Canine sebaceous cysts are similar to the acne many owners experience during puberty. A sebaceous cyst develops when a hair follicle or skin pore gets clogged with dirt, debris, oil or infectious material. These cysts are essentially overgrown pimples but, depending on the size and location, can really irritate your dog.
Signs and Symptoms
When your buddy develops a sebaceous cyst, you will notice a raised bump underneath his skin. It can be as large as an inch in diameter, though many of these cysts are smaller. Sebaceous cysts typically develop on the head, neck, torso and upper legs. If the cyst drains, you will notice a white, gray or light brown discharge similar to that of a pimple. Secondary infection becomes a concern once the cyst has reached the draining phase.
A little extra oil production, an accumulation of dead skin cells and clogged pores are all it takes to cause sebaceous cysts. While any breed can develop sebaceous cysts, schnauzers, Kerry blue terriers, poodles, Yorkshire terriers and spaniels are predisposed. Their coarse, tight coats easily trap oil and skin cells leading to an accumulation of debris, clogged pores and eventual cysts.
Sebaceous cysts are, thankfully, benign tumors; however, they often resemble malignant tumors. It’s important to report any lumps and bumps on your dog’s body to his veterinarian for examination. Your vet may perform a fine needle aspirate to confirm diagnosis. This quick, painless procedure is done while your dog is awake and involves inserting a thin needle into the lump and withdrawing cells for examination.
Warm washcloth compresses can help drain the cyst and gently remove any crusting. Many sebaceous cysts resolve on their own; however, large painful cysts that restrict movement or otherwise bother your dog may need to be professionally drained or removed. Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics for secondary infection as needed.
Many dogs who have had sebaceous cysts experience recurrence. Discuss preventative skin and coat care with your veterinarian. Hypoallergenic shampoos can help reduce skin inflammation while daily brushing helps dislodge loose fur and debris while spreading oils throughout the skin and coat.
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.