Adrenal Gland Cancer (Pheochromocytoma) in Cats

Key takeaways

Adrenal Gland Cancer is a rare condition in cats, identified when tumors (pheochromocytomas) grow as a result of uncontrolled chromaffin cell growth.

  • These tumors produce excess hormones, which may lead to severe acute symptoms such as seizures, collapse, and difficulty breathing, requiring emergency medical attention
  • Diagnostics include a physical examination, bloodwork, urinalysis, and diagnostic imaging
  • Surgical removal is the most common treatment method, however malignancy and proximity to nearby arteries may lead to complications
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A closer look: Adrenal Gland Cancer (Pheochromocytoma) in Cats

The adrenal glands are small glands found near the kidneys which primarily help modulate a cat’s stress responses through the production of hormones called catecholamines, including adrenalin. These hormones also have roles in regulating the immune system and blood pressure. Adrenal gland cancer develops as a result of uncontrolled cell proliferation. Pheochromocytomas often produce large amounts of these hormones, preventing the body from regulating the stress response appropriately, due to constant stimulation from the hormones produced by the tumor. This constant stimulation results in increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, and changes in heart function.

Adrenal gland tumors are rare, but may cause life-threatening symptoms. Cats showing symptoms of pheochromocytomas require immediate veterinary assistance.

Risk factors

Cats may present with nonspecific symptoms.

Possible causes

As with many cancers, the cause of adrenal gland cancer is not currently known.

Main symptoms

Adrenal gland cancer is often asymptomatic. Symptoms arise depending on the size of a tumor and whether it produces epinephrine.

A pheochromocytoma crisis develops when larger adrenal tumors produce large amounts of epinephrine suddenly.

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnostics include:

  • Physical examination
  • Bloodwork
  • Blood pressure testing
  • Diagnostic imaging, including X-rays, ultrasound, CT scan or MRI
  • Urinalysis, including testing for catecholamine

Adrenal gland cancer is often difficult to diagnose, and in some cases tumors may only be discovered during necropsy.

Steps to Recovery

Treatment is primarily surgical, with an adrenalectomy. Medication is sometimes indicated pre-surgery to compensate for hypertension or an irregular heartbeat.

In some cases surgery is not possible, such as when a tumor invades the surrounding vessels. In these cases, supportive treatment with medication is indicated.

Medical management has a poorer prognosis than surgical intervention. Most surgical patients survive years after treatment, as long as the tumor has not metastasized and no complications develop from surgery. Complications may arise from surgery due to the proximity between the tumors and the nearby arteries and organs. With medical management alone, patients can live for several months after diagnosis.


There are no preventative measures against adrenal gland cancer.

Adrenal gland cancer is not contagious.

Is Adrenal Gland Cancer (Pheochromocytoma) in Cats common?

Adrenal gland cancer is rare in cats, although more common in older animals.

Typical Treatment

Surgical intervention

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