My cousin has a beautiful Maine Coon named Abby who is only six years old. He brought her to see me because her meow seemed to sound different than usual. The possibilities for a different meow most commonly would be a tumor, obstruction, or paralysis of the vocal cords but on a physical exam, everything seemed normal. Radiographs of her laryngeal area did not show any abnormalities so the next place to look was directly down the airway. In order to do this, I needed to sedate Abby and place an endotracheal tube into her airway.
The airway and vocal cord exam
While sound asleep and not feeling any discomfort, I placed the endotracheal tube between the vocal cords, presenting a nice view of them. I was then able to slide the tube easily down her airway, ruling out an obstruction in her upper airway. However, when I closely examined the vocal cords, I noticed a small growth attached to her right vocal cord. I didn’t know if it was just a swelling or a more serious tumor, so I gently scraped some cells off the different-looking tissue and sent it to a pathologist for analysis.
The results came back and this was indeed a plasma cell tumor. Plasma cell tumors in cats can be solitary localized tumors or be a part of systemic disease. The way to know the difference is through blood work, full-body radiographs, and a biopsy. I had to sedate Abby again for a more involved biopsy and was able to delicately cut off a piece of the tumor to send it to the pathologist again.
The good news was that all the tests pointed to this being a solitary tumor rather than a systemic disease spread throughout her body. Unfortunately, with it being on her vocal chord, there was no way to fully remove it surgically because the cord is a small and delicate piece of tissue and the tumor tissue had meshed with the cord. So, because there are no clear boundaries between the tumor and the cord, I would literally have to excise the entire vocal cord — not a good option because the vocal cords protect the airway. If the tumor had grown in a place within her body where I could have fully excised it surgically, that would have been the best option. For Abby, the best treatment was local radiation and concurrent chemotherapy.
Abby has now been working with a radiation oncologist and is showing signs of improvement. The oncologist says that these tumors are so rare, especially in cats, that there isn’t enough in the literature to know what the prognosis is. I hope for my cousin and for Abby, that she can beat this and have a long and healthy life. We will keep you posted!
Happy New Year!
Dr. Geri Katz
Aristokatz Veterinary Services