squamous cell carcinoma in pets

Squamous Cell Carcinoma In Pets | golden retriever resting on walk
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Nov 30 2011

In a previous cancer awareness blog, we discussed the locally invasive fibrosarcoma, which is more common in cats. Today, we’ll discuss an equal opportunity tumor, squamous cell carcinoma, which unfortunately occurs in both our canine and feline friends.

What are squamous cells?

The cells that line many of the surfaces of our bodies are called epithelial cells. These cells cover the surfaces and line the cavities that interact with the outside world, whether that be the skin, mouth, digestive system or respiratory system. Squamous cells are a normal type of epithelial cell, and make up the outer layer of our skin, mouth and nose.

Common locations of squamous cell carcinomas include:

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  • Mouth
  • Nose
  • Nail beds of dogs
  • The ear tips and muzzles, particularly in white dogs and cats - these are sun-induced tumors


The difficulty regarding squamous cell carcinomas is their location. We already know that these tumors are generally locally invasive, meaning that they don’t spread to other parts of the body until well into the course of the disease. So, why can’t your veterinarian just remove the tumor and be done with it? Well, they can – if the tumor is located in the right place.

A perfect example of a tumor that can usually be removed in its entirety is the case of the white cat with a tumor on the tip of his ear. The vet would simply remove the affected ear tip. However, in the case of oral and nasal tumors, the solution is not so easy.

Signs and symptoms 

Oral masses are more difficult to detect, because in general, we don’t peek inside our pets' mouths on a daily basis. Bad breath, excessive salivation and bloody drool may clue us in to the fact that something is amiss in the mouth, but often these signs do not occur until the tumor is advanced.


Surgery can be performed on some tumors, like those that occur on the lower jaw or nail bed, but because of the locally aggressive nature of the tumor, surgical margins must also be aggressive. This usually results in removal of some of the jaw bone or the entire digit, as well as the tumor. A combination of surgery, radiation and occasionally chemotherapy will provide the best chance of prolonging the disease-free interval.

As is generally the case with cancer, early intervention will lead to the best outcome. If your pet will allow it, check her mouth and gums from time to time. This is easy to do if your pet is already accustomed to daily tooth-brushing. Notice your dog’s nail beds each time they are trimmed, and make sure to have unusual skin lesions checked out, especially if your pet is white and spends a lot of time outdoors.

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