If you purchase via links on our site, we may receive commissions. However, our experts carefully research and evaluate each product or service, ensuring it meets our quality standards.

Spotting Skin Cancer in Your Cat: Signs, Treatments, and Costs

Cat skin cancer is all too common in our feline friends. Skin tumors are the most often detected cancers in pets because they are so easily recognized and because the skin is constantly exposed to the outside world. Sun exposure, viruses, and harmful chemicals have all been linked to the formation of skin cancers. Additional contributing triggers may include hormonal and genetic factors and individual variability. Finally, as we know, with age, cancer risks increase regardless of exposure.

Early skin cancer recognition in cats is paramount to ensuring a potential cure. Understanding the signs, treatment options, and associated costs ahead of time is advantageous. Promptly seeking veterinary care upon first noticing a skin lesion may make the difference between a curable condition or potentially fatal cancer.

Fast coverage. Fast claims. Happy pets.
On Lemonade's Website

Understanding skin cancer in cats

Neoplasms, which are abnormal growths of tissue, can be benign or malignant. Malignant neoplasms are what we commonly refer to as cancer. These malignant cancers invade local tissues and can spread to distant sites. Benign tumors, on the other hand, do not spread but can still grow large and cause problems. Removal of benign tumors is typically curative. When recognized early and treated before they spread, many malignant cancers can also be cured with surgical removal alone.

The most commonly identified superficial skin tumors in cats, making up 70% of skin cat cancer, are:

  1. Squamous cell carcinomas (SCC). These are usually malignant, and prompt identification is crucial. They are commonly found in white cats, though any cat is at risk. Key locations include light or non-pigmented and less furred areas, including the lower eyelids, nose, or ears. They are often induced by exposure to sunlight.
  2. Basal cell tumors (BCT). These are usually benign in cats and not associated with solar exposure, as is the case in people. They can be located on the chest, back, head, or neck and generally have a good prognosis.
  3. Mast cell tumors. These are less common in cats than dogs but can recur, spread, or become systemic. They can be solitary or multiple masses with lesions most commonly on the head and neck, though they can arise anywhere. This type of cancer can also be present internally, most commonly in the spleen or intestinal tract.
  4. Fibrosarcomas. These tumors often invade the deeper tissue.

Other types of tumors can be seen, such as cutaneous lymphosarcoma or feline melanomas. Still, melanomas in cats are much less common than in dogs.

In most instances, skin tumors in dogs are less likely to be malignant than in cats. Benign tumors are less common in cats, with estimates suggesting that up to 70–80% of cat skin cancer cases are malignant. This highlights the importance of promptly evaluating, treating, and removing cat skin lumps and bumps, as they have a significant risk of worsening if left untreated, which can result in a shorter lifespan and less time spent with your feline buddy.

Recognizing skin cancer in your cat: what to look for

Understanding what to look for and how to identify skin cancer in cats and differentiate it from other conditions helps guide the decision to seek vet care and the situation's urgency. Since the majority of cat cancers will spread, being malignant, prompt evaluation is optimal.

Signs of skin cancer in cats may be simply seeing a lump on your cat’s skin. However, suppose the mass is in a location not commonly seen, or the mass deteriorates, spreads, or causes other issues. In that case, you may see a myriad of changes. Some cats may develop dandruff due to skin cancer or other underlying conditions, e.g., allergies or systemic illness.

Lumps and bumps

Lumps and bumps in cats

Quite often, skin cancer manifests as a solitary lump in the skin, frequently showing up small and growing larger. However, skin cancer may appear as a pigmented lesion (black, gray, flesh-colored), ulcerated and red, or raised vs. flat. Some cancers may produce multiple lesions, while others are single solitary masses. Some may result in self-trauma, with the cat licking or scratching at the area, sometimes leading to non-healing wounds. However, most often, the lesions remain unbothered by the cat.

Skin lesions and sores

Skin lesions and sores in cats

Cats can develop lesions on their skin for various reasons. Not all of them are cancerous. We can see:

  • Ringworm
  • Food or other allergies may lead to sores, loss of fur, and more
  • Eosinophilic granuloma complexes can manifest on the lips, skin, and head and be very itchy, painful, red, and irritated
  • Self-induced trauma can cause skin lesions. This may arise due to behavioral conditions such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive licking, or pain conditions
  • Parasites, e.g., fleas, which in some cats may cause flea allergy dermatitis and skin lesions

Changes in appearance

Changes in appearance skin cancer in cats

Some masses or skin lesions start pea-sized or smaller, do not bother the cat, and are not ulcerated, red, or without fur. You may decide (ideally, in conjunction with your veterinarian) to monitor the area rather than take a sample to determine what it may be or to remove it. If you elect this route, careful monitoring of the mass for any changes is critical. If it increases, changes shape, becomes irritated and red, or your pet starts licking at it, this is concerning and should be evaluated.

While owners may be inclined to wait, watch, and see, veterinarians recommend that upon first noticing a lesion, it be evaluated and, ideally, sampled to determine if it is something that will spread or cause problems or can be left alone and monitored.

Behavioral changes

Behavioral changes in cats with skin cancer

Often, feline skin cancer doesn’t cause any signs in the cat until an advanced stage or the tumor becomes irritated, ulcerated, red, or infected. Suppose the cancer has spread internally, such as to the lungs, local lymph nodes, or internal organs. In that case, you may see decreased appetite, changes in drinking and urination (increased), hiding, and less energy, among other things. If the cancer spreads to the lungs and becomes advanced, breathing trouble may arise.

