Summer is in full swing, which means protecting yourself from the sun even while you soak up its rays. But don’t forget about protecting the pets in your life, too. Skin cancer in cats is more common than most pet parents realize—even if your cat is always indoors! Learn more about which cats may be prone to skin cancer and how to identify the signs.
What causes skin cancer in cats?
As is often the case with humans, far and away the most common cause of skin cancer in cats is excessive exposure to sunlight. And for those of you who keep your kitties indoor-only (hooray!), you’re not totally out of the woods either:
Indoor cats that regularly lie in window sills and patches of sunlight can also be exposed to harmful UV radiation. A sunburn on your cat may appear as red skin or hair loss around the temples, the outer tips of the ears, eyelids, lips, nose, and belly.
Other less common causes of skin cancer in cats include serious burns and physical trauma. Some studies have shown that “compulsive licking of certain areas can also damage the skin and increase the chance of skin cancer.”
Which cats are more prone to skin cancer?
Any kitty with a lot of exposure to sunlight is at risk, but the following types and breeds of cats are more likely to develop skin cancer:
- Hairless cat breeds, such as the Sphynx cat
- Cats with white or light-colored fur
- Cats with very short or thin coats
- Older cats
- Cats that live in high altitudes
4 most common types of cat skin cancer
Cornell Feline Health Center reports that the four most common types of cat skin cancer, in order, are:
- basal cell tumors
- mast cell cancer
- squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma
We want to call particular attention to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) because it tends to be malignant and aggressive. If detected early, however, this type of skin cancer in cats is highly treatable.
SCC is most often caused by sun exposure. UV radiation damages a cat’s DNA so that cells begin dividing and multiplying, resulting in tumors and lesions—these are more commonly found around the temples, the outer tips of the ears, eyelids, lips, nose, belly, and even in the mouth.
Signs of skin cancer in cats
Keep an eye out for the following signs of cat skin cancer, particularly in any areas where you’ve noticed red skin or hair loss due to a possible sunburn:
- Small, crusty, or scabby sores
- Lesions with irregular, hardened borders
- Lesions that are ulcerated and oozing fluid and/or blood
- In general, any unusual lumps or bumps on the body
For squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth, be on the lookout for these signs:
- Excessive salivation and drooling
- Weight loss
- Bad breath
- Swelling of the upper or lower jaw
Diagnosis and treatment
Make an appointment with your veterinarian if you notice any of the above symptoms on your cat. Your vet may simply prescribe topical medication to treat your cat’s sores.
While most bumps and lesions found on cats turn out to be benign, you can never be too cautious. Your vet will likely perform a fine needle aspiration or biopsy to confirm if there is cancer and which type. From there, surgical removal of tumors may be warranted, along with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or cryotherapy. The vet may also order X-rays to determine whether the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.
If detected early, most skin cancer in cats has a good prognosis.
Prevent skin cancer with less exposure & cat sunscreen
As much as it may pain you to do so, we recommend limiting your kitty’s exposure to direct sunlight at least between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Additionally, you can invest in window shades or glass reflectors to block UV rays.
If you can’t stand the thought of ruining your cat’s basking in the sun, please consider applying cat sunscreen. Ask your vet for advice on finding specially formulated cat sunscreen. At the very least, you might consider applying a sunscreen with the following qualities:
- Includes ingestion warning
- SPF of at least 15, preferably 30+
- No ingredients listed as PABA, zinc oxide, and octisalate, or any other salicylates—if your cat licks the sunscreen off, these ingredients could be toxic to him.
While skin cancer in cats is more common than you’d think, being able to recognize its early signs can make a world of difference. Use these prevention tips to ensure you have one happy, healthy kitty household!