What is Mammary Gland Enlargement?
While female cats are far more susceptible to these problems, nipple and breast swelling is sometimes seen in male cats as well. A female who is intact is more at risk than a female that is spayed. If unusual mammary gland swelling is noticed while a cat is nursing kittens, veterinary attention may be needed for the kittens along with the mother as the infection can easily spread between the two.
Nipple and breast swelling are the outside manifestations of mammary gland enlargement. Cats have eight nipples, and in the case of enlargement or inflammation, one or more nipples may be affected. Normal events in a female cat’s life can lead to the swelling of breast tissue, such as pregnancy and lactation. However, many infections and other conditions which can be life-threatening also create mammary gland enlargement.
Symptoms of Mammary Gland Enlargement in Cats
Generally, when the condition is abnormal and needs treatment, multiple symptoms will arise.
- Swelling of the nipples or breast tissue
- Painful nipples
- Discharge from nipples
- Ulceration of the nipples and breast
- Loss of appetite
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Edema of the skin on hind legs
- Refusal to nurse (if female with kittens)
- Sick kittens (if nursing)
Causes of Mammary Gland Enlargement in Cats
Besides the normal cause of pregnancy, enlarged mammary glands can be the sign of a bigger internal issue in the cat. A veterinarian is best at determining the exact cause of the swelling, which will lead to a faster diagnosis and treatment for the cat. Causes include:
- Mastitis (mammary gland infection while lactating)
- Galactostasis (milk collection in mammary gland while weaning)
- Feline Mammary Hypertrophy (benign masses)
- Mammary cancer
- Mammary Hyperplasia (from high levels of progesterone)
Diagnosis of Mammary Gland Enlargement in Cats
A veterinarian will need the cat’s full medical history upon arrival at the clinic. A physical exam will be performed in which the nipples and breast tissue will be closely examined for symptoms that match with mammary gland conditions. Certain issues are not serious and will resolve on their own, while other conditions can be life-threatening.
A range of diagnostic testing will be done, generally starting with blood work. This will include a complete blood count and a biochemical profile. If cancer is suspected, these blood tests can provide confirmation. A biopsy of the enlarged tissue may be taken for further microscopic evaluation (a histopathological examination). Chest and abdominal X-rays may be needed to check for tumor location and pinpoint any metastasizing (spreading). Urinalysis can be used to confirm and identify any bacteria present in the cat.
Treatment of Mammary Gland Enlargement in Cats
There are a variety of treatments available depending on the underlying cause of the enlargement and the severity of the condition present. If the cat is dealing with an infection (as in the cases of mastitis and mammary hyperplasia), this can be a medical emergency. Immediate attention is needed to stabilize the cat enough to receive treatment.
Treatment for mastitis includes an antibiotic prescription to clear up any infection and painkillers to help the cat endure the ulcerations associated with this condition. Your vet may also recommend that you apply a warm compress periodically to help with drainage.
This type of cancer is very common in cats, accounting for a third of all cancer cases. It is very aggressive and often spreads. It usually occurs in multiple nipples at once.The surgical removal of affected glands (mastectomy) is recommended, especially if the cancer is in its early stages. If the cat is not a good surgical candidate, chemotherapy may be the only treatment option.
Feline Mammary Hypertrophy
Advised treatment for this condition is a full spay (ovariohysterectomy). If only a few glands are affected, removal of the individual glands alone may be enough. While these surgeries are more routine, if the cat is suffering from poor overall health, the procedure can be very taxing.
To alleviate this issue, removal of the source of progesterone is needed. This generally leads to an ovariohysterectomy. If ulceration of the glands has occurred, glands may be removed if the cat is stable enough. Painkillers will be prescribed to help the cat get through the days after the surgery.
Pregnancy or Galactostasis
Both of these causes of mammary gland enlargement will resolve on their own with time.
Recovery of Mammary Gland Enlargement in Cats
If the underlying condition is mammary cancer, overall prognosis is guarded. This cancer has a high tendency to spread throughout the body, most commonly to the lymph nodes, liver, kidneys, lungs and adrenal glands. If the cancer is caught early and the tumor found is less than 2cm in diameter, surgical removal offers a much higher survival rate than in more advanced cases.
If the cat has received a mastectomy or an ovariohysterectomy, signs of infection need to be watched for. Abide by all recommended at-home care from your vet. A post-surgical clinic visit is often required to allow the veterinarian to check that the healing process is happening successfully. With many of these conditions, spontaneous remissions can occur.
Mammary Gland Enlargement Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I have a female cat that is almost 4 years old and her nipples are sticking out and her breasts feel a little swollen and she's losing hair around her nipples and her but I was wondering why and she has not been around any male cats that I know all she's an indoor cat and we had 3 cats two of them I was babysitting but one we know is a girl and the other one I think it was a girl but at first my sister thought it was a boy she's always crying when we touch her pet her pick her up
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I have a cat I've been taking care of for a few months she's mine, she had a litter of 5 kittens about 5 weeks ago, and we just separated the babies from the momma per vet recommendation and her nipples are swollen with milk it seems, her stomach feels lumpy and seems to be achey one of them even appeared a little bruised, I was just wondering if there's anything I'm supposed to do to help her or if it will solve itself naturally
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My cat is 14. Asymptomatic. Noticed lumps on her belly when I picked her up off counter. Grape size on one but several small up the entire left side and 1/3 way up the right side. Bloodwork clear. Chest X-ray clear. Suspected possible psedupregnancy due to total clingyness for two months prior so suggested mastitis. Treated with convenia injection and something else. Did aspiration only came back blood on the slide. 2 weeks later follow up and was suspected mammary cancer with no further testing due to her licking im assuming where they did the aspirations and she made it bleed. Sent home with prenisone every other day now for 5 weeks. Gave veraflox for where she was chewing the sore. Now it's spreading more as far as the swelling and some small pea slide bumps under the surface of the skin throughout her hind legs. The initial lumps are not getting bigger but the mammary glands itself are more raised and prominent as she's now licking and making several of the small lumps bleed. Followed up vet says definitely mammary cancer just keep comfortable. She herself is not changing. Total behavior is normal. I am not comfortable with the diagnosis of mammarycancer as I feel this could be acute mastitis. She's on prednisone which is an immunosuppressant so how if this is mastitis she's only going to get wore instead of better. She was spayed at 6 years old. Never a pregnancy had her since 8 weeks. Felv negative.
Spaying at six years old is very late and according to some studies will leave cats at the same risk of mammary cancer as an intact cat which is why Veterinarians recommend spaying at an earlier age. It seems that Oreo has received quite a bit of antibiotic therapy (convenia and veraflox). Whilst prednisone is an immunosuppressant, it wouldn’t interfere with the antibiotics function, just the immune system. It is difficult for me to say the exact cause, I would recommend taking another aspiration from a new lump that has appeared or even to ultrasound a lump to see the contents etc… Given Oreo’s age, treatment will be hard and if it is cancer, surgery wouldn’t be an option. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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hi, my female has stopped feeding her kittens for a few days and now her mammary glands are swollen.i applied a hot towel for 10 minutes and one nipple started lactating but no more. shes walking around ok and doesn't seem bothered and is eating and drinking water.
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