cat being stroked in veterinary surgery

Skin cancer in cats: does my cat have skin cancer?

We all know about the dangers of the sun and the risk of skin cancer. In 2016, we spent £119 million on 18 million bottles of sun cream in the UK as a result. But did you know cats and kittens are also at risk?

While fur does a good job of protecting our pets against the damaging effects of the sun, it’s still possible for them to contract skin cancer. The good news is, if it’s caught quickly, it can often be treated.

So, how do you recognise the signs of skin cancer in cats – and what can you do to protect your cat or kitten from cat skin cancer?

What is feline skin cancer?

Cats can develop various types of skin cancer, only one of which – known as squamous cell carcinoma – is caused by exposure to the sun. Outdoor cats are at greater risk of developing this type of skin cancer than dogs, due to their love of sunbathing, and basking in the warm sun on hot days is something most cats enjoy.
Both cats and dogs are at risk of skin tumours caused by genetic factors. As in humans, these tumours can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Is my cat at risk of skin cancer?

Like most types of cancer, older cats are at greater risk of contracting skin cancer than kittens or younger cats. Cats that spend more of their time outdoors are also more likely to develop skin cancer from exposure to the sun than house cats. White-haired cats – or cats with white ears – are at greater risk than cats with darker fur, while short-haired cats are more vulnerable than long-haired cats, which have a thicker layer of protection.

Identifying the signs of skin cancer in cats

As in humans, skin cancer can take many different forms – some of which are highly visible on top of the skin as lesions, swelling or crusting, while others develop beneath the skin.

How to spot the symptoms of cat skin cancer

The easiest way to spot anything out of the ordinary is to regularly groom your cat or kitten.  Look for any unusual lumps, swelling or redness on the skin – or any sores that won’t heal – particularly where your cat’s fur is thinnest, such as her ears, and especially the tips of the ears, or the bridge of her nose and the nostrils.

If you notice anything unusual, make an appointment with your local vet. Discovering a lump on your cat’s fur doesn’t necessarily mean she has cancer, but it’s best to get it checked out. If the growth does turn out to be cancerous, acting fast gives your cat the best chance of making a full recovery, as cancer can spread throughout the body, just as it often does in humans.

Can I protect my cat against skin cancer?

You may want to consider keeping your cat indoors on hot sunny days, to minimise the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, particularly if her fur is white.

Your vet may recommend a pet sunblock but, as your cat is likely to lick this off during grooming, it may be ineffective. Ask your vet for advice.

 “Discovering a lump on your cat’s fur doesn’t necessarily mean she has cancer, but it’s best to get it checked out.”

How do vets diagnose skin cancer in cats?

If your vet suspects that a lump might be cancerous, they will normally use a very fine needle to remove cells from the growth, to be examined under a microscope. They may then suggest a biopsy (where a sample of tissue is removed for examination) to confirm their diagnosis.

Treating cat cancer

If your vet diagnoses skin cancer, they will usually recommend surgery, and may also recommend chemotherapy or radiotherapy. If skin cancer is caught early, your cat has a good chance of making a full recovery, so do act fast to get your pet checked out if you spot anything unusual.

Want more advice on skin cancer in cats?

For expert advice on cat skin cancer, get in touch with your local vet. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our Find a Vet page.