Does Your Cat’s Sneezing Signal Something Sinister?

Introduction to Feline Lymphoma

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. It causes malignant lymphomas, which are tumors in the lymphatic system (1). Lymphoma is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in cats, with an estimated prevalence of 50 cases per 100,000 cats per year in the UK (2). It most often affects older cats, with a median age at diagnosis of 10-12 years old (3).

The most common symptoms of feline lymphoma include enlargement of lymph nodes, lethargy, weight loss, poor appetite, and sometimes difficulty breathing (3). Lymph nodes in the neck, chest, or abdomen are often enlarged due to accumulation of cancerous lymphocytes. This typically leads to lack of energy, loss of appetite, and gradual weight loss in affected cats.


Common Lymphoma Symptoms in Cats

Some common symptoms of lymphoma in cats include:

Enlarged lymph nodes – One of the most obvious signs of lymphoma is swollen lymph nodes, commonly in the neck, under the jaw, behind the knees, and in front of the shoulders. Lymph nodes enlarge as cancerous lymphocytes proliferate. Palpating enlarged, firm lymph nodes is an important part of diagnosing feline lymphoma.

Lethargy – Lymphoma can make cats feel tired and weak. Lethargy and decreased activity levels are common as the cancer saps energy.

Weight loss – Despite maintaining or increasing appetite in some cases, cats with lymphoma often lose weight. This is partly due to the energy demands of the growing tumors. Weight loss from lymphoma often happens rapidly.

Poor appetite – Some cats experience a decreased appetite, not wanting to eat as much. This contributes to weight loss.

Vomiting – Vomiting is a common symptom when lymphoma affects the digestive tract. The intestinal form causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and abdominal discomfort.

Diarrhea – Lymphoma in the intestines also frequently causes diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances if severe. Bloody diarrhea is possible depending on where the tumors are located.

Other symptoms like lethargy, poor appetite, and weight loss can accompany digestive forms of feline lymphoma. Getting an accurate diagnosis via medical tests allows proper treatment to relieve symptoms and address the underlying cancer.

Uncommon Lymphoma Symptoms

While lymphoma in cats often causes symptoms like appetite changes, vomiting, and lethargy, some more unusual symptoms can also occur. These less common lymphoma signs include:

  • Seizures – Neurological issues like seizures can sometimes happen if lymphoma affects the brain or spinal cord.
  • Lameness – Lymphoma in the bones or joints may lead to limping or lameness in one or more legs.
  • Sneezing – Nasal lymphoma is rare but can cause sneezing or nasal discharge.
  • Coughing – Lymphoma in the chest can press on the airways and lead to coughing.
  • Eye issues – Lymphomaaffecting the eyes or eyelids may cause symptoms like redness, swelling, or discharge.

While certainly less common, pet parents should be aware that lymphoma can sometimes initially cause these more unusual signs before diagnosis. If a cat starts exhibiting any new concerning symptoms, it’s important to schedule a veterinary visit for evaluation.

What Causes Feline Lymphoma

The exact cause of feline lymphoma is unknown. However, there are some suspected triggers that may lead to the development of lymphoma in cats:

  • Viruses – Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) are suspected to play a role in the development of lymphoma. Cats infected with these retroviruses are at higher risk of developing lymphoma.[1]
  • Toxins – Exposure to certain environmental toxins and chemicals like herbicides, pesticides, and cigarette smoke may increase a cat’s risk of lymphoma.[2]
  • Genetics – Purebred cats like Siamese and Persians seem to have a higher incidence of lymphoma, suggesting a possible genetic predisposition.

While these factors may play a role, the exact trigger that causes normal lymphocytes to transform into cancerous cells is still not fully understood. More research is needed to determine the definitive causes of feline lymphoma.

Diagnosing Feline Lymphoma

There are several tests and procedures vets use to diagnose lymphoma in cats:

Physical Exam

Vets will first do a complete physical exam, looking for enlarged lymph nodes, abdominal masses, and other signs of cancer. Palpating all the major lymph nodes helps locate affected nodes for sampling.[1]

Blood Tests

Blood tests like complete blood counts and blood chemistry panels can reveal abnormalities indicating lymphoma, such as high calcium levels. However, blood tests alone usually can’t definitively diagnose lymphoma.[2]


The most definitive way to diagnose feline lymphoma is to examine lymph node cells under a microscope. This requires surgically removing part or all of an affected lymph node to extract cells for biopsy.[3]

Imaging Tests

X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs can reveal enlarged lymph nodes and signs of cancer spread. While not definitive for lymphoma, imaging provides valuable information on disease extent.[2]

Treating Feline Lymphoma

There are several treatment options for cats diagnosed with lymphoma:


Chemotherapy is often the main treatment for lymphoma in cats. Drugs like vincristine, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and prednisolone are commonly used. Chemotherapy can lead to remission in many cases, though lymphoma often comes back later. Multi-drug chemotherapy protocols give the best chance for remission. Side effects like vomiting and diarrhea can occur. See reference [1].


