Cats and cancer – some thoughts before you treat

Cats, yes let me talk about the cats. I have four of them myself who share my home and they are wonderful lovely beings. This is not an article about how to treat specific cancers in cats – for that see my book Integrative and Alternative Methods for treating cancer in cats and dogs. This is an article about things we need to consider in cats and how they really are not just small dogs.

When it comes to cancer in cats they are a lot harder to treat than the dogs. There are a couple reasons for this. One is that I think cats hide their cancer more than dogs do. They really don’t let you know they are sick until it is pretty involved. And cancer is harder to treat when it is advanced.

However I think the largest reason they are hard to work with is that most cats hate medications. They spit them out, they run away from you and they know if you put something in their food! Ok so yes I have worked with some cats that you can put things in their food and they will still eat but most will not, especially if they feel sick. I have had people in tears in my office because their cats have decided that they hate them because they are trying to put all these things down their throats.

Because of this sometimes we make the decision to not treat them with anything or just with acupuncture. It really comes down to quality of life. It is important that we don’t make the end of their life miserable.

  • I have found that in most cats I get, at most, three things I can give orally. More than that and I find you start getting reactions and cats spitting things out and hating their people. There are some cats that can do more than three but not that many.

    Because of this I really hate to see folks surfing the internet and buying up every herbal in sight and trying to give them. Yes, yes I know that is how you got here and I appreciate you being here but if I can give you one piece of advice it would be to find a holistic vet to work with who can help direct you to the one or two or three things that will work the best for your cat, not someone else’s cat.

    The other thing I have found is that if I can either use glycerine tinctures and combine herbals so that there is only one thing to give or figure out what is going to work the very best that can really help. Sometimes this ends up being a western drug, sometimes an herbal. Sometimes we can do both.

    Above all else I don’t want cats to be in pain so sometimes this is a pain drug. Sometimes it is possible to give them injections, even better. Many people think they can’t give injections to their cats but really most cats do fine for injections and it is so much easier than getting something down their throat.

    Some medications can also be made into a form that can be applied to the ear and is absorbed through the skin. This can also be an excellent option for cats.

  • Fluids can go a long way in making cats feel better, if they are not drinking or eating well. These are given under the skin with a rather large needle but once again most cats don’t mind. They can help to increase energy, help them to eat better and help them feel better overall if there is a dehydration issue.
  • Acupuncture can be a wonderful therapy for cats. Most casts like it and most importantly it does not have to go down their throat. Acupuncture can help slow cancer down and help with pain, appetite and energy.
  • Eating is also very important. Many cats that are sick are quite picky with food. I love to see these guys on a homemade or high protein canned but really I want them to eat. So if they aren’t eating, a little tuna, a little salmon, baby food, whatever it takes. Get them eating. They will not feel well if they don’t. Sometimes we use appetite stimulants if they will not eat.
  • Last let me say a few words about surgery and chemo and radiation.

    First surgery. Cats don’t always do as well as dogs with it, if you are doing surgery internally. They usually do quite well with surgeries to remove cancer on the surface and also do very well with amputations. Bone cancer and fibrosarcomas need to be removed if possible. With abdominal and especially with thoracic surgeries, really weigh the pros and cons and ask a lot of questions about recovery.

    Chemotherapy and radiation. Once again I feel like these are harder on cats. Chemo can be very effective for some lymphoma cases and often 1-3 treatments can put them in remission. Radiation can be very effective for certain surface tumors. Other than that. I really do believe that if the prognosis is not glowing or if they will need many, many treatments they do not do well.

Cats often have a sense of their own mortality. They may decide they don’t want extensive medical intervention. I really think that is ok. It saddens me to see the animals I work with die but I do believe that cats often times know when their time is close and are at peace with that.

I think more than anything, when it comes to the kitties, the most important thing is to look deep into your heart and do what is right for them. Not what the doctors say, not what is right for you, not what anyone says on their website or in their book. Sometimes they are ready to fight and live and sometimes it is time to keep them as comfortable as possible for what time they have here with us and then help them peacefully pass on.

8 Responses to “Cats and cancer – some thoughts before you treat”

  1. Ben B Says:

    I was advised to do chemo for my FeLV cat with lymphoma.. but I couldn’t bare to go through with it, the cost, the trouble of pills, the gloves to give and clean up litter etc.. he would hate me 🙁

  2. Jen Says:

    Ben–I’m so sorry to hear about your cat. In March, my cat Zoe was diagnosed with lymphoma in her brain. But after she started L-spar and CCNU, her condition improved dramatically. She has had very few side effects–mainly broken whiskers. I understand how you feel about the chemo pills. But I want to reassure others that giving chemo pills is not that difficult, and the treatment can make a significant difference in a cat’s quality of life.

    Zoe now has a holistic vet too, and has been on acupuncture and artemisin for a few months. We just started ShanSheDan ChuanBeiYe, which she takes with no problem at all. In fact, Zoe is fine with almost everything as long as she gets to have her regular food! So some cats CAN handle cancer treatment very well.

    I have one question for the vet: How do you dose cats with Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang? We got the Yama’s Herbs capsules, which turned out to be too large for a cat to swallow. So I created a suspension that combined the powder from a capsule with 1 mL of water. But it smelled terrible and Zoe refused to swallow it. So how do you get a cat to take this herbal?

