by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
With the hot days of summer around the corner, its worth remembering that some cats are prone to skin cancer from exposure to too much sun. The most common areas are the nose and ears, but any area that has exposed light-coloured skin or a thin covering of fur can be a target; eyelids, temples, lips, chin, paws and tummy. Although mostly seen in cats over 6 years old, any cat can be affected.
This article is meant as a nudge to check your cats regularly and consult with your vet; the information presented here is superficial and should not be used in place of proper diagnosis or treatment.
Skin cancer can be difficult to detect as the symptoms are common for many issues. A proper diagnosis is necessary to make a determination. Indications include small scratches or warts that bleed or do not heal, flaking, crusting or hair loss on nose and ears, redness, swelling or itching causing excessive scratching or rubbing, and a change in nose colour. In effect, any change that does not have an identifiable cause and does not heal quickly.
Cancer on the nose pad can cause difficulties in breathing, nasal discharge, sneezing, excessive tearing and possible neurological issues.
The best option is to examine your cats regularly; note and monitor any changes and consult your vet if the symptoms do not improve. Taking regular photographs of noses and ears and comparing helps in identifying small changes in colour or shape.
The main known causes of skin cancer are exposure to ultra-violet light (sunlight, including through a window) in cats with light pigment and less hair covering, and exposure to toxic inhalants such as cigarette smoke which is ingested during grooming. There is possibly a genetic link, and cats with FIV may be more susceptible.
Treatment depends on a variety of factors, including the health of the cat and the severity and position of the cancer, and is best discussed with your vet. Early detection and action can remove or kill the cancer cells and prevent them spreading to other parts of the body.
Even when the treatment has been successful, there is the possibility of recurrence.
A good diet will help to maintain a healthy body which can help fight early cancer.
Cats are also susceptible to other forms of cancer, for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan speak to your vet.
Prevention is far better than cure for skin cancer. Keep cats with light or white ears and noses, or a thin coat, indoors and away from sun spots between 10am and 2pm, the hottest part of the day. For cats that enjoy a warm windowsill an ultra-violet protection or shade on the windows will reduce the intensity.