Sebaceous Cysts in Dogs

Picture of a Golden Retriever in the forest

If you have recently noticed a bump on your dog’s skin, you might be wondering what it might be. Some bumps and lumps can be dangerous and call for immediate medical attention, but others can be sebaceous cysts.

In this post, we’ll look at what sebaceous cysts are, why and how they form, how you can tell if your canine friend has one and when it’s time to go to the veterinary clinic.

What is a Sebaceous Cyst?

Before defining the cysts themselves, we have to look at what sebaceous glands are since they are at the root of the problem. Sebaceous glands are microscopic and can be found in most animals’ skin. They are in charge of secreting waxy or oily matters known as ‘keratin’.

Sebaceous glands play a very important part when it comes to maintaining your dog’s skin and coat healthy and shiny. In some cases, they can secrete too much keratin, which might put your canine companion at risk of developing dermatitis.

Diagram of Sebaceous CystsIf we were to look at the anatomy of your dog’s skin, we’d find that right under the skin surface, there are hair follicles, but around them, there are sebaceous glands. The latter have canals that communicate with the exterior of the skin, and sebum accumulates in them until it is released. This can happen as you brush your dog’s coat, as he scratches himself, or whenever pressure is put on the canals.

If the gland becomes clogged for one reason or the other, which can happen if the dog isn’t properly cared for or is predisposed to sebaceous dermatitis, a cyst can form at the site of the blockage.

Sebaceous cyst features

Most sebaceous cysts are round and smooth and they can have a variable size depending on your dog’s skin health, but also the amount of secretion from the gland. Some glands are bigger than others, which means that they might secrete oil or keratin in a larger amount, making the cyst larger, too.

In most cases, sebaceous cysts have a size ranging from 5 mm to 5 cm. When they are caused by a clogged gland, they can be transparent or bluish, but some can be dark, too.

What is important to note with regard to sebaceous cysts in dogs is that the vast majority of them are absolutely harmless. When they’re simply left alone, they don’t have to be removed with surgery, and they most likely do not interfere with the dog’s life or affect his health status.

However, in some situations, they can be prone to secondary bacterial infections, especially if they rupture.

What Happens When a Cyst Ruptures?

Some cysts can be so small that they are unnoticeable, no matter how much care and attention you give your dog. That means that they might either fill up and get bigger as time goes by, or they could rupture naturally, and you might not even notice when that happens.

This is especially common in long-haired breeds, as it’s far more difficult for you to notice the very tiny bumps that might form underneath their coats.

Whenever a sebaceous cyst ruptures, there is some type of substance being released from it. The color of the secretion varies depending on the conditions and the amount of time it has spent inside the cyst. Some can be brown, others can be grayish or even completely white, but there are others that might have the appearance of cottage cheese, too.

It’s extremely common for this type of cyst to develop in body areas such as the dog’s torso, neck, upper legs, or his head. So, should you be alarmed if you notice any cyst rupturing? Not exactly.

The only instance in which you should go to the vet is if you see that the secretion released from the cyst is very dark, looking like coagulated blood. In that case, it’s likely for the cyst not to pertain to the sebaceous gland — it would be false and hemorrhagic.

How Are Sebaceous Cysts Diagnosed? How Are They Treated?

A physical examination is most likely to reveal the presence and even the nature of a sebaceous cyst. Still, if the veterinarian isn’t feeling too sure about the diagnosis, they might recommend additional testing such as a biopsy or histopathology.

These can make it possible for you to know exactly what happened and whether the cyst wasn’t actually dangerous to your dog. Histopathology is extremely helpful, in this case, as it rules out some types of cancer.

If the cyst is not sebaceous and it might pose a threat to your dog’s health, it might have to be surgically removed. If not, the vet can prescribe some disinfecting solutions, wipes, or ointments for the moment the cyst ruptures.

What Can You Do at Home?

If your dog has sebaceous dermatitis and the frequency of him or her developing sebaceous cysts is high, there are some things you can still do at home. Of course, it can be very difficult and time-consuming to watch your dog and see whether none of the cysts have ruptured.

Ideally, you should disinfect the area if you notice that the rupture has happened, and this is necessary to prevent any other bacterial complications. As you might know by now, any animal’s skin and coat is covered in a variety of bacteria, and some of them can become pathogenic if they find an entryway.

Carefully look at your dog’s coat and skin once a day to see whether there are any cysts that you might not have noticed or that might have ruptured. If you know that your dog has this problem, check him twice a day instead of just once.

Sebaceous glands become clogged because of a variety of factors, from a local injury to dirt or infections. Cysts are caused merely by the inability of the canal to eliminate the secretion through the pore’s opening. You’ll be glad to know that most cysts resolve by themselves and disappear. There can be instances where the same cyst is developed time and again, but this is rare.



3 Responses

  1. Thank you for this article. It answers my many questions. I have a Yorkie and she has cysts on her back. There are a couple that have repeated for a couple of years and when they show an opening I release them and do get a cottage cheese type of secretion. I clean and disinfect the area. They take a while but tend to get full and I repeat the procedure. She also has a few that are small and release themselves.
    Her Vet told me they were sebaceous cysts and not to be concerned but knowing more about them really eases my mind.
    Again, thank you.

    1. Thank you for this article, it put my mind at ease! A sebaceous cyst ruptured on my dog today and I wasn’t quite sure how to handle it but this article put me in the right direction.

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