Reviewed by Dr. Danielle Morosco
It’s tempting to consider draining a cyst on a dog, especially when it appears ready to pop.
They sometimes look a bit like pimples, although they can get to be the size of a golf ball. The cysts we’re talking about here are epidermal cysts, meaning they occur on or under the skin.
There are several different types of cysts discussed in this post. You’ll learn when to contact a healthcare provider along with common treatment options.
Unfortunately, draining a cyst on your dog without medical intervention can cause pain while leaving your dog’s skin vulnerable to bacterial infection.
That said, if you want to try to drain a dog cyst at home, this post offers tips on how to do it carefully and safely.
Veterinarians should be consulted to examine any new lumps or bumps on your dog. This is especially true for lumps that do not go away on their own (i.e. a bug bite). A definitive diagnosis relies on biopsy and microscopic examination of tissue.
This post will give you a better understanding of how to safely drain a cyst, why you should get a veterinary evaluation, and what to do if the cyst ruptures by itself.
What is a Benign Cyst?
A cyst is a general term used to describe a fluid-filled lump under the skin. Cysts sometimes look like pimples and appear as a raised bump on the skin.
Typically, they are filled with liquid or solidified materials made up of sebum. Sebum is the oily substance normally secreted by the sebaceous glands.
Sebum plays a role in keeping skin healthy by:
- preventing dryness
- lubricating the skin and preventing friction
- waterproofing the skin and fur
- keeping heat and water inside the skin
- regulating the growth of microbes
A benign cyst means that it isn’t cancerous. However, the only way for a veterinarian to make an accurate diagnosis is through a fine needle aspiration.
The process involves inserting a hollow needle into the mass for sampling of cells. The tissue is stained and examined under a microscope.
How Cysts Develop in Dogs
Cysts can develop as a result of local injury to the follicles, blockage of skin pores, or – in the case of hairless breeds – result from inactivity of the hair follicles.
They develop from hollowed-out cavities within the body and can appear due to scar tissue, injury inflammation or skin infections.
The cause of the cyst isn’t as important as potential treatment.
Cysts, somewhat like calluses and blisters, act as a protective buffer around injured tissue. In some cases, dogs can develop cysts internally on or around organs.
Examples of different types of cysts include the following:
A true cyst is non-inflammatory and has a membrane that lines the inner surface (secretory lining). They tend to occur in the sweat glands due to blocked ducts.
These cysts are very common in dogs and often appear on the eyelids.
A false cyst does not contain a secretory lining.
They are filled with fluid-filled pockets of pus and form as a result of injury or trauma to the skin. Injuries to the skin can cause a disruption of blood flow to the area. Without that blood flow, skin cells will die.
Fluid forms inside the cyst when the dead tissue liquifies. At that point, the body sees the cyst as an invader. The body attempts to protect itself from the cyst by walling itself off from the rest of the bodily tissues.
In many cases, a walled off cyst is not considered a major problem.
Just as the name implies, follicular cysts develop around dilated hair follicles. A follicular cyst can be considered sebaceous or epidermoid.
If you’ve ever seen blackheads in people, you might notice them on your dog too. Blackheads (known as comedones) are similar to follicular cysts but have wider than normal openings.
A sebaceous cyst (also known as a fatty cyst) is a common occurrence in dogs.
They can appear anywhere on the body but are commonly found on the face, neck, upper legs, and abdomen. They occur in the secretory cells of the skin.
The over-production of sebum (oily substance) on a dog will have one of three results:
1) It will dissolve on its own.
2) It will rupture naturally.
3) It will wall itself off. When it walls itself off, it may stay the same size and maintain the same appearance.
Sebaceous cysts are not painful to the dog and can be caused by hormonal changes or diet. In some cases the cysts are considered “idiopathic”, meaning the cause is not known.
Unfortunately, sebaceous cysts are prone to secondary bacterial infection which is why it’s important to properly clean and drain cysts that have opened on their own.
Interdigital cysts are also common in dogs with allergies and can be uncomfortable for dogs.
Dermoid cysts only happen in utero. They are considered complex congenital cysts and happen before a puppy is born. These are considered rare.
Risk of Bacterial Infection
Popping a cyst on a dog is painful to the dog and could worsen the condition. In some cases, cysts will open and begin to drain on their own. In that case, it’s important to know how to treat the area.
Continue reading below for more information on how to gently clean an open cyst.
Dog Owners Should Be Aware of These Cysts
The only way to tell if it is a benign cyst or cancer is to perform a fine-needle aspirate or tissue biopsy.
Some telltale signs that it is a benign cyst, and nothing more include the fact that it is easy to move.
A benign cyst will be soft, painless, and easy to move around.
