Pet Vet: Why a catís color can make it more susceptible to skin cancer

August 28, 2017

Snowball is a fluffy female cat 10 years of age. Can you guess what color she might be? I ask the question because it is relevant to what might be causing her problem.

According to Tamara, Snowballís house servant (Tamaraís words), Snowball has a problem with her left ear. Her problem initially started with some crusting/scabbing on the tip edge and Tamara says she used to be able to rub off the crusts leaving an area of slightly reddened skin behind. Over time however, the crusting has spread toward the ear base and the very tip edge now seems to be eroding. Tamara has tried treating with Neosporin, vitamin E oil and cortisone cream with no improvement.

Snowball needs to see her veterinarian. It is my suspicion that there is no over the counter remedy for what is causing the skin lesion on Snowballís ear.

The first step by the vet will be fairly noninvasive, a skin scrape using a scalpel blade across the area for examination under a microscope. This can show the cells involved with the lesion as well as possible skin parasites. Another quick and easy test is a culture for the fungus that causes ringworm. This involves removal of a few hairs from around the lesion area. I suspect these tests in Snowballís case will all be negative ó they will not reveal the cause of her skin problem.

My suspicion is that Snowball has a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer is particularly aggressive and depending on the location can quickly lead to death. In cats this is especially true if it occurs in the mouth, although squamous cell carcinoma of the ear can erode away the entire ear then spread to the rest of the head. In Snowballís case, the lesions were on the edge of the ear tip. Since Tamara did not note itís progression, I am not sure as to the extent now.

To definitively diagnose Snowballís ear problem we will need a biopsy. If the problem is indeed squamous cell carcinoma, all is not lost. Because of the location ó and assuming it has not progressed too far toward the base of the ear ó it may be entirely curable. The cure will involve resection of part of the ear including visibly healthy tissue as a margin from the tumor. Snowball may not appreciate her reflection in the mirror as much as before surgery but it is a small price to pay.

I mentioned earlier that Snowballís coat color may be playing a role in her disease. This is because white cats, yes, you were right, Snowball is a white cat; show a higher incidence for squamous cell carcinoma. Another curious point is that outdoor cats are far more at risk for this disease than those living indoors because of increased sun exposure. Snowball however is an indoor cat thus providing yet another illustration that there are few absolutes.




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