factsheet – skin cancer in cats

Skin Cancer in Cats
(To download this factsheet please click here)

What is skin cancer?
Cats, just like humans, can get sunburnt. If your cat has light coloured fur on the nose or ears they are more susceptible to getting sunburnt, and in turn, getting skin cancer.

White cats are the most susceptible to skin cancer due to the light coloured fur and light pigmentation of the skin. Skin cancer in cats usually develops due to the skin being sunburnt a number of times. The sunburn causes the skin cells to become damaged and this increases the risk of skin cancer.

Once cancer has developed, the damaged cells begin to deteriorate and appear to be eaten away. If diagnosed in the early stages, the skin cancer can sometimes be cut out of the infected area, or radiation therapy may be needed. If left untreated, skin cancer can cause the spread of other cancers throughout the cat’s body and eventually lead to a very painful death.

The pictures above are of a cat with severe skin cancer. The cancer has spread throughout the body causing the cat to lose his sense of smell and taste. As cats rely on their sense of smell to eat, this cat began to starve. Unfortunately, the cancer spread so much in this cat he was unable to be treated. He was only three years old.

At Cat Protection we have taken in cats as young as 12 months who required surgery to remove skin cancer.

How can I prevent skin cancer in my cat?
As sunburn is one of the major causes of the development of skin cancer, it is important to prevent it. White cats and cats with light coloured noses, ears, or eyelids should be kept inside all the time, or at least during the hottest parts of the day (11am – 4pm).

Pet sunscreens or zinc can be applied to the cat’s ears and nose if they do go outside but do not use human sunscreen as it is toxic to cats. Pet sunscreen needs to be reapplied regularly to maintain effectiveness: check the package directions. Pet sunscreen is available from vets, Cat Protection, or good pet stores. Your cat can become sunburnt through some types of glass, so you may need to use sunscreen even for indoor cats.

What are the signs of sunburn and skin cancer?
If you notice any of the following you should contact your vet as soon as possible:

  • Reddening of the skin
  • Flaky skin on the ears, eyes, or nose
  • Sores on the ears, eyes, or nose, or lesions which may look like a scratch
  • Hair loss on ears, eyes, or nose
  • Over-grooming or scratching on these areas
  • Black discolouration around the ear tips (especially on all white cats)

Early intervention may save your cat’s life. Make sure you regularly check your cat’s ears, eyes, and nose for the signs of sunburn and take them to the vet for a check up if you suspect they have been sunburnt.

All cats are different and while some cats with pale features may never develop skin cancer, others may. It is best to try and prevent sunburn and in turn skin cancer than run the risk of your cat needing surgery or worse.

The Australian sun can be very harsh so all cats are at some risk. Make sure you take your cat to the vet at least once a year for a full-health check.

While all care has been taken in preparing this document, it is intended to provide general information only and should not be taken as constituting professional advice. Mention of a product or business does not mean endorsement by Cat Protection.