updated on March 28th, 2022.
Sebaceous cysts on dogs are a pretty common type of skin growth.
They’re not pretty, but they’re harmless. If you’re worried about a new lump on your dog, it’s important to see a veterinarian.
The trained eye of a licensed veterinarian may be able to make an educated guess as to what the lump is. However, it usually takes a biopsy or a fine needle aspiration to make a definitive diagnosis.
If the veterinarian believes your dog has a sebaceous cyst, he/she will probably explain that the lump is benign.
That means they are not cancerous. That’s good news, but there’s still the question of how to care for it.
Keep reading this post to learn how to care for sebaceous cysts in dogs. It’s fairly straightforward, but there are some do’s and don’ts you’re going to want to know.
What is a Sebaceous Cyst?
Sebaceous cysts (also known as epidermoid cysts) develop when hair follicles or skin glands (also known as sebaceous glands) become blocked.
Dogs, like people, have sebaceous glands beneath the skin. Sometimes these sweat glands can become clogged.
Sebaceous cysts can appear on or in the skin. They usually appear as a small, raised nodule and are typically filled with fluid. They’re kind of like pimples.
Sebaceous glands secrete just the right amount of oil to keep the skin healthy. Problems arise when oil glands production goes into overdrive. When that happens, oils and dirt become trapped beneath the skin. This creates a cyst filled with an oily secretion known as “sebum”.
In short, a cyst is a hollow space within the tissues of the skin. It will contain a liquid or a solidified substance.
What Causes Sebaceous Cysts to Develop in Dogs?
Cysts can develop from blocked skin pores or hair follicles. The obstruction leads to the accumulation of dead skin cells. Although the cause isn’t truly understood completely, there are a few things that are known to increase the risk of a dog developing cysts.
- skin injury
- UV damage
- inflammation or infection
- inactivity of hair follicles in some breeds (i.e. hairless)
What Are Follicular Cysts in Dogs?
Follicular cysts start within the hair follicle. They fill with liquid and create a relatively large bump.
The only real difference between a sebaceous cyst and a follicular cyst is that one develops in the sebaceous glands and the other originates in the hair follicle.
What is Sebum and How Does It Cause Sebaceous Cysts in Dogs?
Sebum is normally distributed through your dog’s fur, which protects the skin and gives the fur a healthy shine.
If it becomes blocked, it can’t escape through the skin. As a result, the material backs up into one place, causing a raised cyst.
It’s important to have a licensed veterinarian look at any new lumps or bumps on your dog.
Never assume that you know what the lump is.
Lumps and bumps are usually a normal part of aging for dogs, but sometimes they can be serious. It’s not always easy to determine a sebaceous cyst in a dog from other types of masses.
Clinical Signs of Sebaceous Cysts in Dogs
Sebaceous cysts develop under the skin and may appear to have fluid in them.
The fluid is made up of sebum, a natural body secretion (sweat), or a combination of dead cells and/or keratin.
While it’s important to get a diagnosis from a veterinarian, there are some tell-tale signs that you are dealing with a sebaceous cyst. For example:
- A sebaceous cyst should feel slightly firm but still moveable under the skin.
- Cysts are painless growths that have a white tinge to them. Sometimes they have a bluish streak. If you look closely, it may appear that there is fluid in the cyst.
- Sebaceous cysts tend to grow over time.
- A sebaceous cyst may feel rounded when it is just beneath the dog’s skin.
- Watch for sebaceous cysts that develop on a dog’s paws, head, back, or tail.
Cysts are made up of a collection of dead skin cells, dirt, bacteria, and/or pus. The matter within the cyst will have a horrible smell. If it erupts, you’ll notice that the substance kind of looks like curled milk. It may also look like a waxy substance.
Sebaceous Cyst – Dog Picture
Will a Sebaceous Cyst Go Away on Its Own?
Sebaceous cysts will either rupture naturally or dissolve on their own. The cyst could also wall itself off. This happens when the cyst forms its own protective barrier to keep it from erupting.
