Soft and Squishy. What the Texture of a Lipoma Reveals in Cats

What are Lipomas?

Lipomas are benign (noncancerous) fatty tumors that develop underneath the skin of cats (PetMD, 2022). They form as soft, movable lumps under the skin and are made up of fatty tissues. Lipomas commonly grow on the trunk, limbs, and head in cats.

Middle aged and older cats are predisposed, with overweight cats at an even higher risk. Certain breeds like Siamese and Domestic Shorthair cats may be genetically prone as well. Male cats are more likely to develop lipomas compared to females.

Lipomas are slow-growing masses that typically form between 5-15 years of age in cats. They arise from
adipose (fatty) tissue and can occur singularly or multiply throughout the body (NCBI, 2023).

Symptoms of Lipomas

Lipomas in cats are often asymptomatic, meaning they do not cause any symptoms or problems for the cat (Source). Since they grow slowly under the skin, cats can live with lipomas for years without any issues. However, in some cases lipomas may start to cause symptoms if they grow large enough to put pressure on surrounding nerves, muscles or tissues.

Some potential symptoms of lipomas in cats include:

  • The appearance of a soft, oval-shaped lump under the cat’s skin, often on the trunk or limbs (Source)
  • Pain or discomfort if the lipoma is pressing on nerves or tissue
  • Decreased mobility or reluctance to move if the lipoma is large or located on a joint
  • Irritation if the lipoma becomes ulcerated or infected

In most cases, lipomas themselves are benign and painless. But their size and location can sometimes cause secondary symptoms in surrounding tissues. Monitoring the size and symptoms of any lumps or growths on your cat is important.

Appearance and Texture

Lipomas present as round, movable masses underneath the skin. They feel soft and rubbery rather than firm. When gently manipulated, lipomas can be moved around easily under the skin. They are not attached to underlying tissues. The skin covering a lipoma generally looks normal and is freely movable over the mass.

Lipomas range in size from a pea to a few inches across. They are typically oval or spherical in shape. Sometimes lipomas occur in clusters or chains under the skin. Multiple lipomas are more common in older cats.

Common locations for lipomas include the trunk, limbs, chest and abdomen. However, lipomas can occur almost anywhere on a cat’s body. Their soft, pliable texture helps distinguish lipomas from other kinds of lumps.

According to PetMD, the rubbery feel of a lipoma is one of the primary ways veterinarians identify them during an examination. The texture and mobility under the skin gives a good indication the lump is likely a benign lipoma rather than something malignant.

Source: https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/skin/c_ct_lipoma

Diagnosing Lipomas

A veterinarian will diagnose lipomas through a physical exam of the cat. The vet will feel along the cat’s body to locate any lumps or masses under the skin. Lipomas have a soft, movable, rubbery texture on exam (Source). The mass can be gently manipulated and moved between the fingers. Often lipomas feel like a soft grape or fluid-filled balloon under the skin.

To confirm the diagnosis of a fatty tumor, the vet may perform a fine needle aspirate of the mass. This involves inserting a small needle into the lump and suctioning out some cells for examination under a microscope. Fatty tumors will show fat cells but no abnormal or cancerous cells on cytology. If a malignant tumor is suspected based on the cat’s symptoms or exam, the vet may recommend surgical biopsy of the mass for definitive diagnosis (Source).

Treatment Options

Treatment for lipomas often depends on the size and location of the growth. Small lipomas that do not bother the cat may only require observation. According to VR A Vet, lipomas that are less than 2 inches (5 cm) typically do not require any treatment.

However, larger lipomas or ones that are growing quickly may require surgical removal. Surgery also may be recommended if the lipoma is putting pressure on surrounding tissues or impairing mobility. According to PetCure Oncology, surgical removal is generally safe and effective for removing problematic lipomas in cats.

As with any surgery, there are potential risks and complications to consider. Anesthesia carries inherent risks, especially in older cats. And while the surgery is considered minimally invasive, there are risks of infection, bleeding, or seroma formation. Owners should discuss these risks as well as aftercare instructions carefully with their veterinarian before deciding on lipoma removal surgery.

