Oral Tumors in Cats

It is important to always have a look in your cats’ mouth to assess the health of their gums and teeth. To check for any sores or foreign material, and to also check for oral tumours. Oral tumours in cats are generally about 80% malignant; malignant meaning that it may invade the surrounding tissues and spread throughout the body, such as cancer. The majority of tumours seen in cats are called Squamous Cell Carcinomas (SCC), representing about 60-80% of the oral tumours seen in cats.

Squamous Cell Carcinomas are fast growing, usually painful tumours commonly found in the cat’s oral cavity. If found and treated early, cats often have a good prognosis. It is vital to identify any oral tumours in cats as quickly as possible as they are fast progressing. The most common location of SCC in cats is under the tongue. They have also been found on the gingiva (the gums) or can even arise from the tonsil area.

The tumours will often look like areas of severe redness, inflammation, and look like an irritant in the mouth. Symptoms include foul breath, excessive salivation, reluctance to eat, or blood seen in the saliva. It may not be your typical “growth” look, but more like an ulcerated, inflamed area. If originating from the gingiva (the gums), it may invade deeper into the bone of the jaw causing tooth decay and loss, or a swollen jaw.

Cats can also get another malignant tumour, called a fibrosarcoma. These tumours generally originate from the fibrous connective tissue of the mouth. They usually appear as swelling on the gums, which often causes bone loss and decay. Surgical removal is warranted, although depending on the level of invasion, it may be too difficult to remove a tumour that has already invaded the jaw bone or deeper tissues. Other malignant oral tumours seen in cats can be classified as osteosarcomas (tumours of the bone), melanoma (skin cancer), and lymphoma (cancer of the lymph node). Early detection and treatment is key to any of these oral tumours.

Cats can also get benign tumours of the mouth. Benign means that it will not spread or invade the surrounding tissues. They sometimes can still grow quite large and can still cause problems as they get in the way of eating or cause the cat to be uncomfortable.

The important thing to note is that cats are very good at hiding when they are not feeling well, therefore it is important to check your cat’s mouth frequently for dental disease, trauma and oral tumours.

Diagnosis can be made by doing a fine needle aspirate (using a needle to collect cells from a tumour) or complete surgical excision of the mass and then sent to a diagnostic lab for detailed identification and staging. Your veterinarian may want to do aspirates of the nearby lymph nodes to assess for any spreading as well. In some instances, chest x-rays may be warranted to assess the spread as well, although SCC is generally localized, invading the nearby skin and bone, rather than spreading to areas of the chest. Leave it up to your veterinarian to make those informed decisions.

Written by: Michelle, RVT