Are Lipomas Dangerous For Cats

What are Lipomas?

Lipomas are benign fatty tumors that develop under the skin of cats (PetMD, 2021). They form from fat cells that clump together and grow into a soft, moveable lump. Lipomas most commonly develop on the torso, legs, and shoulders of cats, areas where fat tissue accumulates. They are fairly common in cats, especially as they age. Over 50% of cats over 6 years old develop at least one lipoma.

Signs of Lipomas in Cats

The most common sign of a lipoma in cats is the appearance of a soft, movable lump under the skin. Lipomas are typically oval or round in shape and range in size from a pea to a few inches across. They have a rubbery, doughy feel on examination. The overlying skin remains normal, though very large lipomas may cause the fur to thin over the surface of the lump.

Lipomas tend to be painless. Even large lipomas usually don’t cause discomfort unless they impede mobility or become ulcerated from rubbing against objects. Areas prone to developing ulcerations include the hind legs and armpits. Ulcerated lipomas appear as hairless, oozing sores with crusted scabs.

Common locations for lipomas include the torso, shoulders, limbs, hips, armpits, and upper hind legs. A cat may develop single or multiple lipomas. These fatty tumors can occur anywhere on the body where fat deposits are located.

While lipomas generally don’t indicate a health issue, their presence may signify an underlying condition involving fat metabolism or endocrine function. Any new lump warrants an exam by a veterinarian to distinguish a lipoma from more serious growths.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of lipomas in cats is unknown. However, certain factors are associated with an increased risk:

Age – Lipomas typically develop in middle-aged to older cats. They are uncommon in cats younger than 6 years old.

Obesity – Overweight and obese cats have a higher chance of developing lipomas compared to cats with a healthy body weight. Excess fat cells may promote lipoma formation. According to PetMD, obese cats are at greater risk.

Breed – Some breeds seem more prone to lipomas, such as Domestic Short Hair cats. However, lipomas can develop in any breed.

While the exact trigger is unknown, lipomas appear to be caused by a proliferation of fat cells. They often form slowly over time. The fatty tumors themselves are benign (noncancerous) growths.

Diagnosing Lipomas

To diagnose lipomas in cats, veterinarians will perform a thorough physical exam, including a visual inspection and palpation of the lump. The vet will examine the cat’s skin for abnormalities and feel for any masses under the skin. Lipomas have a very characteristic feel – they are soft, movable, and pliable lumps under the skin.

To rule out cancer, the vet may perform a fine needle aspirate of the lump. This involves inserting a small needle into the mass and drawing out some cells for examination under a microscope. A lipoma will show a preponderance of fat cells. If the results are inconclusive, the vet may recommend surgically removing the entire lump for biopsy [1].

A biopsy provides a definitive diagnosis by allowing the vet to examine the cells of the mass under a microscope. This can conclusively differentiate between a benign lipoma and a cancerous tumor. While fine needle aspirates are less invasive, they do not always provide enough diagnostic information, in which case surgical biopsy may be recommended [2].

Treatment Options

Treatment for lipomas in cats will depend on the size and location of the growth. Small lipomas that are not bothering the cat may simply be observed by the veterinarian over time to monitor for changes.

According to PetMD, surgical removal is often recommended for lipomas that are large, growing quickly, restricting motion, or irritating the cat. Surgery to remove a lipoma is considered relatively straightforward. However, as with any surgery, there are potential risks and complications to consider such as infection, bleeding, reactions to anesthesia, and recurrence of the lipoma.

The specific surgical approach will depend on the location of the lipoma. Deeply embedded lipomas or those around delicate structures may require more extensive surgery. Cats may also need to wear an Elizabethan collar after surgery and limit activity while the incision heals.

According to VRA Veterinary Hospital, most cats recover fully after lipoma removal surgery, especially when caught early before major growth. However, owners should discuss all potential risks and benefits with their veterinarian before choosing surgery.

