Feline Lymphoma

Big-eyed GirlSmokey was diagnosed with malignant lymphoma in July 2002.  She was 7 years old.

Six months earlier I had taken her to the vet because she was vomiting.  Her vet could find nothing obviously wrong - no fever, nothing felt strange when he did the physical examination.  She weighed 15 pounds.  

In early July, she was vomiting again and so we returned to the vet.  She had lost weight and was just a little over 13 pounds. When her vet examined her, he felt that her left kidney was very small. An x-ray confirmed that and also showed the presence of an egg-sized mass in her abdomen.  We were referred to an internal medicine specialist at the local full-service animal hospital. An abdominal ultrasound confirmed our vet's earlier findings: Smokey's left kidney was very small and deformed and she had a large mass (7 x 4 cm) in her abdomen. They performed a fine-needle aspiration on the mass and the pathology report came back with a diagnosis of lymphatic cancer.  Because of where the tumor was located and that it had a very large blood supply, surgery was not an option.  

In mid-July, Smokey was started on a multi-drug chemotherapy protocol to try to control the growth of the tumor.  This was not a "cure" and our hope was to slow the progression of her cancer and maintain her quality of life.  The protocol involves the use of several anti-cancer drugs to try to slow the cancer through many different routes.  The drugs were: prednisone, vincristine, asparaginase, cyclophosphamide, doxirubicin, and methotrexate.  Each of the drugs had certain risks and side effects associated with it.  Some are minor (vomiting, constipation) but others can suppress the immune system, cause severe allergic reactions or effect the heart.  

Every day I gave her a dose of prednisone (pill form) and every Friday we went to the hospital for chemotherapy.  I decided to do the chemo on Friday because I could take the day off work, take her for treatment, then spend the weekend with her.  If she didn't tolerate the chemo I would be home and could take her back to the vet hospital. 

I was given a prescription of reglan to help control her vomiting after chemotherapy. The first two weeks she received her treatment while I waited for her. The first week she received two drugs (vincristine and asparaginase); the second week cyclophosphamide. She tolerated these fairly well and just had some vomiting. Her appetite, activity, and mood were all pretty good. During her second week visit, the vet felt that the tumor had shrunk.  But after the second week she said she could not feel that any more progress had been made.  She said it's difficult to feel things very well because it's all soft tissue and everything squishes around a lot.

The third week (doxirubicin) was more difficult. This drug can cause severe allergic reactions and cardiac side effects so she had to be admitted to the hospital and given benadryl before the chemotherapy was started to help prevent an allergic reaction. After the chemo drug was given she had to be monitored for several hours before I could take her home. I hated leaving my little girl at the hospital, even though it was only for a few hours. Life had become hard enough on her and this was just one more stress. She made it through the treatment with no serious side effects and I took her home. This week was harder on her - she was vomiting more and was less active.  

We were scheduled for chemotherapy on week 4, but Smokey had a fever and the vet suspected she had a mild infection. We were sent home with a prescription of antibiotics (clavamox). The next week we resumed chemotherapy (vincristine). After this week's chemo treatment she was not vomiting much, but her energy level was very low and despite using all my tricks, she wasn't eating much.  Her mood wasn't as good either.  

By this time Smokey had learned that when I stayed home from work on Friday, it meant she was going to the vet and would be poked, prodded, and come home feeling sick. It was week 6 and the Friday that we were supposed to go to chemotherapy I was sitting at my desk and she came in for a snuggle. The way she looked at me and the way she laid down "told" me that she was done and didn't want to do this anymore. It had been 6 difficult weeks of vet visits, drugs, vomiting, and having her body worn down by cancer. I called the vet to cancel her chemotherapy.  

It was the first week of September 2003 and Smokey was doing well. Her specialist told me to continue the prednisone, as that might still be slowing the cancer and it was not causing Smokey any side effects.  I decided I would continue it as long as Smokey didn't mind it.  I never pilled her, but I crushed the prednisone and mixed it into her canned food or some baby food.  If she ate it, great, if not, that was ok.  I was not going to forcefully pill her every day.  

I continued to keep my daily journal of Smokey's health. She was gradually declining, but never showed any signs of pain or discomfort.  Of course she lost weight and strength.  Eventually she was not able to jump on the counters anymore, so everything was rearranged for her convenience.  There were plenty of food and water bowls on the floor, and I would help her get onto her favorite high-up perches for a nap. She was indulged with any food or treat she wanted, lots of back yard time, lots of play time, snuggles, love, and attention.  She was having lots of urine accidents.  She tried to make it to the litter box, but either couldn't make it all the way there, or had difficulty getting all the way into the box.  I covered the floor with plastic-backed paper towels and that made clean-up really easy. 

Smokey did well until the first week of April, when I noticed her urine was tinged reddish-pink.  We went to her regular vet who examined her and said she probably had an infection and he gave me some antibiotics.  I have a great relationship with our vet and he knows I want to be told the truth about my Smokey's condition.  He told Smokey didn't have much longer to live, and at most it would be just a few weeks.

I was as prepared for losing Smokey as I think I could have been. I had almost a year of knowing that she had a terminal illness and just a few weeks before her vet said it the end was getting close. Losing my little girl at such a young age was devastating, but the decision to put her to sleep was not difficult. One day she just ran out of energy and wasn't able to stand up.  Both her dad and I took some time to sit in the back yard with Smokey on our lap enjoying a sunny spring day. At the vet's, Smokey was calm and ready to go, and her passing was peaceful. We were sad, but I was also grateful that she was no longer in any discomfort or distress. 

I will always miss her, but I have no regrets about any part of Smokey's life. I have countless wonderful memories of her and tons of photos. I know she lived a lifestyle that most cats only dream of, and she lived her life to the fullest. It wasn't a long life, but it was packed with fun, kitty mischief, and lots of love. You can read more about her on Smokey's page.

Some tricks I learned for enticing a sick cat to eat

Since Smokey had a terminal illness, I could pull out all the stops and feed her whatever she would eat. 

  • Offer every variety of canned cat food you think they might like. If turkey isn't working, try fish or beef.
  • Meat baby food - lamb and turkey were two of her favorites.  Check the ingredients and make sure there is No ONION or onion powder in the baby food. Onion is toxic to cats and if you're using baby food for several months as I was, you must make sure it does not contain onion.
  • Tuna (packed in water), or water from the tuna can if I just wanted to get her to drink.
  • Cooked chicken, turkey, ham or whatever else we were eating for dinner.
  • Sliced lunch meat - ham and bologna sometimes did the trick.
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Milk
  • Nacho Cheese Doritos crumbled on top of her food
  • Fresh catnip cut into tiny bits and sprinkled on her food worked well as an appetite stimulant.
  • Pounce treats or other cat treats from the pet store
  • And don't forget the Ice cream. Smokey loved ice cream!
  • Try room temperature, slightly warmed, or cold food...sometimes a change in temperature changes the aroma (more or less smelly) and that might entice a sick kitty to eat.

Being sick meant being able to eat anything I wanted. No more diets for me!

Smokey eating doritos