Radiation therapy may be used along with chemotherapy to treat localized lymphoma affecting certain areas. This helps control tumor growth and limit the spread of cancer cells. Radiation side effects can include skin irritation and hair loss in the treatment area. See reference [2].


Surgery is not commonly used to treat lymphoma in cats, but may help relieve intestinal obstructions or remove isolated masses. Debulking tumors can provide temporary improvement. Surgery risks include infection and anesthesia complications. See reference [3].

Supportive Care

Supportive care helps manage lymphoma symptoms and improve quality of life. This can include fluids, anti-nausea medication, appetite stimulants, and pain control. Prednisolone is often used for palliative care. Supportive care helps cats feel better day-to-day. See reference [1].




Prognosis for Feline Lymphoma

The prognosis for cats diagnosed with lymphoma depends on several factors, including the type, stage, and location of the cancer. With treatment, average remission times range from 6 to 9 months. However, some cats can live 1 to 2 years with lymphoma if they respond well to treatment.

According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, feline intestinal lymphoma generally has a better prognosis and response to treatment than lymphoma that starts in other parts of the body (source). The most aggressive forms of lymphoma tend to be mediastinal and central nervous system lymphoma, which have poorer survival times even with treatment.

Factors that lead to better prognoses include early detection and diagnosis, good overall health at diagnosis, and subtype of lymphoma that is more responsive to chemotherapy. Remission and long-term survival is possible, especially with consistent treatment under veterinary supervision. However, feline lymphoma is still a serious disease that requires prompt attention and monitoring.

Managing a Cat with Lymphoma

Caring for a cat with lymphoma requires paying close attention to their health and wellbeing. Some key aspects of managing a cat with lymphoma include:

Providing excellent nutrition – Cats with lymphoma need high-quality, easy to digest food to maintain their strength and weight during treatment. Canned or raw foods are often recommended, along with supplements if needed.

Addressing side effects of treatment – Chemotherapy and steroid medications can cause side effects like vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite. Working closely with your vet to monitor side effects and make adjustments is important.

Keeping up vaccinations – Even with lymphoma, core vaccines should be maintained to prevent other illnesses. Non-core vaccines may be avoided during active treatment.

Giving medications as prescribed – Oral chemotherapy and steroids must be given consistently for best results. Track doses closely.

Monitoring for infections – Chemotherapy can lower immunity, so prompt treatment of any infections is critical.

Providing tender loving care – Meeting your cat’s physical and emotional needs helps them stay happy and comfortable throughout treatment.

With attentive home care and monitoring by your veterinarian, lymphoma treatment can often extend a cat’s life for many good months or years. Staying on top of nutrition, medications and side effect management is key to their wellbeing and quality of life.

Does Lymphoma Cause Sneezing in Cats?

Sneezing is actually an uncommon symptom of lymphoma in cats. Lymphoma more commonly causes lymph node enlargement, weight loss, loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea. Sneezing is more often indicative of an upper respiratory infection rather than lymphoma.

However, one type of lymphoma, called nasal lymphoma, can cause sneezing. With nasal lymphoma, a tumor develops in the nasal cavity which can lead to nasal discharge, sneezing, noisy breathing, and nasal swelling. But this is a less common form of feline lymphoma, representing only 5-10% of cases.

So while lymphoma itself does not typically lead to sneezing, the presence of sneezing combined with other symptoms could point to the rare nasal lymphoma variant. It’s important to have any chronic sneezing or respiratory symptoms evaluated by a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and recommend appropriate treatment.

When to See the Vet

Feline lymphoma is a serious disease that requires veterinary care. Here are some symptoms that indicate a cat should be examined and tested for possible lymphoma: source

– Enlarged lymph nodes: If you notice any lumps or swellings around the neck, legs or abdomen, it could signal lymphoma. The lymph nodes are often the first indicators of disease.

– Lethargy: Lymphoma can cause a cat to feel weak, fatigued and generally unwell. Decreased activity levels and sleeping more than normal are concerning signs.

– Poor appetite: Loss of appetite or refusal to eat are common symptoms, as lymphoma may make eating uncomfortable. Weight loss often follows.

– Vomiting or diarrhea: Some forms of feline lymphoma affect the gastrointestinal tract, causing digestive upset.

– Breathing issues: Lymphoma in the chest can put pressure on the lungs and cause breathing difficulty.

If your cat is exhibiting any of these symptoms, schedule a veterinary appointment right away. Early diagnosis and treatment can greatly improve the prognosis for lymphoma in cats. Don’t delay seeking veterinary care. source

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