It may be tempting, but do not squeeze a sebaceous cyst.
They don’t spread beyond the skin, but they can easily become infected. Squeezing it can cause pain for your dog and may introduce bacteria into the open wound.
If the area appears infected, the veterinarian will likely prescribe an appropriate antibiotic.
Sometimes these cysts can grow and become itchy or painful. If that happens and there is no sign that the cyst is going to go away on its own, the veterinarian may recommend surgical removal.
Once removed, follicular cysts do not grow back in the same place.
Other Types of Cysts in Dogs
Sebaceous cysts are just one type of cyst that can be found on dogs. Other types and their definitions include:
These have a secretory lining which is a membrane that lines the inner surface. True cysts tend to form in things like sweat glands and occur due to blocked ducts.
To prevent these from recurring, it may be necessary to surgically remove them.
These cysts, mentioned briefly above, are also known as epidermoid cysts. They originate in the hair follicle and contain dark-colored cheesy material. Unfortunately, these types of cysts can become infected (known as pyoderma).
These are very rare congenital cysts that form before birth.
These fluid-filled sacs do not contain a secretory lining. The may form after a hemorrhage or trauma leading to tissue death. Fluid within these cysts are made up of liquified dead tissue.
These are common in dogs.
Preventing Sebaceous Cysts in Dogs
It’s not always possible to prevent sebaceous cysts, especially if the cause is due to genetics. However, there are some things you can do to keep your dog’s skin healthy.
Brushing is the number one thing you can do to keep the sebaceous glands stimulated. This helps prevent the growth of cysts and reduces the chance of skin glands becoming clogged.
When the sebaceous glands are stimulated, keratin is released. Keratin is a type of protein found in the hair, skin, and nails.
There is such a thing as over-bathing your dog. Different people may tell you different things. The dog’s breed, lifestyle, length of coat, and the amount of effort required may determine how often you bathe your dog.
Keep in mind that too much bathing can disrupt the natural pH balance of your dog’s skin. Sometimes all your dog needs is a rinse off with warm water.
Why It’s Vital to Get a Veterinary Diagnosis
The only way a veterinarian can make a definitive diagnosis of a benign cyst is by ruling out other possible things. For example, many lumps and bumps look similar. What you think might be a harmless cyst could be something that needs more attention.
A veterinarian will give your dog a full physical examination. They will want to look at the cyst to determine its size, appearance, and location.
In order to recommend treatment options, the veterinarian first needs to be sure what the lump actually is. He/she can do this through:
Fine Needle Aspiration
In order to get a definitive diagnosis, the veterinarian may order a fine needle aspiration. Through this process, the veterinarian takes a small cell sample to look at under a microscope. In doing this, the doctor can determine whether the lump is a cyst, tumor, or benign growth.
In some cases, the vet may want to do a biopsy. This offers a more accurate diagnosis. It involves the surgical removal of the tissue. The sample is then sent to a special lab (histopathology) and analyzed. Biopsies are worth the time in order to rule out things like:
- skin conditions
- viral warts
- squamous cell carcinoma
- mast cell tumors, etc.
The way the biopsy is taken depends on the dog and the size of the cyst. This is a surgical procedure that may require local anesthesia or general anesthesia for large cysts.
Dogs With a Genetic Predisposition
Sebaceous cysts can be caused by any number of things including possible hormonal imbalance, injury, blockage of hair follicle, or genetic predisposition. Dogs who have a history of sebaceous cysts include:
- Mexican hairless dog
- Yorkshire Terries
- Cocker Spaniels
That said, any dog can develop sebaceous cysts.
7 Ways to Treat a Sebaceous Cyst on a Dog
Once a veterinarian has diagnosed a sebaceous cyst in your dog, there really isn’t much you’ll need to do at home.
In some cases, a veterinarian may recommend surgical removal.
Seeing a veterinarian is a great idea before you attempt to care for a sebaceous cyst on your own. That way, you avoid a misdiagnosis of something that could be more serious.