Home Care and Monitoring

If your cat has a lipoma that does not require removal, you will need to monitor it at home. It is important to regularly check the size and shape of the lipoma. Use your fingers to feel along the edges and note any changes. A rapid increase in size can indicate the tumor is malignant. Monitor for other concerning changes like:

  • Becoming red, inflamed, or ulcerated
  • Seeming firmly attached to underlying tissues
  • Causing pain or difficulty moving

You should check the lipoma at least weekly in the beginning and then monthly once you establish a baseline. Keep notes on the location, size, texture, and appearance. Report any notable changes to your veterinarian right away.

Also be sure to keep the area around the lipoma clean. Use a damp cloth to gently wipe away dirt and debris to prevent skin infections. Check for fleas, ticks, cuts, or scratches on the skin overlying the lump.

While most feline lipomas are benign, monitoring at home allows you to identify high risk lipomas requiring surgery. If you notice concerning changes in your cat’s lipoma, contact your vet promptly.

Prevention

There is no known way to definitively prevent lipomas from developing in cats. However, there are some steps cat owners can take that may help reduce the risk of lipomas forming:

Maintaining a healthy weight and diet may help prevent lipomas. Obesity is a risk factor for developing lipomas in cats. Feeding your cat a nutritious, balanced diet according to their age and activity level can help keep their weight in a healthy range and reduce obesity.

There is some anecdotal evidence that supplementing cats’ diets with fish oil may help prevent lipomas, but there is no scientific proof of this. Talk to your veterinarian before making major diet changes.

While unproven, some holistic veterinarians believe providing cats with antioxidant supplements and avoiding toxins in food and environments may help reduce lipoma development. But again, there is no definitive evidence this prevents lipomas.

Overall, the best prevention is regular veterinary checkups to monitor your cat’s health and weight. Catching any issues early allows taking steps like weight loss to potentially impact conditions like lipomas. But lipomas can still occur without any identifiable cause.

Prognosis

The prognosis for cats with lipomas is generally excellent. Lipomas are benign fatty tumors that typically do not affect the cat’s health or quality of life [1]. While lipomas can grow over time, they are not considered malignant or life-threatening [2].

One downside is that lipomas can recur after surgical removal, with reported recurrence rates ranging from 3% to 44% [3]. However, recurrent lipomas tend to grow slowly and can be monitored or removed again if needed. Overall, the prognosis for cats with lipomas is very good.

When to See a Vet

You should take your cat to the vet if you notice any new masses, even if they seem harmless. According to the VCA Animal Hospital, any new lump should be evaluated by a veterinarian to determine if it is a lipoma or another type of tumor [1]. Signs that warrant an urgent vet visit include:

  • Detection of a new lump or mass
  • Rapid growth of an existing lipoma
  • Changes in the lipoma’s texture, such as becoming firm or fluid-filled
  • Signs of pain, itching or irritation around the lipoma site

According to PetMD, lipomas that develop in risky locations like the spleen or chest should also be evaluated as soon as possible, as they can cause problems by pressing on underlying organs [2]. Contact your vet promptly if your cat shows signs of respiratory distress or abdominal pain along with a lipoma.

In addition, lipomas that ulcerate, bleed or weep fluid warrant emergency vet care. These signs can indicate that the fatty tumor has become infected or cancerous [2].

Summary

Lipomas are benign fatty tumors that commonly form under the skin of cats. They are soft, movable lumps that are usually painless. While mostly harmless, owners should monitor any changes in size, texture, or associated symptoms. Lipomas generally do not require treatment unless they impact mobility or quality of life. Most can be left alone and cared for at home, but a veterinary exam is recommended if the lipoma seems suspicious or causes discomfort. With regular monitoring and vet checkups, lipomas are manageable. While not life-threatening, they can indicate potential health issues, so care and attention are advised. Overall, lipomas in cats tend to be benign and soft, but owners should be aware of any changes and have new lumps properly diagnosed.

Scroll to Top