Skin cancer is a condition in which abnormal cells grow on the surface of your cat's skin. It can be caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, but can also be influenced by genetic and environmental factors such as chemicals or cigarette smoke. In cats, skin cancer most often presents as scaly patches or oozing lesions which may be painful. But, because it's rare for pets to have skin cancer, many pet owners don't know what the signs look like, which can lead to misdiagnosis or delayed treatment in their beloved four-legged friends.
In this article, we'll explore ways you can tell if your cat has skin cancer—and everything you need to know about treating it.
Can Cats be Diagnosed with Skin Cancer?
The short answer is: Yes. Cats can most definitely be diagnosed with, and die from, skin cancer. It’s not always a death sentence though, as the disease can be detected early and treated successfully. And, the good news is that skin cancer is easily diagnosed with a vet exam and biopsy.
What Causes Skin Cancer in Cats?
As we mentioned above, skin cancer in cats can be caused by several different factors. Some of the most common are:
These are the rays that come from the sun, and they cause damage to your cat's skin. UV rays are also a factor in human skin cancer. Long-term, repeated exposure to direct sunlight could increase your cat’s risk of being diagnosed with skin cancer.
Genetics and Experiences
As research progresses on feline skin cancer, it seems that all cats don’t carry the same risk of developing the disease. Cats with thin- or light-colored fur, or those who have previously had a sunburn, seem to be most at risk for developing skin cancer.
Symptoms of Feline Skin Cancer
As with any disease, skin cancer presents differently in different cats. Some of the most telltale symptoms that point toward a potential skin cancer diagnosis include:
- Unusual lumps
- Crusty or scabby sores
- Lesions that ooze blood or fluid
- Itchiness or swelling in certain areas
- Persistent red patches
- Open wounds that won’t heal
- Lesions with irregular borders
- Dry or flaky patches of skin
3 Main Types of Skin Cancer in Cats
Believe it or not, there’s not just one type of skin cancer that could affect your cat. In fact, there are three different skin cancer diagnoses that your cat could receive. They are:
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
SCC is an incredibly aggressive form of feline skin cancer. If caught early, however, it can be treated quite effectively. The areas of the body most likely to fall victim to SCC are the temples, outer tips of the ears, the eyelids, lips, and nose.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
BCC is another type of skin cancer that most commonly affects older cats, with Persians being most at risk. BCC typically presents as spreading ulcers that are flush with the skin. This type of cancer often affects parts of the body, like the head, legs, and neck.
This type of skin cancer is the most destructive, and also the most likely to return after surgical removal. Thankfully, malignant melanoma is quite rare in cats. This type of cancer most commonly affects the ears, eyes, neck, and lower legs.
Diagnosing Your Cat's Skin Cancer
If you suspect your cat has skin cancer, the best way to diagnose the illness is through a biopsy. Your vet will take a small sample of skin tissue for testing, which will determine the type of cancer and whether it's benign or malignant.
The procedure involves placing a local anesthetic around the area where a skin biopsy sample will be taken; this ensures that your cat isn't uncomfortable during the procedure and minimizes any bleeding or scabbing on the skin afterward.
For the most part, skin biopsies tend to be small and most cats recover quickly and without a problem. Your cat may have a couple of small stitches, but your veterinarian will explain all the home-care instructions for you.
Tips for Treating Your Cat's Skin Cancer
Depending on the type of cancer that your cat has been diagnosed with, your vet may recommend a variety of different treatment options. The most common are:
Tumor removal surgery
The tumor can be surgically removed by your veterinarian, but with many types of skin cancer (like melanoma) there's a high chance that it will return due to the tiny nature of cancer cells.
Chemotherapy may be recommended if your cat’s tumor is too large to remove surgically, or if it has spread to other areas of the body. Like in humans, this medication also has side effects for cats, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea—not fun if you just tried getting your cat used to eating dry food again! And, in addition to being unpleasant for both owner and pet alike, chemotherapy can be expensive (upwards of $600 per dose) unless you have health insurance coverage or another financial plan in place beforehand.
Like chemotherapy, radiation is usually only recommended when surgical methods haven't been successful at completely removing cancerous growths on cats' bodies, either because they're too big or because they've spread already (e..g., metastasized). If this happens then radiation therapy is often prescribed: This involves aiming high-intensity beams at specific areas where tumors exist. These beams penetrate deep into tissues where they destroy malignant cells while sparing healthy cells near them.
Cats can get skin cancer, and like in humans, the disease can be quite serious. With enough attention though, skin cancer in cats can be easy to identify. If you notice any suspicious lumps, bumps, or unhealed wounds, this could point toward skin cancer in your cat. Determining a diagnosis is as easy as doing a biopsy of the skin and could mean the difference between life and death for your cat. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your vet to come up with a diagnosis and potential treatment plan for your beloved kitty.