Lymphedema in Cats
Although it is less common in cats than in dogs, lymphedema is a serious medical condition. It is occurs when localized fluid retention and tissue swelling circulates throughout the lymphatic system. Also known as lymph, this watery fluid typically collects into interstitial spaces, especially subcutaneous fat, as a result of a compromised lymphatic system.
Symptoms and Types
The fluid accumulation (edema) is usually not painful and pits; that is, a depression develops if the skin is pushed with a finger (which eventually disappears if fibrosis occurs). Limb swelling, meanwhile, is present at birth or develops in the first several months. The swelling may be affect one or several limbs, and typically begins at the end of the limb and slowly moves upwards. In some cases, lameness and pain may also develop.
Hereditary and congenital (present at birth) forms of lymphedema are caused by malformations of the lymphatic system, such as aplasia, valvular incompetence, and lymph node fibrosis. Other potential causes include heart disease, trauma to the lymphatic vessels or lymph nodes, and heat or radiation exposure.
You will need to give a thorough history of your cat’s health, including the onset and nature of the symptoms, to your veterinarian. He or she will then perform a complete physical examination, as well as a biochemistry profile and complete blood count -- the results of which are typically normal.
The most reliable test used to diagnose this condition, however, is called lymphography. This imaging examination uses a contrast substance, which is injected directly into the lymphatic system, to better visualize the affected region before taking X-rays.
Although there is currently no cure available for lymphedema, a number of medical and surgical treatments have been attempted with variable outcomes. Long-term application of pressure wraps and antibiotics to prevent infections may be successful in some patients, while rest and massage seem to not help in treating the condition. There are also various surgical techniques that are used to treat lymphedema, but none have demonstrated consistent results.
Living and Management
As there is no cure available, most veterinarians focus on alleviating secondary symptoms and complications such as lameness.