Fatty Lumps and Kitty Bumps. Where Lipomas Grow on Cats

What are Lipomas?

Lipomas are benign (non-cancerous) fatty tumors that form under the skin. They are soft, movable lumps made up of fat tissue that grow between the skin and muscle layer. Lipomas are usually harmless and often do not require treatment. However, they can sometimes grow large enough to put pressure on internal organs and nerves, causing discomfort or mobility issues.

Lipomas are one of the most common benign soft tissue tumors found in cats. They consist of mature fat cells surrounded by a thin fibrous capsule. The fat cells clump together to form a round, oval, or lobular lump under the skin. Lipomas can range from pea-sized to several inches across. They are usually soft, movable, and painless.

While the exact cause is unknown, lipomas are thought to occur from an overgrowth of fat cells. They can develop anywhere on the body where fat tissue is present. Some cats may be genetically predisposed to developing multiple lipomas. Obesity and high-fat diets may also be risk factors. But in most cases, they form spontaneously in middle-aged and older cats.

Lipomas themselves are harmless. Many cats can live with them without any problems. However, their location can sometimes cause issues. Lipomas growing over joints may restrict movement. Those along the spine can press on the spinal cord. Lipomas around organs may interfere with organ function. In rare cases, very large lipomas may rupture or get twisted.

So while lipomas are benign fatty tumors, their size and location can potentially cause health complications in some cats. Catching and monitoring them early allows for treatment before they lead to impaired mobility or organ damage.

Common Locations for Lipomas in Cats

Lipomas are most commonly found along the torso, chest, legs, and head/neck of cats. This is because lipomas develop under the skin, so as they grow larger they may form noticeable lumps or bumps protruding on the surface.

Some of the most common specific locations for lipomas in cats include:

  • Along the chest and abdomen. The torso is a frequent spot for lipomas as there is a lot of fatty tissue there.
  • On the legs, especially older cats. Lipomas on the legs usually form on the upper hind legs or around the shoulder/front legs.
  • Under the neck, forming bumps. Lipomas in this area can cause stiffness and discomfort.
  • On the head, face, or around the ears. Lipomas on the face tend to be smaller.

According to one study, the most frequent locations for lipomas were on the torso, making up 58% of cases [1]. Lipomas were also commonly found on the limbs (19% of cases) and head/neck (14% of cases).

Because lipomas develop under the skin in the fatty tissue, as they grow larger, they will form noticeable bulges, masses, or bumps protruding on the surface. This is why lipomas may first be found when petting your cat.

Chest and Torso

Lipomas frequently develop along the chest, back, sides, and belly of cats. The torso contains a large amount of fatty tissue right under the skin, making it a prime location for lipomas to form (PetMD).

Lipomas in these areas often grow quite large, sometimes reaching the size of a golf ball or larger. Owners may notice a soft, movable lump along their cat’s torso that seems to gradually increase in size over time. These lipomas are generally not harmful, but their location can cause discomfort if they impede movement or rub against surfaces (VRA Vet).

While a lipoma on the chest or belly does not directly impact vital organs, very large lipomas may press on internal structures. Cats should be monitored for signs of breathing difficulty or changes in appetite, which could indicate compression of the lungs or digestive tract.

Legs

Lipomas commonly form on a cat’s legs and paws [1]. The legs provide little muscle or tissue coverage, allowing lipomas to push up easily against the skin. Lipomas on the legs and paws can range in size from very small to over 2 inches in diameter.

Cats may develop multiple lipomas on their legs over time. Having lipomas rub against leg bones, joints, and tendons can cause discomfort during movement. Cats may lick at lipomas on their legs repeatedly due to irritation. Large lipomas on the legs may obstruct walking and jumping.

Owners should monitor lipomas on their cat’s legs for signs of irritation or changes in size. Surgical removal may be recommended if the lipoma impacts mobility or quality of life.

Head and Neck

Lipomas often develop under the jaw, around the throat, and behind the ears in cats. These areas contain a lot of fatty tissue so lipomas can form there easily. According to PetMD, the head and neck region is the most common location for lipomas in cats.

Lipomas in the head and neck are usually benign, meaning they are noncancerous tumors. However, it is still important to monitor the size of lipomas in this area. As the lipoma grows, it can potentially obstruct breathing or swallowing if it presses on the windpipe or esophagus. Lipomas behind the ear can potentially impact balance and equilibrium if they grow large enough to put pressure on that region of the head.

