What does it mean when you can feel lumps and bumps on your cat? Before you go into a panic, we’d like to note that while some situations might be serious, these masses don’t necessarily mean that something’s awfully wrong with your feline companion.
In this post, we’re going to look at some cases where you might feel lumps, but they’re completely physiological, and some cases where you have to take your pet to the vet as soon as possible. Naturally, since it is always better to be safe than sorry, we’d suggest taking your pet in for a checkup regardless of the type of lump, its location, your cat’s age and health status, and any other factors.
Make sure that what you’re feeling isn’t fat
While some might argue that fat doesn’t have the same consistency as some lumps, the truth is that many people don’t know how to make the difference between natural fatty tissue in a potentially overweight animal and a lump that could be an abscess, a cyst, or a tumor. If you’ve spayed your cat, you might notice that over the course of several months after the operation, her abdomen might accumulate a bit of fat around the incision and suture line.
If that’s what your feeling, your cat is in good health, she’s young, and you’ve respected the vaccination schedule developed by a veterinarian for your pet, you practically have nothing to worry about. The ‘lumps’ aren’t going to be lumps per se, they’ll feel like there’s a certain waviness under your cat’s skin. Fat tissue can turn into a benign tissue, in which case you’d have to feel a very well organized lump.
Types of lumps
Both animal and human bodies have different types of tissues, so you could be feeling a lump on a joint, for example, or you could be feeling a lump on your cat’s abdomen or somewhere that a lymph node is located.
Lymph nodes are lumps per se, and usually, you aren’t supposed to feel them as you pet your cat. However, if your cat has a cold or is suffering from an infection, some of them can grow in size, in which case you will feel one or more. In some types of cancer, multiple lymph nodes in your cat’s body will grow in size.
Another type of ‘lump’ that you might feel can be a gland. For example, if you have an outdoor cat and he or she is in the habit of getting into fights with other cats, his parotid gland might be damaged when another feline tries to bite his neck. As you know, cats are natural predators, and so they try to do as much damage as possible in areas where large vessels are located (such as the jugular vein in the neck). It just so happens that the parotid gland is located on either side of the mouth and in front of both of the animal’s ears, and that area can be prone to being bitten or heavily scratched by other cats.
Of course, in such cases, you’ll notice the primary lesion, meaning that you’ll see that the skin is pierced. If this happens, you have to take your cat to the vet as soon as possible because parotid gland abscesses are very hard to treat, especially in outdoor cats. This type of lump is a result of a puncture wound.
So, the first type of pathological lump you could feel is basically an abscess or in any case, an inflammatory reaction. Cats’ mouths are rich in bacteria (including Staphylococcus sp.), so if your own is bitten by another, she might develop an abscess. Every abscess has to be opened – and it does so either naturally, or a vet needs to do that mechanically – so that the puss gets out.
Benign and malignant tumors
With the prevalence of cancer in humans and animals nowadays, almost every pet parent will jump to conclusions and will start fearing that his or her cat has cancer whenever a lump is discernible. Now that we’ve at least established that there are situations that don’t involve cancer, let’s tackle it, as well.
Benign masses can be anything from warts and fatty tumors to fluid-filled cysts and histiocytomas. Both warts and cysts can show up in old and very old cats, and many times, they are nothing to worry about. However, you still have to take your pet to the vet to make sure that there’s no way of that mass affecting the animal’s wellbeing and you can’t know if it’s benign or not unless a vet has reached a diagnosis. Benign masses do not affect other organs, so they don’t spread.
Malignant tumors are another thing entirely because they always pose the danger of spreading to another organ. This includes mammary tumors, which are very risky in cats because they can spread to organs inside the abdomen, or worse, they can spread to the lungs. Simple removal is often not sufficient when it comes to malignant tumors, especially if they were discovered too late. Cancerous cells can be spread to other parts of the organ (or system) or can sometimes spread to distant parts of the body. Their malignancy cannot be controlled.
We advise you to spay your pets even before they enter their first heat cycle so as to eliminate or lower the risk of them developing any tumors that could affect their reproductive system. Needless to say, you’re doing yourself a favor if you have an outdoor cat – you’re both increasing her lifespan and making sure you don’t have to go out of your way to get people to adopt any kittens.
What can you do if you discover a lump or several?
It’s important to avoid going into a panic, as we already said in the beginning. You need to be able to make the difference between an emergency and a situation that does call for medical assistance or a diagnosis, but that could wait.
Begin by assessing your pet. Does your cat eat and drink plenty of water? Is your pet in a good mood, does he or she engage in the same activities as usual, have you noticed any changes in energy levels? Ask yourself all of these questions. See whether there are any changes when it comes to urination and defecation. If your pet is feeling lethargic, that’s not a good sign.
In case the mass you felt is difficult to discover, you have to do your best to localize it. Don’t insist too much, because some cats will want to be left alone after a while if you keep on touching the same body area time and again. Any cat loses patience if you don’t let them do what they want. Make a sign on the cat’s body using a non-toxic marker. This will help the vet know just what they have to check, especially if the lump is really small.
How is a lump diagnosed?
Since there are many types of lumps and they have different causes and might lead to different diagnoses, your cat will have to undergo several types of tests. Some vets might recommend an X-ray or an MRI if the X-ray is non-conclusive, whereas others might prefer to perform a fine needle aspirate and then send it to a lab for further examination.
In some cases, an incisional biopsy might be necessary, and what this means is that the cat will have a small bit of the mass removed and analyzed. An excisional biopsy is usually performed in surgery where the mass is removed in its entirety, and it can be used for a definitive diagnosis. However, both types of biopsies (especially the second) will call for your pet to be anesthetized and even operated on.
As you can see, reaching a diagnosis calls for multiple tests, and these are all expensive so always make sure that you have pet insurance. Otherwise, they’re going to cost you a lot of money. A simple X-ray can sometimes cost as much as $500, so pet insurance can save you a lot of trouble.
Treating a lump depends first and foremost on its nature. If it is an abscess, no matter its size and no matter the type of pathogen involved, it’s likely far easier to treat compared to any malignant tumor.