Lipoma in Cats. Can They Live With It?

What is a lipoma?

A lipoma is a benign (non-cancerous) fatty tumor that develops underneath the skin. It is the most common type of skin tumor found in cats [1]. Lipomas consist of fat cells surrounded by a thin layer of connective tissue. They are soft, movable lumps that feel like blobs of fatty tissue underneath the skin. These lumps are usually painless.

There are a few different types of lipomas:

  • Encapsulated – This is the most common type, with a defined capsule around the fatty tumor.
  • Infiltrative – These lipomas lack a defined border and seem to infiltrate the surrounding tissue.
  • Intramuscular – Forms deeper within the muscle tissue.

Though lipomas can develop anywhere on the body, they most often occur on the trunk, limbs, back, and head [2]. Overall, lipomas are benign growths consisting of fatty tissue underneath the skin.

Common locations for lipomas in cats

Lipomas commonly develop along the torso, limbs, and head/neck in cats (https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/skin/c_ct_lipoma). The body regions where lipomas most frequently occur include:

  • Torso – Lipomas often form on the chest, back, sides, and abdomen. Many develop along the midline of the body.
  • Limbs – The legs and paws are common sites for lipomas. They may grow on the front legs, back legs, or paws.
  • Head and neck – Some lipomas develop on the head, face, or neck region. They may occur under the jaw, chin, cheeks, or base of the ears.

Lipomas tend to appear on the trunk and proximal limbs rather than the distal extremities. The fatty tumors generally grow just under the skin in the subcutaneous fat layer. Areas with looser skin and more fatty tissue predispose cats to developing lipomas (https://petcureoncology.com/lipomas-in-cats/).

Symptoms and diagnosis

Lipomas in cats are usually asymptomatic, meaning they do not cause any symptoms (PetMD). The lipomas present as soft, movable lumps under the skin, which you may be able to see or feel. They are benign fat cell tumors that form masses under the skin, often on the head, neck, chest, abdomen, and limbs (VRA).

To diagnose a lipoma, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam, feeling for the characteristic soft, movable lump under your cat’s skin. They may also recommend a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis by examining a small sample of the lump under a microscope (PetMD). This helps rule out other potential causes like cancer.

Sources:

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

https://www.vravet.com/site/blog/2022/03/30/lipoma-in-cats-symptoms-and-treatments

Treatment Options

There are several options for treating lipomas in cats:

Observation

Many lipomas do not require any treatment. Since they are usually benign fatty masses, observation is often the best approach. Your veterinarian will monitor the lipoma at regular checkups to ensure it does not grow rapidly or impair your cat’s movement or quality of life. Only about 10-15% of lipomas require treatment beyond monitoring [1].

Surgical Removal

If the lipoma interferes with mobility, is in a location that rubs and irritates your cat, or shows signs of rapid growth, surgical removal may be recommended. This involves placing your cat under anesthesia and surgically removing the lipoma. There is a risk of reoccurrence at the same site. Your veterinarian will discuss the details of the relatively routine procedure [2].

Steroid Injections

Your vet may recommend injecting a steroid medication directly into the lipoma to shrink it. This is less invasive than surgery but may need to be repeated. Steroids can have side effects with long-term use, so your vet will weigh the risks and benefits [3].

When to treat vs monitor

The decision on when to treat a lipoma versus just monitoring it depends on several factors:

Size – Larger lipomas over 2 inches in diameter may warrant removal, as they can impede movement or cause discomfort. Smaller lipomas can often just be monitored.

Location – Lipomas in sensitive areas like the armpits, behind the leg, or near joints may require removal if they cause irritation. Lipomas in less problematic areas may just need monitoring.

Symptoms – Any lipoma causing significant pain, inflammation, ulceration or affecting mobility or quality of life should be considered for removal. Asymptomatic lipomas may not need treatment.

Age – Older cats or those with health conditions may benefit more from proactive lipoma removal. Younger healthy cats can often monitor small asymptomatic lipomas.

So in summary, size, location, symptoms and age of the cat play a role in deciding between monitoring or surgical removal. Your vet can help determine if a “watch and wait” approach is suitable or if proactive removal is recommended based on these factors.

