Believe it or not, something as seemingly innocuous as mouth licking can be a sign of cancer in a cat, says a veterinarian.

Your cat has been licking its mouth a lot lately, and at first, you thought this was just part of your pet’s meticulous grooming, but you now are wondering if this could be a sign of cancer.

Most Common Cause of Excessive Mouth Licking in a Cat

Without a doubt, the most common explanation for why a cat frequently licks its mouth is dental disease, says Dr. Jules Benson, BVSc, chief veterinary officer with NationwideDVM, a pet insurer company.

“Red, swollen gums, bad breath, difficulty eating and frequent licking can all be signs of gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontal disease (inflammation of the structures supporting the teeth, including gums, bones and nerves),” explains Dr. Benson.

How can you help prevent such a problem? Make sure you take your cat to see the vet on a regular basis, advises Dr. Benson.

This should include dental check-ups and at-home dental care to help reduce the chances of any kind of periodontal disease developing.


Now, if your cat shows one, a few or all of these symptoms, don’t assume it’s probably dental disease, because these same clinical signs  —  including mouth licking  —  could mean cancer, says Dr. Benson.

“By far the most common oral tumor in cats is squamous cell carcinoma,” he says.

According to, this cancer usually affects older cats, with the average age of diagnosis being 12.5 years.

The website lists the following as risk factors: sun exposure, use of flea collars, persistent consumption of canned food, and, believe it or not, smoking on the part of the owner.

In fact, if the owner smokes one to 19 cigarettes a day, the risk jumps up four times.

“Early recognition is the key to maximizing the chances for successful treatment, though the prognosis is always guarded in these cases because the cancer often spreads very quickly,” says Dr. Benson.

This cancer is treatable only when caught early.

Don’t wait till your cat is constantly licking its mouth to get comfortable examining its mouth on a routine basis or to look into protecting your cat with pet insurance policy that covers cancers as standard, advises Dr. Benson.

Dr. Benson is regularly consulted by many media outlets including ABC, NBC, FOX, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times to provide pet health advice to pet parents nationwide. pupp
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.