Pet Cancer: Why You Shouldn't Automatically Think the Worst

A Cancer Imposter in Cats

Occasionally, what a pet owner thinks is cancer actually turns out to be something completely benign, such as lentigo simplex in orange cats.

As your orange tabby cat ages, he may start to get little, dark spots on his lips and gums. These spots typically increase in number and size as your cat gets older. The flat, dark spots are accumulations of pigment in the skin, but this pigment is normal, unlike an accumulation of malignant pigment cells known as melanoma.

Lentigo simplex is much more common in cats than melanoma, but if you find dark spots of any kind on your cat, be sure to bring it to the attention of your veterinarian.

Proactive Cancer Prevention

When it comes to catching cancer early, one of the most important things that you can do is one of the simplest: Look at your pet — not just with adoring eyes, but with a critical mind. Ask yourself if you see anything different from the last time you gave him a once-over.

You should also pet your dog or cat — all over. Pay attention to what you're feeling as you stroke the coat, making sure to notice any lumps or bumps. Brushing or combing your pet daily is another way to become familiar with his anatomy and unwanted growths.

If you find a lump on your pet, make an appointment to see your veterinarian. If you have a light-coated pet, mark the fur near the mass with a permanent marker to help locate it once you get to the vet. Dark-coated pets are a challenge, but a well-placed swipe of Wite-Out® works well — or snap a photo with your smartphone.


Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a practicing veterinarian for 25 years, is board-certified in both oncology and internal medicine. She maintains her clinical practice at The Animal Medical Center in New York City, providing primary care to her long-term patients and specialty care to pets with cancer and blood disorders.

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