Adrenal Gland Cancer (Pheochromocytoma) in Cats

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Pheochromocytoma in Cats

A pheochromocytoma is a type of adrenal gland tumor which causes the gland to make too much of some of the hormones. This can cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. These symptoms are intermittent (not present all of the time) because the hormones that cause them are not made all of the time or are made in low amounts.

Pheochromocytomas are rare in cats. When they do occur it is usually with older cats. Because this tumor affects an endocrine gland that functions to spread hormones, pheochromocytomas commonly spread to organs that are near them and can rapidly metastasize to other areas of the body.

Symptoms and Types

  • Weakness
  • Shaking
  • Collapse
  • Lack of appetite (anorexia)
  • Lack of energy (lethargy)
  • Lack of interest in usual activities (depression)
  • Vomiting
  • Panting
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Increased urination (polyuria)
  • Increased thirst (polydipsia)
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Pacing
  • Seizures
  • Bloated abdomen
  • Symptoms may seem to come and go
  • Occasionally no symptoms will be present


Pheochromocytoma is labeled idiopathic, since there is no known cause for this condition.


Your veterinarian will need a thorough medical history and time-line of your cat's behavior, health and onset of symptoms. Your veterinarian will palpate your cat's belly to see if a mass can be felt or if there is extra fluid is present. A rapid heart rate (tachycardia) is sometimes found during the physical examination, but sometimes, there will not be anything that appears to be abnormal during the examination. Standard blood work, including a complete blood count, biochemical profile and urinalysis will be ordered. These will indicate how well your cat's internal organs are working and whether there are any infections present. Your veterinarian may also order a special blood test which will indicate whether the adrenal gland is functioning normally. Your cat's blood pressure will be taken, and in some cases, the blood pressure will be very high, indicating hypertension.

If your cat's heart rate is very high, or its heart seems to have an abnormal rhythm, your veterinarian may order an electrocardiogram (ECG) to check the electrical capability of the heart. Your veterinarian will also order x-rays and/or ultrasound images of your cat's abdomen and thorax (chest). If there are abnormalities of the internal organs, they may show up on an x-ray or ultrasound image. Further diagnostic tests may include a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance image (MRI). These imaging tools are higher sensitivity tests, which can give a more detailed picture of your cat's internal organs. To confirm a final diagnosis, your veterinarian will need to take a biopsy of the adrenal gland for laboratory analysis.

It is common for cats with a pheochromocytoma to have more than one medical problem, and treatment will be approached according to which condition is most critical.

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Excessive urination


A medical condition involving excessive thirst


A medical condition in which the patient has an abnormally fast heartbeat


The term for a quick heartbeat


An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness


The occurrence or invasion of pathogens away from the point where they originally occurred


Relating to a disease of unknown origin, which may or may not have arisen spontaneously

blood pressure

The amount of pressure applied by the blood on the arteries.


The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.


A record of the activity of the myocardium


High blood pressure

adrenal gland

The gland that produces the hormone adrenaline and others; helps to regulate the metabolism, electrolytes, and even sexual function; also helps to regulate the way the body responds to injury, trauma, etc. The adrenal gland is found near the kidney. Also referred to as the suprarenal gland.


The condition of being drowsy, listless, or weak

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