Surgery details

Lipoma removal surgery in cats involves removing the fatty tumor under general anesthesia. The veterinarian will make an incision over the lipoma and dissect it away from the surrounding tissues. The procedure typically takes 30-60 minutes depending on the lipoma’s size and location (https://petcureoncology.com/lipomas-in-cats/).

Recovery time after surgery is usually 1-2 weeks. The incision site needs to be monitored for signs of infection or delayed healing. Cats may be sent home with pain medication and antibiotics. Owners will need to limit activity and prevent licking or rubbing of the incision area (https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/skin/c_ct_lipoma).

Risks associated with lipoma removal surgery include anesthesia complications, excessive bleeding, infection, seroma formation, and recurrence. Lipomas located deep in the body or intertwined with muscles/nerves can be more challenging to remove completely. The veterinarian will discuss any specific risks based on the lipoma’s location and characteristics.

Non-surgical options

Steroid injections such as prednisolone or dexamethasone directly into the lipoma can sometimes shrink the lump without surgery. The steroid helps reduce inflammation and inhibit growth factors. According to one source, steroid injections led to significant size reduction or complete remission in 75% of cats with lipomas in one study. However, the lipomas often regrow after some time. Multiple treatments may be necessary.

Potential side effects of steroid injections include pain at the injection site, infection, and thinning or changes in fur color where the shot is given. Long-term use can also lead to side effects like increased thirst and urination, increased appetite, panting, and muscle weakness.

Other injectable drugs like collagenase and lipase enzymes are sometimes used to break down fatty lipoma tissue as well. More research is still needed on these enzyme injections.

Home care

There are some home care techniques that can help manage cat lipomas without surgery:

  • Gently massaging the lipoma lump can help break it up and soften it. Massage for 5-10 minutes daily, being careful not to cause pain or irritation.
  • Applying heat, such as a warm compress or heating pad set on low, can help increase blood flow and break down the fatty tissue. Apply for 10-15 minutes 1-2 times per day. Make sure your cat doesn’t overheat.
  • Cold therapy with an ice pack wrapped in a towel can reduce inflammation. Apply for 5-10 minutes once or twice a day. Don’t place ice directly on the skin.

While not curative, massage and hot/cold therapy may help shrink or soften lipomas to some degree and provide comfort for cats.

Sources: https://pethelpful.com/cats/cat-lipoma, https://www.zumalka.com/blogs/blog-pet-health/6-natural-remedies-for-fatty-tumor-in-cats-you-should-have-in-your-checklist

Outlook and prognosis

According to this article, the prognosis after a diagnosis of a cat lipoma is generally good and not a cause for alarm. Lipomas are typically benign fatty masses that form under the skin. While some lipomas may grow larger over time or new ones may develop, they are not cancerous or directly life-threatening.

However, according to this veterinary source, in rare cases a lipoma can transform into a liposarcoma, which is a malignant fatty tumor. Therefore, it’s important to monitor existing lipomas and be aware of any new ones that develop. But in most cases, lipomas are harmless and cats can live comfortably with them.

Overall, the prognosis for cats with lipomas is very good. They are considered benign tumors that do not directly impact lifespan or quality of life. While ongoing monitoring is advised, lipomas themselves are not dangerous or fatal.

Prevention

Unfortunately, there is no known way to prevent lipomas from forming in cats. Since obesity may be a contributing factor, maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise may help reduce a cat’s risk. However, lipomas can develop even in cats who are not overweight. There are no supplements, medications, or home remedies proven to prevent lipomas. The best approach is to have any new lumps or bumps on your cat examined by a veterinarian to determine if they are lipomas and monitor their growth.

According to one source, “There are no known preventative measures for lipomas in cats. Lipomas occur randomly and may develop no matter how healthy your cat is.”1 While the exact causes are unknown, keeping cats at a healthy weight may help avoid contributing factors like obesity and inflammation. Consult your veterinarian about an appropriate diet and exercise plan for your cat.

Scroll to Top