Cats with oral cancer usually don't get good prognoses, because by the time a tumor is discovered it's usually too late for treatment. Check your kitty's mouth on a regular basis and learn to brush his teeth. If you spot anything amiss in his mouth, contact the vet.
Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Probably the most common feline mouth tumor is oral squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell tumors grow quickly, so time is of the essence once Kitty is diagnosed. While such tumors can occur anywhere in his mouth, they generally appear under the tongue or on the gums. Such a tumor appears as an irregular mass, often inflamed and spreading easily. If Kitty has bad breath or if you see ulcers in his mouth, take him to the vet for a checkup. Other signs of oral squamous cell carcinoma include tooth loss and a swollen jaw or cheekbone.
If caught early enough, and depending on the location of the tumor, your vet might opt for surgery. If the carcinoma is contained within the lower jaw, your vet can remove the tumor and follow it with radiation therapy. Recuperation is difficult; your cat will need special feeding, for instance. But surgery does offer him a chance. If he makes to the one-year anniversary of his surgery, there's a pretty good chance he'll make it to the second anniversary. If his cancer can't be treated, your vet can offer pain medication to make him as comfortable as possible until you make the decision to euthanize Kitty.
If you or other members of the household smoke, here's a good reason to quit: Second-hand smoke is a major risk factor for feline oral squamous cell carcinoma. If you don't quit for yourself, quit for Kitty. Other risk factors include using flea collars and regularly feeding Kitty canned tuna.
Besides oral squamous cell carcinoma, fibrosarcomas can develop in Kitty's jaw. Because it is so invasive, the vet must remove a great deal of Kitty's tissue in order to get "clean margins" -- areas where there is no evidence of cancer. If your vet does get all of the cancer out and follows up with radiation therapy, Kitty can have a good prognosis.
Other Mouth Tumors
Although squamous cell carcinoma and fibrosarcomas are the most common feline mouth cancers, Kitty might also develop granular cell tumors, lymphoma, melanoma, osteosarcomas and even more rare cancers in his oral cavity. Because these tumors occur so infrequently, it's hard to determine a general prognosis. As always, early detection makes a difference.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- DVM360: Feline Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma: An Overview
- Veterinary Partner: Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma (Feline)
- American Veterinary Dental College: Oral Tumors in Pets
- VetInfo: Cat Mouth Cancer
- VetInfo: Jaw Cancer in Cats
- Veterinary Medical Center of Long Island: A Review of Canine and Feline Oral Tumors
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.