    Just so you know: your blog has been invaluable for us. Zoe’s oncologist is extremely pleased with her progress, and I know it’s due to the combination of chemo and holistic treatments. Thank you so much for your time and information.

  3. Lena Says:

    Hi Jen,
    That is great that Zoe has done so well! A couple ways to give the capsules – you could buy small #3 or #4 capsules open the ones you have and fill the small ones and give that way. That is probably the easiest for Zoe. Alternatively you could also do the suspension and mix it with a little tuna juice so it goes down better.
    best wishes,

  4. Jen Says:

    Thank you! The empty capsules are a great idea.

    Zoe’s only problem has been keeping her white blood cell count up, even with biweekly acupuncture. She can’t get her CCNU dose unless her WBC numbers are high enough. For the first few months, she got CCNU at 4-week intervals. But now we are at 6-week intervals, and I’m worried that unless she can boost her numbers, the treatments will be spaced out even more.

    Her holistic vet recommended a product by Jing Tang called “Eight Treasures.” Its ingredients are similar to BZYQT (astragalus, angelica), but it has codonopsis instead of ginseng–and I know your opinion on that! The upside to this product is that the pills looks like little BB’s and are easy for a cat to swallow. But if there was a way to make the BZYQT easier for Zoe to take, I’d rather switch to that for the ginseng benefits.

    Thanks again for your help!

  5. Susie Says:

    Your website is WONDERFUL, i love it! My favorite healing modality is TCM and all my pets have done very well on it. Unfortunately my last remaining pet is a DSH 10 yr old Tabby cat named Reilly who was just diagnosed with cancer! He has never been vaccinated and has ate raw food his entire life. He has a tumor in his forehead and into his sinuses we suspect and it is some kind of sarcoma, like fibrosarcoma or some such thing but his (TCM) vet doesn’t think debulking it or surgery would be a good idea at all and radiation would end up blinding him. SO.. we have him on Curcumin, medicinal mushrooms/DMG, CoQ10, Pred in this case!, 2 different RX chinese herbals (Jing Tang Stasis Breaker and Persica and Achyranthes combo) Krill oil, etc and he’s taking all of these well..we also started him on Injectible vitamin C into the tumor site and oral liposomal C.
    Because of your articles i’m thinking of trying Artemisin with him also (was also wondering about IP6 but i truly dont want to do too much products) and the biggie…. i am thinking of acupuncture for him. I had a cat that had full saddle thrombosis and i began her on intensive acupuncture and cold laser therapy and she came back with FULL use of both her back legs so i know the power of acupuncture, i just didn’t think it would help his tumor so i didn’t ask about it but i think i will. Only problem is he is an easily stressed cat. We have to bring him in for Inject. C so i might as well get some acupuncture in him. He doesn’t freak out and scratch, he is just a quiet stressor and i very much worry about that but if it helps that much then maybe it’s worth it??


  6. Lena Says:

    Hi Susie,
    Thank you!
    I’m sorry about Reilly. That is a hard place for a tumor. I hate when you do everything right and they still end up with cancer. Some of it is genetic and even with being really careful there are a lot of toxins in our environment we can not control.

    I often get clients who are worried about the stress of travel with acupuncture or just the stress itself. I have found many even high stressed cats will really enjoy it and usually recommend trying one treatment. If it is too stressful then no reason to continue. If he does well with it, I really think it helps slow things down and make them feel better. Also there are some practitioners who will come to the home. For some cats that is better.

    Persica and Achyranthes is the same as Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang which I really like for nasal tumors. I would be cautious about using too many oral herbals as I have had many cats get sick if we give too much. The artemisinin does tend to be milder than some so he may do ok with that added but I would check in with the vet you are working with to get their thoughts.
    best wishes,

  7. Laura Says:


    My 16-year-old kitty has been battling vaccine-associated sarcoma for 6 years (surgery, radiation and chemo). After his most recent round of stereotactic radiation and CCNU, the tumor had grown substantially. The tumor is not in vital tissue, but could soon affect his bowels/kidneys and the bone of his remaining hind leg. I just started him on Palladia, but am wondering if artemisin or ground apricot seeds could be used in conjunction to help slow/stop the tumor growth.


  8. Lena Says:

    Hi Laura,
    I have treated fibrosarcoma but only after surgery where we were starting from microscopic levels. For that kitty we used a combo of artemisinin, mushrooms and Sanshedan Chuanbeiye and acupuncture for two years and the tumor did not return. Usually I use apricot seed in the form of SanSheDan ChuanBeiye as it is liquid and easy to give that way. I have used both SSD CBY and artemisinin with various chemo agents without issue. Hoxsey-like formula may also be another possibility but I would not use it with Palladia as you are going to get to much cooling and probably throw his digestive off. Another consideration would be to use something more supportive like Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang that supports him during the chemo and has some tumor fighting properties. All these have articles under “Cancer Care” Are you in a area with holistic vets? Acupuncture could also be very helpful if you are and they may be able to get a good read on what herbals would be the best by seeing him. Sarcoma is a hard battle. You are doing a lot for him.
    best wishes,