Understanding Oral Cancer in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Understanding Oral Cancer in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Oral cancer in cats is a serious and often overlooked health concern. Cats, like humans, can develop cancerous growths in and around their mouths, which can significantly impact their overall well-being. While it may not be as commonly discussed as other feline health issues, oral cancer in cats is something every cat owner should be aware of.

In this blog post, we’ll explore what oral cancer in cats is, its causes, symptoms, and available treatments to help you better understand and identify this disease in your cat.


What is Oral Cancer in Cats?

Oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is the most common malignant tumor that can develop in a cat’s mouth. These tumors typically arise from the squamous epithelial cells that line the mouth, gums, tongue, and other oral structures. OSCC is known for its aggressive nature in cats and can appear or grow very quickly.


What Causes Oral Cancer in Cats?

The exact causes of oral cancer in cats are poorly understood, but several factors have been linked to an increased risk of developing this condition. These risk factors include:

  • Tobacco Smoke: Secondhand smoke exposure has been associated with a higher risk of oral cancer in cats. Cats living with smokers may be more likely to develop this condition.
  • Age: Older cats tend to present more frequently with oral cancers. All cancer, oral cancer included, is relatively rare in younger cats.

Ultimately, we don’t know why some cats develop oral cancers or how to prevent them. The best we can do for our pets is look for symptoms of an issue brewing and address it as soon as possible. Earlier assessment allows for more treatment options.


Eight Symptoms of Oral Cancer in Cats

Oral cancer can manifest in various ways in cats, and its symptoms may be subtle in the early stages. Being vigilant about your cat’s oral health and regular dental check-ups is crucial. Some common signs of oral cancer in cats include:

  1. Oral Ulcers: Ulcers or sores in the mouth that do not heal are a common early sign of oral cancer.
  2. Drooling: Excessive drooling is a frequent symptom and can be caused by pain and discomfort.
  3. Difficulty Eating: Cats with oral cancer may have difficulty eating, as chewing can be painful. Weight loss and reduced appetite may accompany this symptom.
  4. Bad Breath: Foul-smelling breath, often described as “rotten,” is a common symptom of oral cancer.
  5. Swelling or Lumps: Swelling or lumps in the mouth, on the gums, or under the tongue can indicate oral tumors.
  6. Bleeding: Bleeding from the mouth, nose, or other areas can occur as the tumor grows and erodes blood vessels.
  7. Chewing on One Side: Cats may begin to chew on one side of their mouth to avoid pain.
  8. Pawing at the Face: Cats in pain may paw at their face, trying to relieve discomfort.


Diagnosis of Oral Cancer in Cats

If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is essential to consult your veterinarian promptly. Diagnosing oral cancer in cats typically involves a combination of the following:

  1. Physical Examination: Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination, paying particular attention to your cat’s mouth and oral cavity.
  2. Biopsy: A tissue biopsy is the most reliable way to confirm the presence of cancer. A small sample of the tumor or lesion is taken and examined under a microscope.
  3. Imaging: Dental radiographs, cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT), or other imaging modalities may be used to assess the extent of the cancer and determine if it has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other organs.


Treatment Options for Oral Cancer in Cats

The treatment of oral cancer in cats depends on the extent of the disease and the cat’s overall health. Several treatment options are available, and the choice often involves a combination of factors, including the cat’s age, overall health, and cancer stage. Standard treatment options include:

  1. Surgery: Oral surgery is often recommended to remove the tumor and affected tissue. In some cases, a partial or total mandibulectomy (removal of the lower jaw) may be required to ensure complete tumor removal.
  2. Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy may be used post-surgery to target any remaining cancer cells. It can also be used as a primary treatment method for inoperable tumors.
  3. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is typically reserved for cases where the cancer has metastasized or cannot be surgically removed. It can help slow the progression of the disease.
  4. Palliative Care: In some cases, when the cancer is advanced and cannot be treated, palliative care aims to alleviate pain and discomfort, providing the cat with the best possible quality of life.


Board-Certified Veterinary Dentist in Colorado Springs

Oral cancer in cats is a challenging and potentially life-threatening condition. Early detection and timely intervention are essential for improving a cat’s prognosis. As a cat owner, knowing the potential risk factors and symptoms associated with oral cancer is crucial. Regular dental check-ups and a keen eye for any unusual signs in your feline can make a significant difference in catching and addressing oral cancer in its early stages. If you suspect your cat may have oral cancer, contact Animal Dental Care and Oral Surgery to discuss diagnosis and treatment options. Your companion’s health and well-being are worth the effort to ensure the best possible outcome.


Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (12/8/2023). Photo by Mikhail Vasilyev on Unsplash