That said, there are a few ways you can nurture your dog while helping to prevent infection.
1. Apply a Warm Compress
Heat stimulates blood vessels and dilates the skin. Don’t apply heat to the sebaceous cyst unless you see signs of it erupting. Heat will encourage the cyst to open so that you can clean the area.
A warm compress can be anything from a facecloth to a commercial hot pack.
If you’re using something like a facecloth, soak it in hot water for a few minutes and then wring it out thoroughly. If the water is too hot for you to grab the towel, wait for it to cool before applying it to your dog’s skin.
Damp towels tend to cool off very quickly. For that reason you may need to keep reheat it several times.
Heat can be applied for up to 15 minutes if your dog will allow it. If your dog doesn’t like it, there’s no point in forcing the issue.
- Wrap a commercial hot pack in a pillowcase so that the heat isn’t directly on the skin.
- Don’t leave your dog unattended if you’ve applied a commercial hot pack.
- A 15 minute application is the maximum time. Most dogs will want to get up and move long before that time is up. That’s okay!
- Repeat the process 4 times per day.
2. Epsom Salts
It’s thought that Epsom salt can draw infection from a wound. It may help prevent an infection. However, if the skin is red and inflamed or you have reason to believe your dog’s skin is seriously infected, Epsom salts won’t help.
If you believe your dog’s skin is seriously infected, antibiotics may be required. This warrants a trip to the veterinarian.
Using Epsom salts is easy. If you’re using a basin of warm water and a compress, simply add the salts to the water. Wait for the salt to dissolve before soaking and applying the towel.
3. Clean After Outdoors Activity
Some dogs play rough! A sebaceous cyst shouldn’t keep them back. Your dog should get his/her regular exercise, whether it involves a run, a trip to the dog park, or a romp in the backyard.
Just remember to gently clean the area when your dog gets back into the house. Look for signs of seepage or irritation.
4. Watch Your Dog For Signs of Discomfort
Sebaceous cysts can grow over time. Depending on the location of the cyst, it can start to aggravate your dog. It may become itchy or even painful.
If you notice that your dog is trying to bite the cyst or is pawing at it a lot, you may want to visit the veterinarian for a consultation. In some cases, he/she may recommend surgery to avoid a serious bacterial infection.
Once a cyst bursts, it becomes vulnerable to infection. A simple walk down the road can introduce bacteria into the wound. Unfortunately, bacterial infections can get serious fast.
Staph infections are the most common bacterial skin infection in dogs. Staph infections are characterized by:
- obvious signs of pain
- red or inflamed skin
- pus oozing from the wound
The cyst doesn’t have to be ruptured for a staph infection to take place. That’s because it can develop when your dog excessively licks, chews, or scratches the cyst.
6. Liquid DMSO
In the video below, Dr. Jones talks about liquid DMSO and how to use it on your dog. You can pick up a bottle of this inexpensive solution at this affiliate link through Healthy Pets: DMSO Liquid 99% Pure 16 oz
An affiliate link means that I earn a small commission from the sale of products through certain websites. Thank you for your support.
7. Witch Hazel with Aloe
This gentle astringent could be used if the cyst has opened up and is oozing. Witch hazel has antibiotic properties and aloe is soothing for the skin.
You’ll hear more about witch hazel in the video below.
For more ideas on best ways to care for a sebaceous cyst at home, watch the following video:
Summary of Sebaceous Cysts in Dogs
Sebaceous cysts form when ducts within the skin glands become clogged. They are considered harmless; however, If a cyst ruptures it leaves the skin open to infection and must be kept clean.
There are things you can do at home to ensure the area remains clean and bacteria-free. Depending on the location of the cyst, it may need to be surgically removed. This is especially true if your dog is able to scratch or chew at it.
The process of chewing or scratching at any skin tumor can result in bleeding and the introduction of a secondary infection. To keep your dog from biting or scratching the area, you may need to use something like an Elizabethan collar as a barrier.
They’re not pleasant to look at, but there are several types of collar you can buy now including the following:
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