Cat Skin Cancer: What Cat Owners Need To Watch For

Key takeaway

Skin cancer in cats can present via the following symptoms: crusty or scabby sores lesions that ooze fluid or blood or have thick edges, unusual lumps on the body, red or flaky patches, itchiness, and swelling. 

 

Bringing your cat to the vet for routine check-ups is an important part of being a good pet owner. During a veterinary check-up, your vet will observe your cat’s level of alertness, do a physical exam, listen to their heartbeat, and run several other tests. But one of the main things your vet will do during a check-up is check your cat’s skin for tiny scabs that could indicate skin cancer.

Skin cancer looks different for every cat. Early stages of cat skin cancer can look like a scab on your cat’s skin, or a red, inflamed area of their skin, but it can progress to larger, more raised growths. If caught early on, skin cancer in cats can be fairly easy to treat and will most likely be harmless. But if it goes untreated, then it can spread to other areas of your cat, and that’s when it becomes dangerous.

Identifying these growths on your cat’s skin can be hard for an owner, which is why it’s crucial to bring your cat to the vet for regular check-ups. The sooner a vet identifies potential skin cancer on your cat, the quicker you can get them treated.

In this blog, we’ll be discussing more about cat skin cancer, including what the symptoms are, how you can treat it, and more. 

Can Cats Get Skin Cancer?

So before we get into any details, let’s first answer the question of: Can cats get skin cancer?

The answer is yes– cats can get skin cancer. And just like humans, one of the main causes of skin cancer in cats is excessive exposure to sunlight. Unfortunately, your cat can’t just lather on sunscreen and call themselves protected. You have to help to protect them from excessive sun exposure by discouraging them from laying in the sun during peak UV intensity. 

Certain types of cats are also more susceptible to skin cancer, such as cats with white or light colored fur, hairless cats, cats with thin or short coats, older cats, and cats that live in high altitudes. 

But not all cat skin cancer is caused by exposure to sunlight. Feline skin cancer can also be caused by serious physical trauma, environmental factors, and genetics, and some studies believe that compulsive licking can also increase the likelihood of developing skin cancer.

What are the Symptoms of Skin Cancer in Cats?

Skin cancer can look different for every cat, depending on the type of skin cancer that they have and what caused it. Some of the most common symptoms of skin cancer in cats include:

  • Crusty or scabby sores
  • Lesions that ooze fluid or blood
  • Lesions with hard or thick edges
  • Unusual lumps on the body
  • Red patches of skin
  • Flaky, dry patches of skin
  • Itchiness in specific areas of the skin
  • Swelling in certain areas of the skin
  • Open wounds with no known cause
  • Open wounds that won’t heal

The color of these skin growths can vary, but they will typically be brown, pink, gray, black, or red.

Melanoma & Skin Cancer Types in Cats

There are several different types of skin cancer that a cat can have. The five main types of skin cancer in cats are: mast cell tumors, fibrosarcoma, squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

Melanomas are tumors that come from pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. Melanoma is rare, but it tends to be very aggressive and invasive, and can spread easily. Melanoma forms most commonly on the eyes, mouth, and skin, so if you notice any abnormal growths on those areas of your cat, bring them to the vet as soon as possible.

Mast cell tumors (MCT) are another type of skin cancer in cats and they’re made up of mast cells, which is a type of white blood cell in the immune system. Mast cells release histamines, which are responsible for allergic responses. Mast cell tumors typically start off as small, itchy raised growths on the skin and will progress over time. They can fluctuate in size and tend to get bigger when irritated. MCTs are invasive and can be difficult to treat, but when caught early and given proper treatment, a cat can recover and continue on to live for many years.

Fibrosarcoma is a type of cancer that affects soft tissues of the body, mostly on the skin. It can be caused by environmental and genetic factors, but it can often form on vaccination sites on a cat’s skin. Fibrosarcoma isn’t usually painful for cats, but if you notice a large bump that won’t go away on the site of an injection, bring your cat to the vet so they can get checked.

Squamous cell carcinoma affects the cells on the skin of a cat and is the most common type of skin cancer in cats. With this type of skin cancer, tumors will appear on areas of the body that are most exposed to the sun. Squamous cell carcinoma rarely spreads to other parts of the body, but is very locally aggressive and invasive. This type of cancer typically occurs in or around the mouth, head, and ears.

Basal cell carcinoma affects the top layer of the skin, typically around the head, neck, legs, and chest and often appear as ulcers. Basal cell tumors are most common in older cats and tend to increase in size over time and can easily spread to other areas of the body. Most basal cell tumors are benign, but surgical removal is often recommended to prevent them from increasing in size.

How is Feline Skin Cancer Diagnosed?

If you’ve noticed any of the above mentioned symptoms of skin cancer in your cat, you should bring them to the vet as soon as possible. Your vet will begin their diagnosis by conducting a physical examination of your cat’s skin. Make sure you tell your vet about any symptoms that you’ve noticed and if/how they’ve changed over time.

vet examining cat’s skin with owner using magnifying glass

Your vet will then take samples from your cat, which can include skin scrapings or biopsies from any of their growths. The sample will then be examined under a microscope to determine if the lump is cancerous or not. A tissue sample or fluid from the lymph nodes may be taken to figure out if the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. X-rays or ultrasounds may also be done to determine if the cancer has spread.

Feline Skin Cancer Treatment Options

In the majority of cases, the best way to treat feline skin cancer is to remove the tumor. If the cancer is caught early enough, the tumors may be small and can be very easily removed. In some cases, tumors can be removed before they even turn cancerous. 

Tumors can be removed with a surgical procedure, in which your cat will be put under anesthesia. The vet will then remove the affected tissue to make sure the tumor does not regrow. If the tumor is large, or if it’s spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy or radiation may be recommended. There are side effects of these, including weight loss and loss of appetite, but they can be managed with medication. 

How Long Can Cats Survive with Skin Cancer?

The amount of time a cat can survive with skin cancer ultimately depends on the type of skin cancer that they have and how early on it’s detected. In most cases, skin cancer in cats can be completely curable, as long as it’s caught early and is treated properly. Most cats with squamous cell carcinoma will live up to five years, but this can vary depending on location and severity.

Final Notes

Depending on the severity and type of your cat’s skin cancer, the prognosis is typically good for recovery. If your cat has a type of skin cancer that didn’t spread and was easily able to be removed, then your cat should carry on to live a happy, long life. However, it’s even more important that you continue to bring your kitty to the vet for regular check-ups to make sure the cancer does not come back.

But sometimes, securing these regular check-ups can be tough, especially if you have to work around your busy schedule to find the time to bring your cat to the vet. So if you don’t have the time to physically bring your cat to the vet, we can bring the vet to you with Dutch.com.

Dutch is an online pet telehealth service that connects pet owners with licensed veterinarians right from home. Dutch-affiliated are highly qualified and ready to help with everything from figuring out where to pet a cat to treating cat anxiety. We’ll diagnose, treat, and prescribe your cat the proper medication and get it sent right to your doorstep within 7 days time.

So whether you’re dealing with a cat pacing or a cat with a swollen belly from worms, we’ll help your kitty get the care they deserve so they can be back to their healthy and happy selves as quickly as possible.