Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My female cat is 13 years old and has had a “cyst” on her neck for the past 2 years. I have taken her to our vet and she drained it. When it continued to come back within days, Dr. Lisa taught me to drain it at home. I don’t like doing this and am concerned as this means I must puncture her skin and squeeze, which I know hurts her. Surely there must be other ideas. She said that we could remove the area of skin, but it may come back anyways. I’ve also noticed that her fur along her spine is not as soft as the rest of her body and I just found a back tooth she lost. It was very yellow and I am worried that her immune system may be low, but Dr. Lisa doesn’t show concern. Any suggestions for an economically strapped Mommy? I’ve already spent hundreds of dollars just on her “cyst” alone.
Siouxsie: Bunne, we certainly understand your concern about the fact that your cat has had this cyst for two years now. And we share your concern. We think we can give you a few tips and questions to ask your vet, though.
Thomas: Sebaceous cysts, also called epidermal inclusion cysts, are benign tumors that arise from glands beneath the skin. Although they’re not as common in cats as they are in dogs (or people, who refer to them as zits), they’re still the most common skin tumor found in cats.
Dahlia: The material that comes out of a cyst when it’s drained is called sebum. Sebum is usually yellow, grayish white, or brown in color and has a cheesy consistency because it’s made up of fats and glycerides.
Siouxsie: If the material coming out of your cat’s cyst is a different color such as reddish purple or green, or if it has blood in it, you may be seeing pus, which is a sign of infection. If you’re seeing pus, your cat may have an abscess, not a sebaceous cyst. Or if it was a cyst at first, it may have become infected.
Thomas: The authors of the Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook say that most cysts should be removed. The reason for this is that eventually the cyst will rupture and become infected.
Dahlia: Most vets remove cysts with electrocautery (burning it off) or cryotherapy (freezing it). Cats are obviously sedated or anesthetized for these procedures!
Siouxsie: Another reason to have the cyst removed is that chronic cases of feline cysts can develop into other tumors, including cancer.
Thomas: We’re concerned that if you’re repeatedly draining your cat’s cyst, you may be driving bacteria into that cyst. This may be causing ongoing irritation and certainly increases the risk of infection.
Dahlia: You didn’t say where on your neck your cat’s cyst is located, but if it’s near her cheek or her jaw it may be related to irritation or infection from her teeth. It’s not normal for cats’ teeth to fall out …
Siouxsie: It certainly isn’t! I’m 14, and I still have all my teeth!
Thomas: As Dahlia was saying, cats’ teeth don’t fall out unless there’s some underlying dental problem. Gingivitis is very common in cats, and some cats have a tendency to develop resorptive lesions, a type of cavity that happens just above the root of the tooth. Cats can get abscesses from dental infections, just like people.
Dahlia: Open your cat’s mouth and take a look inside. Are her gums red and inflamed, or are they healthy and pink? Are her teeth caked with tartar or are they pretty clean? Even if your cat’s cyst isn’t a result of dental problems, ongoing infections like gingivitis can compromise your cat’s overall health.
Siouxsie: There are some holistic treatments that may be effective for reducing your cat’s irritation and boosting her immune system. However, we’d recommend that you start by having a conversation with your vet about removing the cyst–after all, it hasn’t gone away in two years–and have her check your cat’s teeth, too.
Thomas: Once you’ve done that, consider giving her the highest quality food you can afford–grain-free if at all possible. Some cats have a sensitivity to grains, particularly corn, and to the chemicals and other additives in cheap cat foods.
Dahlia: Our friends at CatFaeries sell “Skin and Itch” and “Skin and Seborrhea,” two homeopathic remedies that can help with skin issues.
Siouxsie: There are other natural remedies available, and nutritional supplements for skin and coat health may also be helpful.
Thomas: To learn more about cysts in cats, visit the Feline Cyst page at the Cat Health Guide.
Dahlia: Good luck, Bunne. Please let us know how things turn out!