What are Cysts on the Gums?
Cysts or masses in the mouth are a fairly common ailment among cats. In some cases, symptoms may not show in obvious ways, especially if the cat is eating mainly wet food. This can allow the cyst to grow to a dangerously large size before detection. A cyst can contain bony growths or trapped saliva. Cyst development may or may not involve the teeth, however, an unerupted tooth is often the root cause of the issue. These are called “dentigerous” or “follicular” cysts and can lead to the weakening or even fracturing of facial bones. Cats of all ages are susceptible to gum cyst formation.
A cat's gums are made up of soft, vulnerable tissue. Any injury, infection, or dental issue may lead to the development of cysts (hard or soft cavities filled with liquid or other bodily materials). These cysts may or may not be painful, and can grow to the point that both eating and breathing can be negatively impacted. This can lead to anorexia in the affected cat, which can be a life-threatening issue if nutrients are not being ingested to the point of weight loss.
Symptoms of Cysts on the Gums in Cats
Outward signs of an existing cyst will vary depending on the cause of its development and the extent that it has grown. If a cyst is discovered, do not wait to see if it will grow. The cyst should be identified by a veterinarian as soon as possible to rule out the presence of cancer or other harmful diseases. Signs to watch for include:
- Inability to eat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Aversion to food
- Weight loss
- Bleeding from the mouth
- Painful mouth movement
- Mass or lump in the mouth or neck
- Asymmetry of the face
- Red or swollen gums
- Absence of a tooth
- Bad breath
Causes of Cysts on the Gums in Cats
Gum disease is generally the cause of gum cyst formation. It is the most common oral problem in cats. While the cause is usually mouth related, other issues in the body can lead to cysts in the gums. Known causes are listed below.
- Salivary Mucocele
- Unerupted tooth
- Bacterial infection
- Fungal infection
- Viral infections such as FIV, FHV, FeLV or feline calicivirus
- Feline stomatitis
- Trauma to the mouth
- Inflammatory disorders
Diagnosis of Cysts on the Gums in Cats
If you suspect your cat has a cyst in its gums, take it to your veterinarian. You will need to also provide the cat's full medical history to help determine possible causes of gum disease. A physical examination, including an in depth look at the oral cavity, will be performed. Sedation may be necessary for a proper evaluation, as a cat in pain may not allow fingers or tools in its mouth. The vet will palpate the mouth and neck for masses.
The cyst will need to be differentiated from cancerous tumors of the mouth. A deep tissue biopsy may be taken for a histopathological examination to determine the composition of the growth. If it is obvious that the mass is filled with fluid, the fluid may be removed with a syringe for further testing. Dental x-rays can show any unerupted teeth or tooth fragments in the gum line. A CT scan may be needed to see the cyst three-dimensionally to see if surgery is possible, and if so how to perform it. Full blood work including a complete blood count and a biochemical profile should be performed to assess overall body health and to determine liver and kidney function. A sample may be taken for a culture test to confirm the presence of bacteria. Feline viruses should be tested for.
Treatment of Cysts on the Gums in Cats
The best treatment for gum cysts and their associated symptoms will depend on both the location of the cyst and its underlying cause. Primary health issues may need additional and possibly extensive treatment.
Often, the best treatment for a gum cyst is to fully remove it via a surgical procedure. It is imperative that the cyst be completely removed to ensure that it does not redevelop. General anesthesia is required for a cyst excision surgery.
In many cases in which gum cysts are present, a tooth or multiple teeth may be broken or diseased. In these instances, the tooth should also be completely extracted to remove all decaying matter in the mouth.
If any bacterial infection has been identified, a corresponding antibiotic will be prescribed to rid the body of all harmful bacteria. Antibiotics may also be prescribed post-surgery to prevent infection from developing.
Recovery of Cysts on the Gums in Cats
If your cat has undergone oral surgery, follow all at-home care instructions closely to promote the healing process. Monitor the incision site daily to ensure that it is clean, free of food bits and that no signs of infection are present. Your cat may need soft or wet foods while its mouth heals from surgery. Administer all medications as prescribed by your veterinarian. If the incision heals correctly and the cyst has been completely removed, prognosis is excellent and cyst reformation is unlikely.
Making sure that your cat has a good dental hygiene routine is an excellent way to prevent gum cysts and other forms of oral disease. Brushing your cat's teeth a minimum of once a week should be enough to keep it free of plaque build up. An examination of the oral cavity should be performed as a part of the cat's annual veterinary visit. Depending on the underlying cause of the cyst development, regular check ups may be needed, with repeated x-rays to evaluate the healing of the mouth.