Grey cat eating from a food bowl

Any cat with cancer will need a high-quality diet.

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How to feed a cat with skin cancer

By Dr. Liz Barton MA, VetMB, MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

If your cat has skin cancer, what they eat can be crucial to helping them win the fight against this disease.

Depending on what your cat's diet is, it may or may not be necessary to change what they eat if they have skin cancer. The main aim is to give your pet a high-quality diet, one that's low in carbohydrates, as the article explains.

How long does a cat live with skin cancer?

Skin cancer does not go away in cats and, without treatment, the cancer is likely to spread and increase in size. Some cancers can also spread (metastasise) elsewhere in the body. How long your cat lives with skin cancer depends on the type of cancer. Some treatments can be curative, and after treatment your cat will lead a normal life if the cancer is cleared. The most invasive types of skin cancer may shorten your cat’s life to a few months, but thankfully these cancers are rare. Your vet will need to take a skin biopsy before they can advise what type of cancer is present, what treatment is needed and how long your cat is likely to live.

What does skin cancer on a cat look like?

Different types of skin cancer can look quite variable. Scabs and sores on the tips of the ears – especially in white cats – are often due to a cancer that is known as squamous cell carcinoma. Some cancers appear as single, non-healing, moist wounds and sores on the skin. Others can appear very diffuse across the body as lumps or sores. Some skin cancers may be associated with the nail bed and toes.

How fast does cancer spread in cats?

How quickly a cancer spreads depends on the type of cancer. Some, such as squamous cell carcinomas, spread very slowly. Others, such as lymphoma, tend to spread around the body very quickly and may already be generalised before they are diagnosed.

How do you treat a cat with cancer?

The type of treatment for cancer depends on the type of cancer. Some may require surgery, possibly with follow-up radiotherapy, light therapy or chemotherapy. Lymphoma tends to be treated with chemotherapy. With all cancer treatment in animals, it’s important to recognise the main aim is to maximise their quality of life for as long as possible. This is slightly different from human cancer treatment, which usually aims to preserve length of life. Cancer treatment in animals therefore tends to be less aggressive, with fewer side effects, than in people.

What do you feed a cat with skin cancer?

Any cat with cancer will need a high-quality diet, as the cancer will be consuming calories and can cause weight loss. This is particularly true of large, generalised or rapidly growing cancers. Treatment, such as surgery or chemotherapy, can also affect the health of the gut, so an easily digestible diet will reduce the risk of stomach upsets. Cats' diets should contain high levels of protein and fat, and lower levels of carbohydrate. Tumour cells preferentially consume carbohydrates, so it’s a good time to reduce the cereal content of your cat’s diet, if their usual food has a high-carb content.

Supplementing a cats' diet with essential fatty acids and antioxidants formulated for improving skin health in cats will also help the skin immunity to stay strong and fight the cancer. The cancer or treatment may make your cat more picky with their food, so adding in high-quality, tasty proteins such as tuna can help.

When should I see a vet?

The earlier you see a vet, the quicker your cat can get the diagnosis and treatment to reduce the spread of the cancer. If your cat has crusting ears or nails, non-healing wounds or unusual skin break outs, then it’s best to see a vet as soon as possible.

What should I ask a vet about the best diet for a cat with skin cancer?

When you see a vet, they may recommend keeping your cat on the same diet, if it is good quality and your cat enjoys it. If your cat is losing weight, the first step may be to simply increase the amount they are eating. If your cat becomes unwell with vomiting or diarrhoea – for example when they are having chemotherapy treatment – your vet may recommend a more easily digestible, bland diet. They may also recommend changes to feeding habits, such as having food little and often rather than big meals. Your vet will also be able to advise on suitable skin supplements for your cat.

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