Cutaneous Skin Lumps in Cats

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Last updated on
4 min read

Key takeaways

Skin lumps occurring within or near the surface of the skin are called cutaneous masses.

  • These are distinct from subcutaneous masses, which arise from tissues below the skin
  • Cutaneous masses commonly present as a discoloration or raised mass that moves with the skin
  • Superficial lumps caused by environmental irritants, like bug bites, resolve on their own
  • Cysts or abscesses cause discomfort and require veterinary intervention
  • As cats age they are more likely to exhibit excess cell growth that can be benign or cancerous
  • Surgical removal is the only way to eliminate benign growths like skin tags
  • The majority of skin lumps in cats are not life-threatening
  • Cancerous skin lumps have a more guarded prognosis and treatment may be more complex in these cases
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A closer look: Cutaneous Skin Lumps in Cats

Cutaneous lumps and bumps arise for a number of reasons. They are usually the result of injuries, infections, inflammatory processes, or tumors - both benign and cancerous. They appear in various sizes, shapes, colors, and patterns.

Lumps from superficial injuries, environmental irritants, acne and bug bites tend to resolve on their own and are not cause for concern. Outdoor cats are more likely to develop these.

Abscesses, cysts, and granulomas are relatively common and not life threatening, but require veterinary treatment to resolve. Some cats have a genetic predisposition to developing these particular types of masses.

As cats age, they are more likely to develop excess skin growth. Cutaneous masses from benign cell growth, such as skin tags or warts, do not negatively affect overall health in affected cats. These masses will not go away on their own and veterinary assistance is needed for diagnosis and removal. Once confirmed as benign, pet owners need not worry about long-term health outcomes.

If a lump is seen to be aggressively growing in size and spreading to surrounding skin tissue this is an urgent sign of potential cancer and should be addressed as soon as possible. Treatment is available, but success varies depending on the type of cancer.

The only way to get an accurate diagnosis of a skin lump is through veterinary examination and cellular analysis.

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Possible causes

Many skin lumps are tumors, a word used to describe any type of abnormal cell growth. Tumors can be benign, in which the growth does not spread to the rest of the body, or cancerous. Cancerous tumors produce malignant cells that spread into surrounding tissues and metastasize to other locations throughout the body. Cancerous skin tumors have the potential to be lethal.

Risk factors

Skin lumps range in severity from inconsequential to deadly. Due to the aggressive nature of some cancerous tumors, every new lump should be examined by a veterinarian.

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnostic approaches to investigate cats presenting with cutaneous skin lumps include:

  • Physical examination
  • Fine needle aspirate or cytology
  • Blood work
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Biopsy

Treatment options for malignant tumors typically include surgical removal, amputation, chemotherapy, and radiation. In cases where the skin lump is benign, treatment may not be indicated at all.

Similar symptoms

Subcutaneous masses - lumps under the skin can be confused for lumps at the surface of the skin.

Associated symptoms

Discomfort, itching and pain in the area are other symptoms that can occur with skin lumps. In cases where the underlying condition is more serious, general signs of illness may also be present.


Alice E. Villalobos, DVM - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual
Patty Ewing, DVM, MS, DACVP - Writing for MSPCA Angell
Katie Grzyb, DVM - Writing for PetMD
Sue Ettinger DVM, DACVIM (Oncology) - Writing for Today's Veterinary Practice
Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP - Writing for Veterinary Partner
No Author - Writing for American College of Veterinary Surgeons
Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Debbie Stoewen DVM, MSW, RSW, PhD; Christopher Pinard, DVM - Writing for VCA Animal Hospitals
Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Shalini Radhakrishnan, Veterinary Student Class of 2023 - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP - Writing for Veterinary Partner

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