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GI Lymphoma in Cats

Photo of a white and ginger cat laying down on a sofa with their belly up, to illustrate GI lymphoma in cats.

If your feline friend was diagnosed with cancerous tumors in different parts of the digestive system, you might be dealing with GI lymphoma in cats. In this brief guide, we’ll explore the causes, signs, diagnosis, treatment options, and essential care tips when dealing with gastrointestinal lymphoma in your furkiddo.

Lymphoma is a specific form of cancer originating from lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that plays a crucial role in your pet’s immune system. In gastrointestinal or GI lymphoma in cats, these lymphocytes undergo abnormal changes and multiply uncontrollably, forming cancerous tumors or infiltrating the walls of the digestive tract, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (colon), and sometimes even the liver or pancreas. As the lymphoma cells accumulate in these organs, they can disrupt the normal structure and functioning of the digestive system.

What Causes Gastrointestinal Lymphoma in Cats?

The exact cause of gastrointestinal lymphoma in cats is not fully understood. However, factors like genetics and immune system function may play an important role. It’s important to note that this condition is not directly linked to diet or lifestyle. However, cats affected with FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus) are more susceptible to GI lymphoma.  

What are the Clinical Signs of Gastrointestinal Lymphoma?

Cats with gastrointestinal lymphoma can exhibit a range of clinical signs, including:

  • Vomiting: Frequent or persistent vomiting is a common symptom of GI lymphoma. Cats may vomit after eating, and it might include bile or even blood.
  • Diarrhea: Chronic diarrhea may occur, often with changes in stool consistency and color.
  • Weight Loss: Cats with gastrointestinal lymphoma often lose weight despite maintaining their appetite or experiencing increased hunger.
  • Lethargy: Affected cats may appear tired, weak, or less active than usual.
  • Changes in Appetite: Cats may have a reduced appetite or experience fluctuations in their desire to eat.
  • Abdominal Pain or Swelling: Some cats may show discomfort, such as abdominal pain, tenderness, or a swollen abdomen. 

What are the Diagnostic Tests?

There are different subtypes of GI lymphoma in cats, with some variations in how they present and behave. These subtypes may have different degrees of aggressiveness, response to treatment, and overall prognosis. Early and accurate diagnosis with the help of your local vet is essential for developing an appropriate and timely treatment plan.

To diagnose GI lymphoma in cats, the veterinarian may perform several tests, including blood tests, diagnostic imaging, endoscopy, and histopathology (biopsy). These diagnostic tools work together to provide a comprehensive understanding of the disease, allowing veterinarians to tailor treatment plans to the specific needs of the individual cat.

Blood Tests:
Blood tests are often one of the initial steps in diagnosing gastrointestinal lymphoma. These tests can reveal abnormalities in the blood, such as changes in white blood cell counts, which may indicate the presence of cancer. Elevated levels of specific proteins in the blood may also suggest lymphoma. While blood tests are valuable, they are typically used in conjunction with other diagnostic methods for a more comprehensive assessment.

Diagnostic Imaging (X-rays or Ultrasound):

X-rays and ultrasound are non-invasive imaging techniques that can provide valuable information about the cat’s internal organs. X-rays may reveal changes in the size or appearance of organs in the abdominal area. Ultrasound allows for more detailed visualization of the abdominal organs, helping to identify abnormalities like thickened intestinal walls or enlarged lymph nodes. These imaging studies are essential for understanding the extent and location of lymphoma.

Endoscopy is a procedure where a flexible tube with a camera at its tip (endoscope) is inserted into the cat’s digestive tract through the mouth or anus. This method allows veterinarians to visualize the stomach and intestines directly and take tissue samples (biopsies) if abnormal areas are found. Endoscopy is a crucial diagnostic tool for confirming the presence of gastrointestinal lymphoma and obtaining tissue samples for further analysis.

Histopathology (Biopsy):
Histopathology involves the examination of tissue samples under a microscope to identify abnormalities at the cellular level. In the case of gastrointestinal lymphoma, biopsies are taken during endoscopy or through surgical procedures. These tissue samples are then sent to a laboratory for histopathological analysis. This analysis confirms the diagnosis of lymphoma and provides critical information about the type and extent of the cancer, which guides treatment decisions.

Photo of a vet touching a cat belly to represent diagnosis tests for GI lymphoma in cats

Treatment Options for GI Lymphoma in Cats

Treatment options for gastrointestinal lymphoma may include chemotherapy, which can help slow the progression of the disease and improve your cat’s quality of life. In some cases, surgery or radiation therapy may be considered. Your vet will help you decide the best course of action based on your cat’s condition.