Like humans, dogs have very tiny oil glands in the deep layers of the skin called sebaceous glands. The oil produced by these glands is called sebum. The sebum plays a major role in lubricating the hair follicles and hair shafts. They also make the skin supple preventing it from drying up. Naturally, sebum finds its way out of the gland through pores located on the skin, adjacent to the hair follicles.
When the skin pores get blocked, the obstruction will retain sebum to forming cysts. These cysts increase in size and can lead to serious inflammation beneath the skin. Severe cases can rupture and bleed and do require the attention of a veterinarian for removal and draining.
Sebaceous cysts are very dynamic complications. They can either be non-serious or cancerous and are a common occurrence in dogs. They also affect dogs of irrespective of age.
Causes of sebaceous cysts in dogs
- Causes of sebaceous cysts in dogs
- Characteristics and symptoms
- When cysts are raptured and bleeding
- How to drain the cyst
- How to clean a dog’s sebaceous cyst
- Cyst removal and treatment
- Home remedies
- Coconut oil
- Castor oil
- Witch Hazel
- Proper diet
- Proper grooming of the dog’s skin
- Prevention tips
- Should I squeeze sebaceous cysts?
- Can cysts kill my dog?
There are a variety of factors that can cause sebaceous cysts in dogs such as:
- Genetic predisposition
Although this is not a very common cause, it can lead to very unpleasant sebaceous cyst problems of the skin. the most common causes of hereditary sebaceous cysts are Gardner’s syndrome and basal cell nevus syndrome.
Basal cell nevus syndrome is an inherited condition characterized by defects in a variety of body system including the skin. Gardner’s syndrome on the other hand is a variant form of familial adenomatous polyposis which may lead to the formation of multiple skin tumors.
- Blockage of pores in the skin
Substances such as dirt, debris or scar tissue can potentially block skin pores leading to the accumulation of sebum beneath the skin. the cysts occur when the accumulating sebum becomes thick and clog the skin pores including the hair follicles.
- Injury or trauma
Skin conditions such as acne, surgical wounds and scratches are the most common inducers of trauma and injury to the skin of dogs. Direct trauma can damage the sebaceous glands and also cause blockage of the skin pores leading to the formation of a sebaceous cyst.
- Insect bites and allergic reactions
Insect bites often cause an inflammatory response which may lead to the irritation of skin pores. Allergic reactions affecting the skin can also lead to chronic inflammation when not adequately treated.
- Lack of sebum secretion as in sebaceous adenitis
Sebaceous adenitis is rare condition affects mainly the young and middle-aged dogs. It is an inflammatory disease specifically against the sebaceous glands leading to the ultimate destruction of the gland.
- Hormonal imbalance
High level of testosterone is a major predisposing factor that can lead to the formation of a sebaceous cyst. Testosterone is mostly found in male dogs hence they are the most affected by testosterone imbalances.
Other conditions that can cause sebaceous cysts
- Sebaceous gland hyperplasia
Hyperplasia is an increase in the number of cells in a tissue which eventually leads to an increase in the size of that tissue. In dogs, sebaceous gland hyperplasia is mostly seen in the abdomen and the head. It is, however, a disease most common in older dogs.
- Sebaceous gland hamartoma
A hamartoma is an abnormal mixture of cells in areas of growth in the tissues. When this abnormal growth occurs in the sebaceous gland, it leads to sebaceous gland hamartoma. In dogs, this condition is noticed just after birth and measure roughly 2 inches in length and diameter.
- Sebaceous gland adenoma
An adenoma is any benign tumor of a glandular tissue. A benign tumor doesn’t spread to distant organs. Since sebum is produced in sebaceous glands, these glands are susceptible to adenomas. The commonest manifestation of a sebaceous gland adenoma is mesothelioma. They are more common in older dogs, affecting mostly the head. The lesions are covered by crusts and are often filled with pus.
- Sebaceous gland adenocarcinoma
Unlike adenomas which do not spread, a cancerous tumor that can invade other tissues is called a carcinoma. When the carcinoma involves a gland such as a sebaceous gland, the tumor is called adenocarcinoma. This condition affects mostly the male dogs and can metastasize to the lungs and lymph nodes.
Characteristics and symptoms
Generally, the symptoms and characteristics of any disease condition will depend on the causative agents of the disease.
The morphology or appearance may also vary depending on the type of the sebaceous cyst. Some of the symptoms of sebaceous cysts include.
- Cardinal signs of inflammation such as redness/erythema, pain, and swelling.
- The swelling is usually raised above the skin and is referred to as a nodule.
- If you feel the cysts, you will realize that some of them have a slight mobility below the skin.
- Sebaceous cysts manifest as multiple lesions which are round or slightly elongated.
- Cysts are more prone to infection. You may notice a strange odor emanating from the infected area of the skin.
- Infections and inflammation usually lead to a migratory response of the cell of the immune system. As these cells eliminate the infectious agents, some of them die in the process. The aftermath of all these may be a purulent discharge of a yellow substance reminiscent of a pus.
