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Could My Cat’s Swollen Face Be Cancer? Tumors, Cysts, & Lumps Explained (Vet Answer)

Written by: Dr. Samantha Devine DVM (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on April 30, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

huge abscess on cat's face

Could My Cat’s Swollen Face Be Cancer? Tumors, Cysts, & Lumps Explained (Vet Answer)


Dr. Samantha Devine Photo


Dr. Samantha Devine

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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It can be pretty scary if your cat develops facial swelling, regardless of whether it is sudden. The first thing that comes to most of our minds is, “Is it cancer?” Let’s look at some possible causes of facial swelling in cats. Don’t worry because it’s not always cancer.

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Does a Cat With a Swollen Face Have Cancer?

If you find a lump on your cat’s cheek or notice your cat has a swollen whisker area, it’s easy to jump to a worst-case scenario, and cancer is one of the top differential diagnoses. Cats can develop oral masses or cancers on their face. The most common type is squamous cell carcinoma, which arises from cells lining the mouth or around the tongue. Some cats can have lymphoma and develop edema or facial swelling because the lymphatic system can’t drain adequately.

It’s not the only thing it could be, though.

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The 5 Other Potential Causes of Your Cat’s Swollen Face

As mentioned before, cancer could be just one of the reasons why your cat has a swollen face, so you do not want to jump to the worst-case scenario. Your vet will examine a few potential causes of your cat’s swollen face, as listed below:

1. Periodontal Disease and Abscesses

Another common condition that can result in what looks like a tumor on your cat’s face is tooth root abscesses. An estimated 50% to 90% of adult cats suffer from periodontal disease.1 Sometimes, bacteria will enter a tooth fracture or migrate along a tooth root and cause an abscess. Your cat can develop a swelling on its face, which sometimes bursts open and drains. The typical location for this swelling is under the eye around the maxilla.

cat with abscess on its face
Image Credit: Elena11, Shutterstock

2. Insect Bites or Stings

Cats love to hunt, and unfortunately, they sometimes hunt bugs. Your cat could get a bee sting, spider bite, or other insect injury. As part of the body’s inflammatory response, they might get a swelling or even an open sore.

3. Allergic Reactions

Your cat could develop an allergic reaction to a sting, vaccine, or other allergen. Some cats will get very itchy, while others may have watery eyes. Your cat could have a small bump, or its whole face could swell as part of an anaphylaxis response.

grey cat scratching itself indoors
Image Credit: Susan Santa Maria, Shutterstock

4. Eosinophilic Granuloma Complex

Eosinophilic granulomas can occur in several places on your cat’s body, including their face. These lesions often occur around the lip, which your vet might call a rodent ulcer. The tissue can become very inflamed and even erode.

5. Cysts

Some cats will develop cysts on their face. Cells can start to secrete fluid, which can lead to swelling. Cysts are usually benign but can become quite large and impact surrounding tissue. Cats may start to rub or scratch at the cyst and cause it to become infected.

vet checking a sphynx cat at the clinic
Image Credit: Irina Vasilevskaia, Shutterstock

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Diagnosing the Causes of Facial Swelling in Cats

You should schedule a veterinary appointment when you notice a swelling on your cat’s face. Your vet may suggest testing or an exam under sedation or anesthesia, depending on where it is and what it looks like.

The vet might want to take a cytology sample, where they stick a needle into the swelling to collect fluid or cells and either interpret it in the hospital or send it out to a pathologist for interpretation. They might also take a biopsy or tissue sample to submit to the pathologist for review.

Radiographs (X-rays) are a great diagnostic tool for looking for evidence of an abscess or changes that might affect the bone. Sometimes, your vet will refer you to a specialty center for more advanced imaging, such as a CT or MRI.

Your veterinarian may suggest blood work to check for evidence of inflammation or other metabolic changes. If they suspect cancer, they might suggest an ultrasound or radiographs (X-rays) to look for internal changes or cancer spread.

Treating Your Cat’s Facial Swelling

The treatment of facial swelling in cats depends on the underlying cause. Some masses will need to be surgically removed, but if there’s a tooth root abscess, the best treatment is to remove the infected tooth.

Your cat might need chemotherapy or radiation therapy for certain cancers. If it’s just an inflammatory response, your veterinarian could suggest steroids, anti-inflammatory medications, and antibiotics if there’s evidence of infection.

vet checking a white cat's face
Image Credit: MakeStory Studio, Shutterstock

Preventing Facial Swelling in Cats

There’s no definitive way to prevent your cat from developing facial swelling. Dental care can reduce the odds of your kitty getting a tooth root abscess, but it doesn’t eliminate the risk entirely.

Consider keeping your cat indoors to reduce the risk of exposure to insects that might bite or sting your feline family member.

If you notice any changes in your cat, have them evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible to try and intervene in the early stages of the mass or inflammatory process.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How do cats act when they have cancer?

Cats can have different signs of cancer, depending on the body systems affected. For instance, with cancer in the lungs, your cat might cough or have trouble breathing.

Some general signs of cancer include:
  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing
  • Respiratory distress
  • Non-healing wounds
  • Lumps
  • Pain

What does cancerous growth look like on a cat?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to cancers. Your cat could have a small lump that doesn’t seem to cause any trouble and looks like a skin tag, and it could be a metastatic lesion. Some cancers will become ulcerated or will erode some of the healthy tissue. Especially when masses get very large, they can have a necrotic or non-healing region.

cat's abdomen is shaved, washed and disinfected by a veterinarian before breast cancer surgery
Image Credit: Henk Vrieselaar, Shutterstock

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Like us, our cats can develop a variety of potential facial swellings. While some are cancer, others might be evidence of an infection. Your vet will help you determine the underlying cause to formulate a solid treatment plan.

See Also: 

Featured Image Credit: Elena11, Shutterstock

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