Home Care and Lifestyle Changes

There are some at-home care options and lifestyle changes that can help manage your cat’s lipoma:

Monitor the size and any changes of the lipoma closely. Measure the lipoma with a ruler and keep notes on the location, size, shape, color, and texture to track any developments. Contact your veterinarian if you notice any sudden growth or changes.

Maintain your cat’s optimal body weight. Obesity is a risk factor for developing lipomas. Feeding your cat a nutritious and portion-controlled diet can help avoid excess weight gain.

Consider nutritional supplements that may help. Some owners have had success treating lipomas with turmeric, dandelion root, and other natural anti-inflammatories. Always consult your vet before giving supplements.

Prognosis and Outlook

The prognosis for cats with lipomas is generally good, as they are typically benign fatty masses that are not life threatening. According to PetMD, lipomas rarely impair a cat’s health or quality of life. However, there are a few considerations when evaluating the prognosis:

While not cancerous, lipomas may continue to slowly grow over time and can become quite large. Large lipomas that restrict movement or impede other organs may require surgical removal. According to PetCure Oncology, extremely large lipomas can sometimes rupture and become infected.

Lipomas often recur after surgical removal, especially if the entire fatty mass and surrounding tissue is not extracted. Therefore, surgery may only provide temporary improvement. However, recurrence does not necessarily mean the lipoma will grow as large as the original.

In rare cases, a lipoma can transform into a liposarcoma, which is a type of malignant fatty tumor. Routine monitoring for changes is important to identify any cancerous developments.

Overall, with regular veterinary care and monitoring, most cats have an excellent long-term prognosis when lipomas are detected early and managed appropriately.

When to See a Vet

If your cat develops new lumps or growths, it’s a good idea to have your veterinarian examine them to determine if they are lipomas or something more serious. According to PetMD, the sudden appearance of new lumps warrants a veterinary visit for proper diagnosis and treatment.

You should also make a veterinary appointment if an existing lipoma shows rapid increase in size. A quickly enlarging mass could indicate a malignant tumor, so it’s important your vet investigates and rules out cancer.

Additionally, take your cat to the vet if a lipoma becomes painful or shows other changes like redness, bleeding, or ulceration. These signs may point to secondary conditions like infection or necrosis, which require treatment.

In summary, new growths, fast growth, pain, or other changes in existing lipomas warrant a prompt veterinary visit to diagnose the cause and guide appropriate treatment.

Preventing Lipomas

While lipomas are generally harmless, there are some steps cat owners can take to potentially reduce the risk of their cat developing these fatty tumors:

Maintain a healthy weight. Cats that are overweight or obese are more prone to developing lipomas. Keeping your cat at an optimal weight can help prevent lipomas.

Provide an enriched environment. Increased activity and stimulation is believed to potentially lower lipoma risk. Make sure your cat has adequate opportunities to exercise, play, and explore.

Routine veterinary care. Regular wellness exams allow your vet to monitor your cat’s health and weight. Early detection of any lumps or bumps gives the best chance for successful treatment. Your vet can also advise you on diet and lifestyle changes to optimize your cat’s health.

While lipomas cannot always be prevented, focusing on weight management, enrichment, and preventative vet care gives your cat the best shot at avoiding these benign tumors.

Summary

Lipomas are benign fat cell tumors that are commonly found in older cats. While generally harmless, lipomas can grow large and interfere with mobility or quality of life. Signs of lipomas include soft, movable lumps under the skin, especially on the belly, legs, and shoulders.

The exact cause of feline lipomas is unknown, but they often form in overweight or inactive cats. Diagnosis is made through a vet exam, though biopsy may be needed to rule out cancer. Small lipomas generally don’t require treatment beyond monitoring their size.

Larger or problematic lipomas may be surgically removed. Making dietary changes, increasing activity, and maintaining a healthy weight may help prevent new lipomas from forming. While lipomas themselves are benign, rapid growth or underlying health issues should be evaluated by a vet.

The key takeaways for cat owners are that lipomas are common in older cats, usually harmless, but should be monitored for any changes. Preventative care through diet, exercise, and vet checkups is important. If a lipoma becomes problematic, surgical removal is an option after discussing risks and benefits with your vet.

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