious). Stage IV indicates cancer cells in the liver and/or the spleen, and stage V means cancer cells are present in the bone marrow and/or any other tissue (besides the ones previously listed).

The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo. 

Photo by Leonardo Baldissara on Unsplash

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