Unfortunately, some skin tumors can be cancerous. Again, it’s impossible to make a diagnosis by appearance alone.
The following list illustrates the importance of seeking veterinary care to examine any new lumps or bumps.
Malignant melanomas tend to occur on a dog’s mouth or mucous membranes. They grow quickly and can spread to other organs including the liver and lungs.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
This type of skin cancer is the result of sun exposure. They tend to spread to the lymph nodes and can aggressively destroy tissue (including bone) around the tumor.
Mast Cell Tumors
Mast cell tumors occur in the mast cells of the immune system. They are the most common skin tumors in dogs. Mast cell tumors have a variety of appearances and can easily be mistaken for something else.
Dog Breeds Prone to Cysts
Any dog can develop cysts and tumors. However, there are some breeds that seem to be more prone. These include:
The Mexican Hairless comes in a toy, mini, and standard sized variety. These dogs are elegant but active. They make good watchdogs, but not guard dogs.
The Chinese Crested is also a hairless dog. This dog is affectionate, lively, and playful.
AKA the African Lion, this dog was designed for hunting and guarding.
German shepherds are considered an all-purpose worker. They are large dogs with high intelligence.
Sebaceous cysts are common in basset hounds. This dog breed is small and stands at about 14 inches from the shoulder. They have heavy bones and powerful legs. This dog is designed to sniff out small game.
Labrador retrievers are large but gentle dogs. They are considered the traditional waterdog of Newfoundland and were bred to retrieve hunted ducks and other game.
READ MORE ABOUT SEBACEOUS CYSTS
Will Your Veterinarian Drain a Cyst on a Dog?
Veterinarians are highly skilled professionals. They are the only people who should attempt to drain a cyst on a dog.
If the cyst is very large (some grow to the size of a golf ball or larger) and is uncomfortable for the dog, the vet may opt to surgically remove it. Small, uncomplicated cysts are typically left alone.
How to Treat a Ruptured Cyst in a Dog
If your dog’s cyst doesn’t go away, but instead erupts, you’ll need to take care of the wound. It’s important to keep it open and draining freely to get all of the fluid out.
A warm compress should be applied to the draining cyst for up to 10 minutes, two or three times a day. At this stage, it’s important to watch for signs of infection.
Warm Towel or Compress
Gently apply a clean, warm compress to the opened cyst and hold for as long as the dog will allow. Usually ten minutes is long enough but your dog may push you away long before that.
The point is to warm and soften the area to allow free drainage. Make sure it’s not too hot. If it’s too hot for your skin, it’s too hot for the dog’s skin.
Hibiclens Surgical Scrub
This scrub can either be applied to warm towel and used as a compress, or it can be diluted and used to gently wash the area.
Signs of infection could include additional swelling around the cyst, redness, pain, pus, and a foul smell from bacteria/yeast.
The idea is to keep the liquid draining until it is all gone. Keeping the area moist will prevent a scab from forming.
When a scab forms, the remaining fluid is trapped inside. This can cause a bacterial infection or can cause the cyst to reoccur.
Be sure to swab the wound with a bacterial cream or wipe several times a day.
The most difficult part of this is keeping your dog’s mouth away from the wound. The best suggestion is – of course – the Elizabethan collar.
These days, there are a lot of variations that might prove more comfortable for your dog.
The Best Products for Treating a Draining Cyst Include:
Alfie Pet Soft Recovery Collar
Open Cyst Drainage
This procedure is especially useful in reducing the pain and pressure of a large cyst. It must be done in a sterile environment, such as the animal hospital or clinic.
If the veterinarian feels your dog is strong and healthy enough, he/she may decide to go ahead with surgical removal. The first thing will be to put your dog under general anesthesia.
The surgeon will cut into the skin to expose the cyst. He/she will then slice an opening to allow the pus (if it’s infected), keratin, or sebum, to drain.
The surgeon will monitor your dog while he or she is under.
Once the fluids have completely drained, the surgeon will then cut out the remaining sac of tissue. Your dog will be sutured and sent home to rest.
The veterinarian may send you home with antibiotics for your dog. If so, make sure to give your dog the full prescription as indicated.
When people stop antibiotics early, bacteria could come back. The second time this happens, the bacteria are stronger. The more this cycle continues, the greater the risk of developing antibiotic resistance.
Prevent Cysts from Returning
There’s no guaranteed way to ensure your dog will not get any more cysts. However, there are some thing you can do to lessen the risk.
The only sure way to prevent cysts is to avoid injury to your dog. Dogs run and play, they jump and bump. It’s impossible to keep a dog from encountering minor injuries, especially if you have an active and healthy dog.
Learning everything you can about cysts now will ease future worry should it happen again. Next time around, you’ll have more confidence and knowledge.