Diagnosing skin cancer

The diagnosis of skin cancer involves evaluation by your veterinarian. Physical examination in combination with a sample of cells from the mass or lesion (cytology via aspiration) is commonly performed. Often, the answer is evident when looking under the microscope. However, in lesions with secondary infection or trauma, and with some types of cancers, the type of cancer may not be readily identified. In that instance, a biopsy would be the next step. Biopsies may include the whole mass (removal) or a punch biopsy (sample of the mass), which is then sent to the pathologist for evaluation and diagnosis.

Depending on the type of cancer and risk of spread, additional testing may include radiographs +/- abdominal ultrasound to look for cancer spread (metastasis) and bloodwork to rule out any other underlying medical concerns.

Treatment options for cat skin cancer

Depending on the type of cancer, treating skin cancer in cats can be as simple as removing the mass and confirming that it was removed in its entirety via biopsy and nothing more. The primary care veterinarian often performs treatment for skin cancer in cats. However, some owners may prefer to see a veterinary oncologist (cancer specialist) for evaluation and treatment or follow-up post-biopsy or board-certified surgeon for the removal of known cancerous masses. Regardless of who aids in treating your cat, feline oncology treatments for skin cancer may include:

  1. Surgical removal of tumors. For many cases of skin cancer, surgery is curative.
  2. Chemotherapy for cats. Various medications are often used in combination with surgical removal. Chemotherapy in cats differs from human therapy and is much better tolerated in animals.
  3. Radiation therapy for cats. This can be used as a primary treatment or post-operatively when the whole tumor wasn't entirely removed or to prevent disease spread in very malignant types of cancer.
  4. Photodynamic therapy. Using light to help destroy cancer cells.
  5. Combination therapy. Sometimes, more than one modality may be needed to provide a cure for your cat.

In feline oncology, treating cancer in cats with skin cancer is feasible. Despite many of the types of cancer commonly spreading, prompt recognition and diagnosis can lead to a complete cure.

Additional considerations

There are numerous costs associated with diagnosing, treating, and managing cats with skin cancer. The costs of treating cat skin cancer will vary depending on where you live and the prices in your area. Further, costs will vary if you elect to go for a referral and see an oncologist, a veterinarian trained explicitly in cancer, or a board-certified surgeon vs. if you work with your primary care veterinarian only.

Additional factors that affect the cost of treatment include the type of cancer, the ease with which the skin tumor is diagnosed, the location of the tumor, the ease or difficulty of removal, and the type of therapy (ies) needed. Surgical removal may be curative, but some cancers require additional treatment beyond surgery, e.g., radiation, chemotherapy, and frequent monitoring.

Thus, giving you an actual cost isn’t feasible as various variables need to be factored in. Still, therapy isn’t cheap, so planning for possible diseases in older pets is worthwhile. Put $10 a month into the rainy day pet fund so that you have some money if a problem arises, or inquire about pet insurance and consider it with each new pet.

Cost breakdown from diagnosis to cure

When a vet diagnoses skin cancer, this can involve an aspirate, where the vet takes a syringe or needle and sucks out some of the cells, and looks at them under the microscope, known as cytology. The sample may then be sent to a board-certified pathologist (another cost). Depending on the type of cat skin cancer suspected, this will depend on whether your primary care veterinarian feels comfortable addressing the mass or refers you to a veterinarian for cat skin cancer: a veterinary oncologist.

Once a diagnosis is made, the type of treatment will incur various costs and include not just the initial therapy but monitoring and post-treatment care. For small masses, you may be looking at $500 –1,000 for removal and biopsy, but for larger masses, masses that are malignant and have already spread, or conditions that require multiple types of therapy, treatment costs can exceed $5,000–8,000. Staging (checking for spread) and preoperative bloodwork may be additional expenses or included in the costs for surgical removal.

The benefits of pet insurance

Veterinarians recommend pet insurance for cats of all ages. However, you will need to have the plan before identifying and diagnosing skin cancer in your cat, or it will be considered a pre-existing condition and likely excluded from coverage. Suppose you have a pet insurance plan that covers major medical expenses. In that case, some plans include the costs associated with diagnosing and treating feline skin cancer. Contact your plan to determine if you have the needed coverage and what it contains.

Preventing skin cancer in cats

The best way to prevent complications and shortened lifespans from skin cancer in cats is to ensure regular veterinary check-ups. Annual visits for pets up to 7–8 years of age and twice yearly after that help veterinarians identify lesions early and, thus, can provide treatment of most skin cancers.

Regularly assess your pet's fur and skin for changes and check for any growths. If noted, do not wait and see what happens; since most cat skin cancer is malignant and carries a potentially poor prognosis, seek evaluation when you find a mass. Don’t just monitor and see if it grows or changes.

Since sun-induced radiation may contribute to some types of skin cancer in cats, keeping cats indoors eliminates this risk. For those who go outside, especially those with light skin and hair coats or no pigment, consider pet-safe sunscreen to lessen the risk of solar-induced changes.

Feline skin cancer outcomes can be favorable

Cat skin cancer can manifest in numerous ways and look like many things. Presuming something is cancerous until proven otherwise is the safest bet. If you notice a mass, ulcerated area, swelling, fur loss, redness, or related signs in your cat, consult your veterinarian. Since cancer in cats is more often than not malignant, it is essential to check abnormal areas without waiting and address the issue when it arises.

Cat skin cancer can be successfully treated when caught early. Becoming familiar with what to look for, possible treatment options and the costs of feline skin cancer care will help you protect the health of your loved one and protect your human-animal bond.


Key takeaways:

Leave a reply

Your email will not be published. All fields are required.