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Health & Wellness

Swollen lymph nodes in cats

Here’s how to diagnose your pet

Similar to how peoples’ lymph nodes become inflamed when they are sick, cats, too, can experience enlarged or swollen lymph nodes due to illness. To help you know when your cat’s feeling under the weather, The Dig teamed up with Fetch’s on-staff vet Dr. Aliya McCullough. She’s breaking down why cats’ lymph nodes swell and what that says about their immune system. 

What causes swollen lymph nodes in cats?

Swollen lymph nodes, severe or minor, can occur due to any illness in people and cats alike. However, inflamed lymph nodes in cats are much more common due to severe illness.

Generally, cats with swollen lymph nodes feel poorly and will likely be lethargic and depressed. If the lymph nodes in your cat’s neck are enlarged, swallowing may be painful, leading to a decrease in appetite.Your vet will be able to determine if your cat is struggling with enlarged lymph nodes. 

Illnesses that can cause swollen lymph nodes include:

  • Viral disease
  • Bacterial disease
  • Cancers, such as leukemia or lymphoma
  • Fungal disease

Diagnosing your cat's swollen lymph nodes

Lymph nodes that grow in size or are tender to the touch tell your cat’s vet that they are likely battling a serious illness. Lymph nodes are present throughout the body, but can be felt in the neck, in front of the shoulder and behind both knees. Here are some ways your vet will figure out what’s going on: 

  • Test their blood to ensure their organs are functioning properly or to check for abnormalities in the number of red and white blood cells.
  • Run a viral disease test to see if there’s any impact on your cat’s body.
  • If those two options don’t give clear results, your vet may take a sample of the lymph node to view under a microscope, to see if it’s caused by cancer or an infective organism.

There is no specific treatment for enlarged lymph nodes in cats, as it is a symptom of disease and not a disease itself. The swelling will resolve when the underlying cause is also resolved. It’s important to remember that in cats, swollen lymph nodes can be very subtle and easy to miss. So, if you notice signs of illness in your cat or if you notice their lymph nodes are larger or tender to touch, schedule an appointment with their vet right away. It’s a good idea to sign your cat up for Fetch’s cat insurance, too, so any potential vet bills may be covered.

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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