Why Cysts Refill with Fluid
Draining a cyst or having a sebaceous cyst drained doesn’t mean it’s never coming back.
Secretory cells are part of the makeup of a cyst. They can secrete fluid, material that appears cheese-like, and harder material.
Unfortunately, even after a cyst is drained the secretory cells remain behind. And because they do what they do…they can easily refill with fluid.
Is There a Way to Prevent Cysts from Returning?
There’s no guarantee that a cyst won’t return. However, you can help your dog maintain healthy skin by regular grooming and healthy diet.
Talk to the veterinarian about managing future recurrences.
Maintain Your Dog’s Healthy Skin
Healthy skin isn’t just a random thing. It takes high quality nutrition and care. It hasn’t been easy finding dog food and treats you can actually trust. Over the years, however, more and more companies are realizing that pet owners mean business.
We’re no fools! We know if something is full of fillers or not.
Dr. Becker’s Bites are notorious for getting it right! Their dog food is formulated by Dr. Karen Becker, who only uses human-grade ingredients and nutraceuticals.
They source USDA-inspected, locally raised human grade beef and bison liver that come from Midwest farms.
Dr. Becker Bites are known for producing food that pets will devour.
They suggest that if you can’t make your own pet treats, you let our family make them for you! If your dog is prone to allergies and/or skin conditions, your best option is Dr. Becker’s Skin/Allergy Pack.
These are a healthy offering of treats to address allergy and skin issues. All treats are 100% grain-free, filler-free and GMO-free.
How to Drain a Dog Cyst at Home Safely
Everything mentioned in this post points to the fact that a veterinarian should always be consulted for new lumps and bumps.
In some cases, however, this might not be your first experience with cysts. If you know for sure what it is and want some help learning how to drain it at home, the following information may help.
Depending on the cause of the cyst, they can reoccur and refill with fluid. Diagnostic intervention may be necessary to determine the underlying cause.
Do not attempt to drain the cyst is there are any signs of infection.
Redness, swelling, and discharge could signify that the area has become infected. In this case the dog will require a veterinarian visit and will likely receive antibiotics.
Epsom Salts in Warm Water
Fill a basin with 2 – 4 cups of warm water. Pour in about 1/2 cup of salt (a little more if you have more water) and allow the salt to dissolve.
Use a compress (could be a sterile facecloth) and soak it in the water. Gently twist the compress to remove some of the water and then place it on the dog’s cyst.
In some cases, a warm compress applied to the area two or three times a day may help soften the skin. This may allow the cyst to gently drain.
Do not squeeze or press on the area. You can’t force a cyst to drain and this process may take a while depending on how “ripe” the cyst is.
Keep Clean & Dry
After you’ve held the compress on the area (up to 10 minutes if the dog will let you), be sure to carefully and thoroughly dry the area.
As long as the dog isn’t constantly licking or biting the area, there shouldn’t be any need to keep it covered until it opens.
Once the Cyst Begins to Drain
Once the cyst begins to drain you’ll want to dry the skin and then apply a thin layer of antimicrobial skin cream on it. This is important because once the skin has opened it is vulnerable to infection.
Ask your veterinarian for antibiotic creams or purchase here: Sulfodene 3-Way Ointment for Dogs.
IMPORTANT: Creams like the one suggested above are only good at preventing infection on the skin.
Any sign of an infection, like redness, swelling, bleeding, or signs of pus must be reported to the veterinarian for further care.
Frequently Asked Questions About How to Drain a Cyst on a Dog
Can I pop my dog’s cyst with a needle?
Never pop a cyst using a needle. If the cyst is closed off, there’s no reason to open it. Opening a cyst can leave the dog vulnerable to bacterial infection.
Should you drain a cyst on a dog?
If a cyst has started to open on its own, you can apply a warm compress a few times a day for up to 10 minutes at a time. The warmth will soften the skin and allow the contents of the cyst to come out.
Apply a small amount of antibiotic ointment after and try to prevent your dog from licking the area.
Why does my dog’s cyst keep filling up?
Sometimes cysts will come back, especially if they weren’t fully drained. If your dog has a cyst that continually fills and drains, talk to a veterinarian.
New lumps and bumps must always be seen by a veterinarian for a definitive diagnosis. Cysts and tumors are tricky business that typically require a fine needle aspirate or biopsy. Some veterinarians may recommend a wait-and-see approach if they are confident that what they see is benign.
If your dog’s cyst grows, becomes red, inflamed, bleeds, or appears to be painful to the dog, make an appointment with the veterinarian.
It’s never a good idea to pierce a cyst in an attempt to drain the fluid. This can cause bacterial infection, pain, and recurrence. If the cyst has opened on its own, you can keep the area clean until the doctor can have a look.
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