There’s a Cyst in My Cat’s Ear: What to Do

The most common cause of cysts in a cat’s ear is blocked ceruminous glands in the ear canal. The lesion presents as multiple distinct or coalescing blue-black purple papules that are usually benign. Other cysts you might find in your cat’s ear include inflammatory polyps and squamous cell carcinoma. Let’s take a look at these cysts and discuss what you can do to help your cat.

Type of cysts often found in cats’ ears [with pictures]

There are three main types of cysts or lumps that can be found in a cat’s ear canal:

1. Apocrine cysts

Apocrine cyst in cat ear

Also known as ceruminous cystomatosis, apocrine cysts of the feline ear canal arise from ceruminous glands. Although the growths can occur at any age, they usually affect middle-aged or older cats. 

Apocrine cysts appear as multiple, small purple or blue-black bumps in the ear canal. They’re usually benign but can be very painful for your cat. If they rupture, the cysts exude a viscous fluid that’s yellowish-brown to black. 

Usually, the cysts are not problematic. However, when they grow larger, the lesions can block the ear canal and interfere with self-cleaning. Ear infections may result. At this point, apocrine cysts should be removed by:

  • Surgery
  • Carbon dioxide laser
  • Cryotherapy
  • Cauterization

The prognosis is good with the appropriate treatment.

2. Inflammatory polyps

You can see a picture of an inflammatory polyp on VeterinarianKey.com. Nasopharyngeal polyps can also form in the ear canal of younger cats. They are usually present in kitties that are 3 months to 5 years old. Whether present from birth or arising from a long-term infection in the middle ear, these lesions are usually pinkish in color. 

Signs that accompany inflammatory polyps include:

  • Inflammation of the external ear canal and pinna
  • Loss of balance
  • incoordination

The treatment for inflammatory polyps is surgical removal. If your cat also has a middle ear infection, the veterinarian will treat it concurrently. The prognosis for recovery is good. However, if the entire stalk of the polyp is not excised, the polyp may recur.

3. Squamous cell carcinoma

You can see a case study and picture on WVS Academy. Usually occurring in white to light-colored cats or lightly-pigmented areas, squamous cell carcinomas can sometimes appear as a cauliflower-like growth or a raised, reddened lesion that may be mistaken as a cyst. Often, the growths will ulcerate and bleed, causing crusty, painful areas. 

Some cats with squamous cell carcinoma will develop hypercalcemia(elevated levels of calcium in the blood). When this happens, they drink more and urinate more frequently.  There is no single cause of squamous cell carcinoma. Both genetic and environmental triggers including UV light exposure, skin trauma, and long-term inflammation can predispose cats to tumors. 

The recommended treatment for squamous cell carcinoma in the ear is surgical excision. Small lesions can be removed using cryosurgery. If the lesion isn’t accessible, radiation therapy or a combination of both treatments may be necessary. The prognosis is good when squamous cell carcinoma is caught and treated early. 

When should I call my vet?

You should call your vet when you notice any new cyst or lump in your cat’s ear. While small apocrine cysts may not require treatment, it’s best to have your doctor examine your kitty and diagnose the lump so that he can start the appropriate treatment. Schedule an appointment as soon as possible when:

  • The cyst is large and could interfere with ear cleaning
  • You notice bleeding, ulcers, or crusts around the ear
  • Your cat is acting ill

How will the vet diagnose my cat’s ear cyst?

To diagnose an ear cyst, your veterinarian will start with a physical examination and history. Based on the size, color, and consistency of the lumps, the doctor may attempt a fine needle aspirate or take a biopsy to determine the type of cyst your cat has. 

What is the treatment for ear cysts on my cat?

If you find a cyst in your cat’s ear, there are three possible approaches your veterinarian may take.

  • Medical treatment – If the cyst is infected or fluid-filled, your vet may drain the liquid with a syringe. Unless your veterinarian instructs you to drain the cyst at home, it’s best to let him do it to help prevent infection. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to address infections.
  • Surgical treatment – If the growth is large enough to occlude the ear canal, causes your cat pain, or is potentially cancerous, it should be removed. Depending on the size and character of the lesion, the vet may use 
  • Cryotherapy
  • Chemical cauterization
  • Carbon dioxide laser
  • Surgical excision.
  • Observation – Cysts that are small and don’t bother your cat can be left alone and monitored for any concerning changes.

Can ear cysts go away on their own?

Some cysts may resolve on their own depending on the type and cause of the lesion. However, when you find a cyst or lump in your cat’s ear it’s best to take him to the vet for an exam. If the doctor determines the lump is small and non-threatening, he may recommend monitoring it to see whether it goes away or grows larger. 

How do ear cysts typically progress in a cat?

Typically, a cyst begins with a blocked gland. When a follicle or gland is injured, the body walls off the area and creates a pocket. Fluid or semisolid material fills the pocket to create the cyst. Once the sac fills, the cyst may stop growing, but it can also keep expanding until it ruptures. 

Is there anything you can do at home if you notice a cyst in your cat’s ear?

Home treatment for a cyst varies depending on the size and type of lesion. 

  • If you notice the cyst draining, you can apply a warm towel to help the liquid escape, although this can be difficult with ear canal lesions. 
  • If your cat attempts to scratch at the cyst, use an e-collar to prevent self-damage
  • You may be able to apply warm compresses to the cyst a few times a day to encourage the resorption of the fluid or semi-solid materials.

Learn more about the types of cat cysts.

Author

  • Dr. Liz Guise, Veterinarian

    Dr. Elizabeth Guise (DVM) graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. She worked as a veterinarian in private practice for over two years before going to work with the USDA as a veterinary medical officer for 14 years.

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