Feline Oral Cancer

February is National Pet Dental Health Month and complete oral health involves not only dental hygiene, but also monitoring the oral cavity for other problems such as cancer. Oral cancer accounts for 3% of all cancers in cats, a rate comparable to that in humans. Oral cancer is an important cause of morbidity and mortality in both humans and cats. Cat owners often ask me what they can do to prevent this deadly disease in their cats, so in keeping with this month’s theme of oral health, here are my suggestions for the cat owner.

Similar to oral cancer in humans, oral squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the most common oral cancer seen in cats. Use of tobacco products and consumption of alcohol are known risk factors for the development of oral SCC in humans. Most cat owners are unaware that research has shown cats living in a household with smokers are victims of second hand smoke exposure. There appears to be a relationship between exposure to second hand smoke and the development of oral SCC in cats.  If you smoke and can’t quit for yourself, then quit for your cat.

Cats should be seen by a veterinarian at least once a year and twice a year as they move into the American Association of Feline Practitioners “mature” life stage. Mature cats are 7-10 years of age and the average age for cat to develop oral SCC is 10 years, so the mature cat is at the target age for early detection of this tumor. During a scheduled wellness examination your veterinarian will assess the oral cavity and determine the need for dental cleaning or the presence of an abnormality requiring biopsy.

During National Pet Dental Health Month, pet owners will be reminded to brush their pet’s teeth daily. As a cat owner, you need to start early and teach your kitten to allow brushing. But don’t stop there, practice opening your kitten’s mouth to allow a visual examination of its oral cavity. Starting early will get your kitten used to having its mouth manipulated and make home monitoring of the oral cavity and vet visits easier for everyone. An added benefit of teaching your kitten to allow you to open its mouth will be less resistance to medication administration if required when your kitten is older.

When you look in your cat’s mouth, look everywhere. Oral SCC can occur anywhere in the oral cavity including on the tongue, under the tongue, gums or either the upper or lower jawbone. The tumor appears as a lumpy, reddening of the surface of the oral cavity, but this tumor can be devious. There may be nothing visible in the oral cavity, but the observant owner will notice swelling near one of the eyes, discharge from only one eye or reluctance to chew on one side of the mouth. Any of these changes should provoke a visit to your cat’s veterinarian.

Regular veterinary visits are vital to keeping your pet healthy. Our pets are experts at hiding things from us, including various illnesses; this is why routine veterinary care is so important.

The Animal Medical Center is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is available for routine, specialty and emergency care. For more information or to make an appointment, please call (212) 838-8100 or visit www.amcny.org.

8 Responses to Feline Oral Cancer

  1. Thanks for sharing – caring for a sick pet, especially one with cancer, takes a team.

  2. Diane F says:

    Our cat was diagnosed with jaw cancer 3 weeks ago. She has a good size tumor on her lower left jaw. Our vet said “months.” She stopped eating for 3 days. After calling the vet, we changed to a stronger pain medication which has seemed to help. The only thing I could originally get her to eat after that was the water drained off of cans of tuna. She’s lost weight for sure. Today, I tried her favorite human food, chicken. I added water and used a hand blender to make a “chicken smoothie” for her…She loved it! It’s the first solid food she’s had in days, and she seems much more content now. We’ve done little amounts, and we’ve fed her more frequently. I plan to try beef tomorrow. She’s been hungry, but too much in pain to eat anything remotely solid. Hope this helps some others out there!

  3. I am so sorry about your cat Minus. Oral squamous cell carcinoma is a tumor I hate to see as we do not know what causes it and do not have a good treatment for it. In people, smoking and alcohol consumption are risk factors as well as infection with the human papilloma virus. Clearly none of these played a role in Minus’ cancer. It is so sad to lose them when they are so young.

  4. Margarita says:

    My Minus had to be euthanized yesterday because of squamous cell tongue carcinoma. No one at home smokes, he’s fed organic food and only rarely canned food. I started feeding them canned food more regularly almost two years ago after I read about the convenience of mixing wet and dry food. He was only 9 1/2 years old. No risk factors, not even old age…

  5. tommy says:

    I am searching some cancer articles for my homework and ı found this blog.This article is very informative thanks for your efforts.

  6. I am sorry your cat is so sick, but happy he still enjoys going outside. One potential solution the veterinarians at AMC use to help cats such as Nikko, is to place a feeding tube either in the esophagus or the stomach. This way, food, water and medications can readily be provided to him. Your veterinarian will help you to decide which type of tube is best in Nikko’s situation.

    Ann E. Hohenhaus, DVM
    Diplomate ACVIM (Oncology and Internal Medicine)
    The Animal Medical Center
    510 East 62nd Street
    New York, NY 10065

  7. M Bartlo says:

    My 8 yr old cat, Nikko, has squamous cell tongue cancer. None of the risk factors apply except eating canned food. Well, I didnt brush his teeth either. My other cat is 17 , with same food and lack of toothbrushing.

    Nikko is 1 month post-diagnosis, but probably 3 mos post difficulties. He has trouble eating and drinking. I am writing in the hope of helping someone else.

    Eating is a problem. He can no longer eat “chunky” food, he must eat the canned “pate” style. I put a paper plate under his bowl to help keep the bowl stable and catch bits of food.

    He can’t use his tongue to eat or drink or groom. The grooming is almost the hardest. I can help him to eat or drink. I give him a bath every few days, and brush him. Still, he has lost a lot of fur trying to groom with his teeth.
    I am trying to teach him to drink from a water bottle such as hamsters use. I dont expect him to live longer than 3 months, that is the expectancy rate after diagnosis. but I can’t see putting him down while he can still enjoy running in the woods.

  8. Susan Phillips Cohen says:

    This information about how second hand smoke harms our animal friends is vitally important. Here in NYC, where many people live alone or with adults only, it’s easy to think we’re not hurting anyone if we smoke indoors. We forget about our cats, dogs, birds and other companions, who can’t protest when we light up. Thanks for spreading the word.

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