- Irrespective of the size, sebaceous cysts may burst and bleed.
- Depending on the cause, sebaceous cysts can vary in size from ½ an inch to about 2 inches.
The major complication arising from sebaceous cysts is a secondary infection. You should report to your veterinary officer if you notice any of the aforementioned signs and symptoms manifesting on your dog. This would ensure that any secondary complications are managed lest they worsen the existing condition.
When cysts are raptured and bleeding
Like as with most swelling of the skin. sebaceous cysts are prone to rupture and consequential episodes of bleeding. Rapture of the cyst usually happens due to trauma or injury directed towards the cyst. The dog may also scratch the cyst or bite the crusts leading to bleeding.
The ruptured cyst is in most instances less painful. Depending on the size and type of the cyst, the contents that spill out together with blood will vary in color, quantity, and smell. It is usually expedient that you clean the ruptured cysts more often while you closely monitor for any bacterial infections. You can read more about severe bacterial infections in dogs called cellulitis here.
Although it is mostly painless, the bleeding can become severe and cause pain to the dog. When you realize that you are constantly cleaning the wound but the bleeding doesn’t seem to be getting any better, consider reporting to your veterinary officer for further assessment of your dog.
Sebaceous cysts are usually harmless since they are benign. However, if they are associated with cancers such as the aforementioned adenomas and carcinomas, they may lead to serious health complications.
Nevertheless, any nodule of unknown origin protruding from the skin should be thoroughly investigated by a specialized person. This helps in ruling out of other dangerous conditions. Ideally, any sebaceous cyst that appears to be growing rapidly, has abnormal color change and rapidly produces a bloody discharge should be well assessed by the veterinary officer. These could be a sign of a malignant tumor.
How to drain the cyst
Open drainage of cysts is indicated to dogs only when your veterinary suspects that treatment is necessary for the sebaceous cysts. Since this is a very invasive procedure, it can only be done by a qualified person such as a veterinary officer to avoid causing more harm to the dog.
The procedure is simple when performed by a qualified vet and can be summarized as follows:
- Like as with all invasive surgical procedures, your dog will be laid on a surgical table and injected with anesthesia. The anesthesia numbs the area to be operated to eliminate the feeling of pain during the procedure.
- After the dog has been anesthetized, the vet can use some clippers or scissors to shave the area to be operated to improve visibility. The major reason for shaving before surgery is to prevent the transfer of infections into the body of the dog. Dog hairs are really not sterile and can harbor several infectious microorganisms.
- When the site has been readied, the veterinary will use a scalpel to cut through the skin to the base of the sebaceous cyst.
- The cyst will then be cut open and allowed to drain slowly into a surgical pan. Suction may be used to speed up the process of drainage.
- If the cyst was deep-seated and large such that a huge part of the skin was cut during surgery, the veterinary officer may then use a suture to cover up the wound and seal it. For minor wounds, there is no need for suturing. The wound just heals on its own.
Infections may be the threat of a drained cyst. While at home, you will have to keep your dog’s wound clean at all times to prevent the risk of bacterial infection. Your veterinary doctor may prescribe some prophylactic treatment to reduce the risk of infection.
Drainage is very efficient and straightforward. You instantly notice the transformation such as complete resolution in the symptoms.
How to clean a dog’s sebaceous cyst
The best thing you can do to your dog with sebaceous cyst is to not pop out the cyst. Leaving it compact is certainly the surest way of keeping the dog free from bacterial infection. Bacterial infections are more common in open wounds.
Sometimes the cyst may burst on its own before the doctor is taken for surgical drainage. When this happens, you should be well able to clean the ruptured cyst to avoid messing up the hygiene of your dog.
Cleaning a ruptured cyst also increases the healing process by keeping off bacterial infections. The procedure is simple and can be performed as follows.
- If you want to do a beneficial cleaning process, you will have to shave the area of the skin around the raptured part. As aforementioned in this text, dog fur can harbor several microorganisms and may introduce them into a wound causing serious infections. Shaving this part of the skin also gives a clear visual on the place you should clean in its entirety.
- When the area has been cleared off fur, use a cloth damped in warm water to clean the wound. The best strategy is to start with the warm compress technique. The warmth will help with pain reduction.
- When the cloth appears to have lost some warmth, wipe the area gently to remove any debris or skin fragments. They are easy to remove since the cold compress strategy above helps in softening the crusts that are covering the wound and some part of the surrounding healthy skin.
- After cleaning the wound, you can use disinfectant to disinfect the area. Some common disinfectants include betadine and hydrogen peroxide.
You should, however, be wary of applying too much disinfectant directly to open wounds. Disinfectants such as hydrogen peroxide can damage the surrounding healthy cells and worsen the wound. If you must use a disinfectant, do well to consult your veterinary officer on the amounts and frequency of applying them.
Cleaning sebaceous cyst wounds should be a continuous process since you will be closely monitoring the healing process of the wound lest the wound gets infected by bacteria.
Cyst removal and treatment
Other than the surgical procedure of draining cysts, you can effectively remove a cyst at home. However, this process will involve top-notch disinfection techniques. Betadine is the preferred disinfectant for this purpose, however, you can use hydrogen peroxide.
