Cat Mouth Cancer - Feline Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma Explained

Cat Mouth Cancer - Feline Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma Explained

Health & Safety

Our lovely feline friends give us so much pleasure and they are such a pleasure to have around. Adorable when they're kittens, naughty as their start to grow up and charming to watch as their individual characters start to develop. For many pet owners, cats are their constant companions and become an integral part of the family so when they get sick, it can be an extremely worrying time.

One condition that very often catches pet owners out is a condition called oral squamous cell carcinoma. This is a very nasty and serious disease seen in cats all too frequently. Unfortunately, the tumour is often not identified as being a tumour until the lesion is in its advanced stages. Cats suffering from the condition have to deal with a lot of oral pain and often the only indication owners have there is a problem is the fact their pet develops really bad breath (halitosis). This is caused by the bacterial infection that takes hold in the cat's mouth.

This nasty disease is a cancer that rears its ugly head in the cells that produce the lining of a cat's mouth and throat. This includes the gums, cheeks, tongue and tonsils. The cancer can be extremely invasive, growing quickly in the tissues of the mouth with the visible part of the tumour just being a tiny part of the whole growth that's hidden beneath.

When Do Cats Develop The Disease?

As cats get older and reach the age of 11 and 12, they are more prone to suffering from oral squamous cell carcinoma, although cats as young as 2 years of age can develop the condition too. Sometimes the first sign there is a problem is a swelling on your pet's face. You may notice some loose teeth and weight loss due to the fact it hurts when your cat eats which means they might just refuse to eat altogether or have a reduced appetite. Your pet will also have very bad breath (halitosis).

Other obvious signs there may be a problem is your pet may start scratching at their faces on the side where they feel any pain, and they will start dribbling. The problem is that very often there is no obvious sign only that your cat just loses weight for what appears to be no reason at all, because they have lost their usual appetites.

Getting the Problem Diagnosed Correctly

It is really important to get the disease diagnosed as soon as possible to eliminate other conditions which affect a cat's oral health, some of which show symptoms which are quite similar to oral squamous cell carcinoma. This includes eosinophilic granuloma complex. However, there are other conditions and oral illnesses which can affect a cat's oral health which is why a vet has to examine your cat and then diagnose exactly what it is before going down the route of treating them for oral squamous cell carcinoma.

What Happens Next?

In order to establish your pet is suffering from oral squamous cell carcinoma, your vet will do a biopsy. This is especially the case if there is an asymmetric redness and a swelling on the gum or the lining of the cheek. If your pet is dribbling a lot and shows signs of being in a lot of pain, then a biopsy will also determine whether this is being caused by the disease.

The earlier the disease is diagnosed the more successful any therapy or treatment might be, but because it is so hard to spot oral squamous cell carcinoma in its early stages by the time a cat arrives at the vet, the disease is already in its advanced stages. This is why it is so important to keep an eye on your pets dental health as soon as you buy or adopt a cat right through to their senior years, and to watch out for the subtle signs mentioned above.

Fortunately, the disease very rarely spreads into the blood stream or to the lymph nodes. But vets usually like to check both the lungs and lymph nodes to make sure the cancer has not spread and to establish there is no evidence of tumour dissemination before making their prognosis.

What About Treatment Options?

Unfortunately, the prognosis for cats diagnosed with oral squamous cell carcinoma is never good no matter what treatment they are given. There has been a lot of research carried out and treatments explored which includes invasive, radical surgery as well as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and many others, sometimes combining treatments with an anti-inflammatory therapy.

However, these studies have shown that life expectancy of a cat once the condition has been diagnosed can be only 1½ to 3 months, although some cats are so resilient they can live anything up to a year after the disease takes hold. When radiation therapy is used and the tumour is killed off, the hole that's left in the mouth presents another problem. Build up of food in the hole can cause an infection and often water gets into the cat's nasal cavity which leads to more health issues.


Keeping a close eye on your cat's dental health is crucial to their well being. If you notice your pet has bad breath, you should take them to see the vet as soon as you can so they can determine whether the cause is a bad tooth and not an oral squamous cell carcinoma flaring up. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the better chances your cat has of being successfully treated and of not having to suffer too much oral discomfort or stress.

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