What are Sebaceous Cysts?
If your cat is bothered by their sebaceous cyst, or if it has become large, is oozing, or is at risk of rupturing, you should seek veterinary assistance for your cat. You should never attempt to treat your cat’s sebaceous cyst on your own as this can cause potentially harmful inflammatory responses in the surrounding tissues.
Sebaceous cysts can appear anywhere on the body of your cat, but most often occur on their trunk (chest and sides) or legs. These fluid-filled sacs are typically benign, meaning they are not cancerous, and do not cause much physical discomfort to your cat. Sebaceous cysts appear as raised bumps and are soft in feel. In some cases, sebaceous cysts can continue to grow until they rupture. When this occurs, infection may occur and your cat will need additional treatment.
Symptoms of Sebaceous Cysts in Cats
Sebaceous cysts may begin as small, raised portions of your cat’s skin. These bumps may be difficult to spot in early stages since your cat’s dense fur can mask their appearance. As they grow, cysts become more apparent and additional signs may appear. Symptoms of sebaceous cysts may include:
- Raised, fluid-filled bumps on your cat’s skin
- Oozing or ruptured bumps
- Excessive scratching or itching of the area
Causes of Sebaceous Cysts in Cats
Sebaceous cysts in your cat are benign, harmless, and noncancerous fluid-filled sacs. These sacs occur when a hair follicle becomes damaged or clogged in your cat’s skin. When this happens, your cat’s immune system causes the surrounding tissues to wall off the damage, creating a small pocket that slowly fills with a yellowish substance called keratin, a substance commonly found in nails and fur. The sac becomes increasingly full of fluid over time. In some cats, the filling of the sac causes the cyst to stop growing. In other animals, the cyst will continue to grow until it ruptures and fluid leaks out.
Diagnosis of Sebaceous Cysts in Cats
Diagnosis of sebaceous cysts in your cat will include a thorough physical exam in your vet’s office. Your veterinarian will go over your cat’s skin in a meticulous manner, checking approximate size and location of any bumps or raised portions of the skin. Sebaceous cysts often occur in multiples, and the size and number will help your vet determine the appropriate treatment method. You should provide your vet with an approximate timeline of the appearance of the cysts, along with any noticeable changes or growth. This will also help determine how aggressive the treatment should be for your pet’s cyst.
Because sebaceous cysts have a similar appearance to some cancer growths, your vet will want to perform a biopsy of your cat’s cyst to confirm it is benign and not a more serious condition. This will typically be done using a procedure called a fine needle aspiration and biopsy. For this procedure, your cat will not need to be sedated. Your vet will insert a sterile needle into your cat’s cyst and will collect a small amount of fluid and tissue to be sent to a lab. Your vet will do this individually with each cyst.
Treatment of Sebaceous Cysts in Cats
Treatment of sebaceous cysts can take several forms, from conservative to aggressive management. In many cats, sebaceous cysts will not affect your pet and there will be no discomfort or interference with their daily lives. In these cases, where the cysts have remained the same size, your vet may advise to leave the cyst intact and in place as long as it is not bothersome to your cat. This is especially true for animals that are unfriendly and difficult to manage in a vet’s office or that may have complicating health conditions that make them poor candidates for surgical treatments.
In cases which the biopsy of the cyst has come back with no indication of cancerous cells, your vet may choose to drain the cyst. This is typically done by placing a needle in the cyst and withdrawing the fluid. This does not hurt your pet and does not require sedation. In cases which the fluid is too dense, your vet may need to lance the cyst. This will require your cat be given an anesthetic that affects the localized area of the cyst only. Your vet will then use a sharp blade to cut a small incision into the skin, allowing the contents of the cyst to drain. Stitches are not used to give the cyst the best opportunity to continue to express the fluid.
In some cases, cysts may continue to recur and grow. These cysts will require more complicated surgery in order to completely remove the follicle and the cyst wall. Here your cat will need to undergo full anesthesia and stitches will be used to pull the skin together over the missing area that has been excised.
Recovery of Sebaceous Cysts in Cats
Your cat has an excellent prognosis of recovery from removal or draining of sebaceous cysts. While surgical follow-up will sometimes be needed, draining or other removal will not affect the long-term health or lifespan of your pet. You should work with your vet to discuss preventative measures for cysts such as supplementation with salmon or other healthy oils and regular brushing to support follicle health.