After disinfecting the area of the skin, you need to also disinfect a sewing needle by letting it soak in betadine.
As the needle is getting soaked, you will have to wash your hands thoroughly, dry them and put on gloves. Washing should be done for at least 2 minutes for effective bacterial control.
Pick up the sewing needle and lance the cyst. Let the cyst to drain naturally by placing your finger adjacent to the cyst and pressing gently against the cyst from a variety of angles.
Do the pressing until the discharge is complete. You should be careful not to press too much because you may force sebum rapidly to the sebaceous gland and can potentially cause damage to the skin pores.
You can then apply antibiotic ointments for a faster healing process. Removed cysts should not be bandaged. The antibiotic treatment should also not be applied immediately on the first day of cyst removal.
The good thing about sebaceous cysts is that they are harmless to the dog when there are no secondary disease involvements. Under these circumstances, you can leave the cysts undisturbed unless they are not pleasant in your sight or if they are making your dog uncomfortable.
However, in most cases treatment becomes unnecessary because:
- The cysts may just resolve on their own without causing any complications.
- The cysts may eventually burst and release their contents outside. The remain scar may then heal by itself without any need for treatment.
- Sometimes the cysts may just remain beneath the skin as small cysts with no potential to grow or disappear. In this case, the cysts are also harmless to the dog.
In the event that you are considering treatment with home remedies, the following are some of the ingredients to use:
Certainly, this use of coconut oil to combat sebaceous cysts is the least famous among the various uses of coconut oil. Nevertheless, coconut oil has antimicrobial properties that prevent the colonization of the cysts by bacteria, fungi or viruses.
Additionally, coconut oil contains a rich measure of lauric acid which has been proven to be an effective ingredient capable of boosting the immune system. You only need to apply a small amount of coconut oil to the infected area to achieve maximum effect of the oil.
Its healing abilities are backed by its ability to fight infections. Turmeric contains an active ingredient called Curcumin which has both anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. The ability to suppress inflammation limits swelling while preventing infections simultaneously. It is administered orally.
Conveniently, less than one teaspoonful of turmeric supplemented in the diet is sufficient to resolve the symptoms of sebaceous cysts.
Castor oil is a potent anti-inflammatory agent that can help reduce swelling and itching. It also has antimicrobial properties against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. It is the commonly used agent to prevent the occurrence of skin eruption. Castor oil has no side effects when applied to the skin of dogs and hence can be used several times daily when treating sebaceous cysts.
If you are looking for a natural product with astringent properties then you need not to look further than witch hazel. This herb contains substances called tannins. Tannins are useful in drawing excess oil and tightening the pores of the skin. This eventually reduces the size of cysts. It is available as a gel or cream. The method of application is simple. Just use a cotton ball to spread the gel or cream over the affected area. The sebaceous cyst will resolve after a few days.
A good diet for your dog is always a prerequisite for a healthy coat. Diets rich in proteins and omega 3 fatty acids are essential for the development of the connective tissues of the skin leading to the strengthening of skin pores and hair follicles. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish and sunflower oil while proteins for canines are mostly found in meat and meat products.
Proper grooming of the dog’s skin
Since sebaceous cysts can be caused by blockage or skin pores by dust, debris and other solid particles, brushing the coat of your dog regularly will ensure that the pores are always open and the skin is devoid of debris and dust.
There isn’t so much to worry about when it comes to sebaceous cysts since they are often harmless to the dog and painless. However, a familial predisposition which may be due to primary conditions such as tumors may warrant a quick consultation with the veterinary officer.
The major preventive measures for sebaceous cysts are proper diet and proper grooming for the dog. A good diet will lead to the development of a healthy skin and coat. Proper grooming, on the other hand, will ensure that the skin pores are constantly open to prevent blockage and a consequent accumulation of sebum beneath the skin.
Should I squeeze sebaceous cysts?
No! You should not squeeze sebaceous cysts. When they rapture, or when you lance them, just let the cysts drain by itself without squeezing out the contents.
Squeezing the sebaceous cysts pushes the sebum deeper into the skin. this can eventually lead to blockage and/or rapture of the hair follicles and pores hence worsening the condition.
However, you can press gently from a variety of angles when you are draining the cysts so that all the contents can be released out. Gentle pressing doesn’t involve too much force.
Can cysts kill my dog?
No! Cysts are very harmless to your dog. They are somewhat painless and, in most cases, will resolve on their own. This could be either by rapture and healing or remaining deep-seated as small nodules within the skin.
Sebaceous cysts due to adenocarcinoma of the sebaceous gland may metastasize to the adjacent lymph nodes and spread to other organs of the body. Under such conditions, it is metastatic cancer that will kill the dog and not the sebaceous cysts.
Sebaceous cysts are a very common complication in dogs and should not just be overlooked. Although it may seem harmless, it may predispose your dog to secondary bacterial infections which may become much worse. The good news is that it can be efficiently managed and /or prevented at home.