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What is Lymph Node Inflammation?

The production of too many immune cells at once is what causes the lymphadenopathy. Either a solitary nodule can be effected, or a group of nodules. When this occurs in younger cats, it is generally due to an infectious disease. Swollen lymph nodes are a common finding in many sick cats. Infections and other complications signalled by inflamed lymph nodes need to be treated by a veterinarian as soon as possible for the best results.

Lymph nodes are ducts within the body that are used to collect fluid and return it to the bloodstream. Inside the lymph nodes, lymphocytes (white blood cells) destroy bacteria, fungi, viruses, and cancer cells. When the body faces infection, the lymph nodes located closest to the infection will swell or enlarge. This is referred to as lymphadenopathy.

Symptoms of Lymph Node Inflammation in Cats

As lymph nodes swell from many different types of infections all over the body, various symptoms can occur. Below are the most common symptoms associated with lymphadenopathy.

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Tender or painful lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Mouth abscess
  • High temperature
  • Limping
  • Dull hair coat

Causes of Lymph Node Inflammation in Cats

Generally, the cause of swollen lymph nodes has to do with a nearby issue in the body. These issues can range from minor to life-threatening and should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Causes are as follows:

  • Bacterial infection
  • Fungal infection
  • Viral infection
  • Parasitic disease
  • Allergies
  • Reactive Lymphoid Hyperplasia (benign lymph node swelling)
  • Cancer of the lymph nodes or nearby organs
  • Neoplastic Infiltration (meningitis caused by cancer cells)

Diagnosis of Lymph Node Inflammation in Cats

The first thing that a veterinarian will need from you is your cat's extensive medical history. This can give clues to underlying problems that may have developed to cause the swelling. A physical examination of the cat will be completed to try and locate the affected lymph nodes by feeling key areas of the body. Often this will include the submandibular (where the jaw meets the neck), the axillary (armpit of the front legs), the prescapular (where the front leg joins the shoulder) and the popliteal (on the rear legs opposite of the knee) areas. If there is any pain in these locations, that is an indication of swollen lymph nodes. 

The vet will rule out all possible harmless syndromes by assessing all symptoms. Blood work will be done to get an overall picture on the cat's health. A complete blood count will show how many blood cells are present and indicate if cancer is the cause. A biochemical profile will show other substances in the blood. Urinalysis can help detect bacteria that may be causing infection. A lymph node biopsy to collect samples for microscopic examination may be needed if cancer is suspected. 

X-rays and ultrasounds can be used to detect tumors or other abnormalities on the lymph nodes. When any lymphadenopathy is present, Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus should be tested for. A fecal parasitological exam may be needed if parasites are suspected. The vet may recommend more extensive testing until a cause has been identified.

Treatment of Lymph Node Inflammation in Cats

To restore lymph nodes to their normal size, the underlying condition that is causing the inflammation needs to be treated. There are a number of different treatments depending on which ailment the cat is suffering from.

Bacterial Infection 

The corresponding antibiotic will be prescribed to eliminate a bacterial infection. Antibiotics are often prescribed for 2-4 weeks.

Fungal Infection 

Antifungal medication, shampoo, or cream will be prescribed to eradicate a fungal infection affecting the cat. 


In the case of allergies, tests or the process of elimination will be used to identify the allergen. Once identified, the allergen will be removed from the cat’s environment or diet.

Viral Infections 

Most viral infections can only be treated symptomatically. The cat may need to be hospitalized for supportive care while fighting a viral infection. Intravenous fluids may be administered to keep the cat hydrated. Other care may be administered to keep the cat as comfortable as possible.


Cancer of the lymph nodes is very serious and needs to be treated aggressively. There are three main ways to treat cancer of the lymph nodes.

  • Surgical Removal: This may be possible if the cancer has not spread out of the lymph nodes. If the cat is in good condition, a general anesthetic will be administered and surgery will be performed. Depending on the location of the lymph nodes, the surgery can vary in its overall risk. At home care will be needed upon discharge.
  • Chemotherapy: This treatment can slow the progress of lymph node cancer in cats. It should be noted that cats are not treated the same way as humans. If the chemotherapy will drastically reduce the cat's quality of life, it will not be used.
  • Radiation Therapy: This treatment is often used in combination with surgery. It can focus on the microscopic occurrences of cancer that cannot be surgically removed. 

Recovery of Lymph Node Inflammation in Cats

Once your cat is home, take care to administer all prescriptions exactly as requested. This can help ensure all infections are properly treated. If symptoms are not going away, further treatment and tests may be necessary to find the root of the issue. A check-up appointment will be needed to gauge if lymph node swelling has gone down. 

Once an infection has cleared out of the cat’s system, the lymph nodes should return to their normal size. If the cat has undergone surgery, extra care should be given to keep the incision clean and decrease all stress inducers during the healing process. It should be noted that in cases of lymph node cancer, prognosis is not great, with the maximum survival being about two years.

Lymph Node Inflammation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

1 Year
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

A single lymph node was swollen last week in my cats neck, got her checked by that time it had went down. A different (but still single one) closer to her ear is now up. Why are they going up and down?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2001 Recommendations
Lymph nodes may swell for various reasons including infections, allergies, inflammation or cancer to name the most common causes. Singular lymph node enlargement is normally indicative of a localised infection, check Harley’s ear on the swollen side for possible infection. Another visit to your Veterinarian for another examination before the lymph node goes down again may be useful along with a fine needle aspirate. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

I live in Africa and unfortunately there is no vets for cats and I am so worry about my cat what should I do?

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