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Everything you need to know about cat mouth cancer

Ginger cat with mouth open advice
© Pixabay

It’s important to treat cat mouth cancer early to stop the spread and find a successful outcome. So let’s have a look at some of the causes and symptoms of cat cancer so you can deal with it before it’s too late.

By G. John Cole

Mouth tumours in cats are one of the most common type types of feline cancer. One in ten cat tumours happen in the mouth. Unfortunately, mouth cancer tends to be invasive and fast-growing. 

What is cat mouth cancer?

Cat mouth cancer happens when sick cells in a cat’s mouth reproduce abnormally to form a tumour. A tumour that continues to grow and spread around the body is known as ‘malignant.’ ‘Benign,’ restricted cancers are less dangerous.

Around two-thirds of cat oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas (SCC). This type of tumour is especially common in older cats. It grows and spreads very fast to surrounding tissue and bone, but rarely travels beyond.

However, fewer than one in ten cats diagnosed with SCC live more than a year. The cat mouth cancer prognosis is not good. The cancer itself might kill them, or sometimes the effect that their sick mouth has on their ability to eat and drink. Many people euthanise their cats because the outlook is so poor.

How to prevent cat mouth cancer

Experts do not know the precise causes of mouth cancer in cats. But they have found that cats who wear flea collars are five times more likely to develop the disease. Of course, fleas also cause disease, but you might consider finding more organic ways to manage your cat’s flea problem.

Chemicals in the air, such as those from cigarettes or car fumes, can also cause cancer. Cats breathe these fumes in and also absorb them in their skin and mouth. Keeping your home cigarette-free and keeping your cat away from the street are good ways to reduce the chance of mouth cancer. Tinned cat food is also a culprit, so it might be safest to stick to dry food.

Symptoms of cat mouth cancer

As with other cancers, lumps, bumps, and lesions in the mouth can point to a serious problem. But how often can you say you’ve really, truly got up close and personal with your cat’s mouth? Unfortunately, an oral examination can be the quickest way to get a sharp paw in your eye.

However, it is best to keep as close an eye as safely possible on your cat’s oral health. And make sure your cat’s vet checks its mouth out whenever your take puss for a check-up.

It is relatively straightforward to look out for secondary symptoms of cat mouth cancer. If your pet has trouble eating or loses weight, it could be a problem with its mouth. If it grooms itself less, its face swells, or it begins drooling or bleeding from the mouth, you need to get that cat checked out. The critter might also have swollen lymph nodes (under its jaw) or worse-smelling breath than usual.

Remember, cancer is a spreader, so you should respond vigilantly to even the hint of any of these symptoms.

What happens if I find symptoms of cat mouth cancer?

Once you’ve made that urgent appointment to see your cat’s vet, she will complete a medical examination of the critter and ask for the cat’s medical history and symptoms. Depending on what she finds, your vet will then perform a series of tests on your cat. These can include blood and urine tests, biochemical profiling, x-rays, and biopsies (surgical removal of tissue for examination).

If it turns out to be cancer, the survival rate is not good. Your cat’s vet may suggest surgery to remove part of the cat’s jaw, cryosurgery (freezing the tumour), or radiotherapy. Chemotherapy is another option.

But even ‘cured’ cat mouth cancer has a high chance of returning. So you will also need to consider palliative care. Your cat’s vet will prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs and/or analgesics to reduce the rate of growth and the pain. You can use antibiotics to counter moggo’s increased susceptibility to infection. And you will need to adapt its diet so your cat can eat. It may even need to start eating through a tube.

Sadly, oral cancer is one of the worst cancers a cat can get – not least because it’s so hard to spot. Keep a keen eye on your cat’s oral health, and you stand a better chance of avoiding this unfortunate disease.