Ask A Vet: I Found A Tumor On My Cat. What Is It?

| Published on August 24, 2015

The word “tumor” is scary. Animals do get cancers and sometimes they are visible as skin growths. Cats get tumors, both aggressive and benign. Many feline cancers are internal and will only become obvious after some medical investigation, but cats can get skin growths as well.

No one can tell by just looking at a mass whether it is malignant or not. Be aware that tumors are as individual as the patients they grow on and if you notice a mass or swelling on your cat, it is always best to see your vet for a true diagnosis.

One of the more common skin cancers that I see in cats is not actually a “growth” at all. Squamous cell carcinoma is common in white cats. This type of cancer is believed to be related to sun exposure and white cats lack pigment to help defend the skin. They will present with the tips of their ears looking hairless and slick. The edges of the external ears are sometimes scabbed and peeling or even appear to be rotting off. Any cat whose ear margins look abnormal should be evaluated by a vet as soon as possible. Many times the ear tips can be surgically removed (with no impact on the cat’s quality of life) to stop or delay cancer spread.

Another skin cancer that I have seen in a cat is Basal Cell Carcinoma. These small bumps on the skin can look harmless and many times removal is curative, but I have seen masses that look just like these come back on biopsy as aggressive malignancy. Sometimes even veterinarians will dismiss these innocuous looking masses and tell owners not to worry, but I have seen enough of them turn out malignant that I always check if I can. It is worth knowing because even with aggressive cancers, removal and early treatment can impact recovery.

For cats, the most concerning cancers are the ones that you cannot see at all. Cats suffer from internal malignancies like gastrointestinal lymphoma. Lymphoma patients may exhibit GI signs like vomiting +/- diarrhea and may lose weight. Any change in your cat’s weight, appetite or thirst must be reported to your veterinarian.

A cancer diagnosis is not always a death sentence. We have many effective treatment protocols and veterinary oncology has made leaps and bounds in cancer treatment. At the very least, your cat can be made comfortable and you can be prepared for what is to come. At the best, a surgical removal could be curative, reducing the tumor to a tiny scar and a memory. Even if malignancy is found, early intervention is the best chance for a cure. Let your veterinarian get the answers for you and your cat and then move forward to treatment as a team.


vet thumbnailAbout The Author: Dr. Kathryn Primm is a practicing small animal veterinarian and practice owner at Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, TN. She has consulted on articles for national magazines, done numerous radio interviews and appeared on local television. She has contributed to articles for Prevention magazine (April 2015) and Woman’s Day (Feb 2014 and June 2015). Her radio segment Chattanooga Pet Talk airs each week on all the local iHeart Media affiliates.

She has a social media presence on TwitterFacebook and Google+ and enjoys interaction with others about her passions, animals and communication.  She has written a book, Tennessee Tails:Pets and Their People. The book received recognition as Runner Up in the Memoirs category at a national book festival. You can read more about Dr. Primm and how to get the best value for your pet care dollar at her website,

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