Skin Cancer And Your Cat: White Cats Are Especially At Risk

Did you know that your cat’s skin is the biggest organ in his body? It’s also the most common place for cancer to occur, especially if he’s white. Unfortunately, skin tumors in cats are usually malignant.

Feline Skin Cancer

According to Dr. Ruthanne Chun, assistant professor and oncology researcher at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, cats can develop skin cancer, just like people do. A cat’s fur is thinner on his ear tips, his nose, and his eyelids, so these areas are more susceptible to skin cancer. White cats don’t have skin pigment to protect them from the sun’s rays, so they are especially at risk.

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Cats between the ages of six to fourteen are usually the victims of skin cancer, although it does happen in younger cats, too. There is no one breed of cat that’s more susceptible to skin tumors than another.

Not all skin cancers in cats are caused by sun exposure. FIV, or the feline immunodeficiency virus, has been implicated in squamous cell carcinoma in cats. Some cats may have a genetic tendency to develop skin cancer, too.

According to Dr. Chun, rabies vaccinations have been linked to fibrosarcoma, which is a malignant cancer that can develop at injection sites.

Signs Of Skin Cancer In Cats

The following symptoms may indicate skin cancer:

  • A lump under the skin anywhere on your cat’s body
  • A sore that stays red and irritated, instead of healing
  • An area that’s scaly or has crusty skin on it
  • A spot that changes color or has irregular borders on your cat’s eyelids, lips, or the inside of her mouth

Your cat may seem to scratch or lick at an irritated area all the time. This is a symptom of several conditions other than skin cancer, but it’s always best to have your vet evaluate any problem spots.

Can Skin Cancer Be Prevented?

The best prevention for skin cancer is to try to keep your cat out of the sun in the middle of the day, especially if he’s white, or has a white face or ears. This can be a challenge, especially if your kitty loves to lay in a sunny window and watch the world go by.

The solution is to use SPF 50 sunblock on your cat’s nose, and the inside and outside of his ear tips. Apply it twice a day if your cat is a real sunbather. You may want to use a colored sunblock so you’ll know to reapply it when it wears off.

Preventing vaccine-induced sarcoma is another matter. Dr. Chun suggests that the rabies vaccine should be given in the right rear leg instead of between the shoulder blades, where tumors are more likely to develop. You may also want to talk to your vet to see if yearly vaccinations are really necessary.

Skin cancer may be unavoidable in some cats, but knowing what the symptoms are will make it easier to recognize if your cat should develop it.