While lipomas themselves are benign, their location in the head and neck means they should be closely watched. Notify your veterinarian if a lipoma in these areas seems to be increasing in size or changing shape. Early intervention can prevent problems if the lipoma starts to impact vital functions.

Diagnosing Lipomas

If a cat owner suspects their cat may have a lipoma, the first step is to take the cat to the veterinarian for an examination. The vet will feel along the cat’s body for any movable lumps under the skin. Lipomas are soft, movable masses that feel like blobs under the skin surface.

The vet may also use imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis and get more information about the size and location of the lipomas. An ultrasound is often used to get images of soft tissues and identify lipomas. It is a non-invasive test that does not require anesthesia. A CT scan can also be used to visualize lipomas. In some cases, the vet may perform a biopsy by taking a small sample of the lump and examining it under a microscope to confirm it is a benign fatty tumor.

Citing:
https://www.happysillycat.com/understanding-cat-lipomas-symptoms-causes-and-treatment-options/

Treating Lipomas

Treatment for lipomas in cats often depends on the tumor’s location and whether it is causing discomfort or mobility issues for the cat. Many lipomas that develop in cats are benign and do not require any treatment beyond monitoring by a veterinarian. According to research, “Most lipomas are diagnosed based on feel and do not require any treatment” (https://www.happysillycat.com/understanding-lipomas-in-cats-causes-symptoms-and-treatment/).

If a lipoma grows very large or begins interfering with the cat’s mobility or quality of life, surgical removal may be recommended. The surgery to remove a lipoma is called a lipomectomy. The vet will anesthetize the cat and then excise the fatty tumor along with a margin of healthy tissue around it. The wound is then closed with sutures or surgical glue. Recovery is usually simple with minimal restrictions on activity. However, in severe infiltrative cases where the lipoma is entwined with surrounding tissues, surgery may not be possible or advisable (https://www.happysillycat.com/understanding-lipomas-in-cats-causes-symptoms-and-treatment/).

Preventing Lipomas

There is no known way to definitively prevent lipomas from developing in cats. However, providing a healthy diet and lifestyle can support your cat’s overall health and wellbeing, which may help reduce risk factors.

Feeding your cat a nutritionally balanced diet with appropriate calories can help maintain a healthy weight and body condition. Obesity is a risk factor for developing lipomas. Consult with your veterinarian on the ideal diet and portion sizes for your individual cat.

Regular exercise can also help cats stay trim and fit. Interactive playtime, climbing cat trees, and allowing outdoor access (if safe) can encourage activity. Avoid overfeeding treats and monitor weight gain.

While not proven, some theorize that supplements like fish oil and vitamin E may help prevent lipomas, but check with your vet first. There is no definitive preventative, but focusing on overall wellness is always wise.

If your cat develops a lipoma, monitor for changes and contact your veterinarian. Though not always preventable, many lipomas can be successfully managed with routine care.

When to See the Vet

Most lipomas in cats do not require any treatment. However, there are some cases where you should take your cat to see the veterinarian:

If the lipoma seems to be growing rapidly or changing shape. According to PetMD, any rapid increase in size could indicate a malignant tumor instead of a benign lipoma. You’ll want your vet to evaluate it.

If the lipoma interferes with movement, urination, or defecation. As noted by VRA Vet Hospital, lipomas in certain locations can cause problems with mobility or normal bodily functions. Seek veterinary advice if this occurs.

If the lipoma is ulcerated, inflamed, or seems painful. According to Nevada Veterinary Cancer Care Center, these could be signs of infection or malignancy, requiring veterinary attention.

In most cases, lipomas are harmless fatty deposits. But your vet can evaluate any changes and determine if intervention is needed. Catching problems early is key.

Outlook for Cats with Lipomas

The prognosis for cats with lipomas is generally excellent if the growths are benign lipomas. According to PetMD, “Overall, the prognosis after a diagnosis of a cat lipoma is generally good and not a cause for alarm. If the lipoma is benign, which is usually the case, the cat should be able to live a normal life after treatment.”

Lipomas themselves are typically harmless, though their presence may indicate an underlying health condition. As long as the lipomas do not impair movement, become ulcerated, or show signs of changing into a more serious tumor, they often do not require removal.

Pet owners should monitor lipomas for any changes in size, shape, color, or texture and alert the veterinarian about any concerns. Routine veterinary checkups can help keep an eye on the lipomas as well. According to VRA Veterinary Hospital, “The vast majority of cats with a lipoma diagnosis do very well long term.”

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

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