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Sebaceous Cysts

Original post Avoid This Mistake if You Find a Lump on Your Petby Dr. Karen Shaw Becker on Healthy Pets


  • Sebaceous cysts are fluid-filled sacks that occur under your pet’s skin

  • These benign lumps occur under the skin and fill with sebum, an oily substance released by the sebaceous glands

  • The cyst will appear as a raised bump that will either erupt, become walled off or resolve on its own

  • I don’t recommend squeezing sebaceous cysts, as this can cause them to implode, which can cause cellulitis — a secondary bacterial infection that requires antibiotics

  • You should keep erupted cysts clean, disinfect them several times a day and keep your dog from licking the area

  • Keeping your dog well-groomed and adding healthy fats, such as omega-3s and coconut oil, can help prevent sebaceous cysts

There are some lumps and bumps that appear on pets that you’re better off leaving alone. Sebaceous cysts are one of them. If in doubt, it’s always best to have lumps checked out by your integrative veterinarian — especially if they’re new or have changed in size or appearance. However, sometimes taking no action is best.

What Are Sebaceous Cysts?

Sebaceous cysts are fluid-filled sacks. These benign lumps occur under the skin and fill with sebum, an oily substance released by the sebaceous glands. Sebaceous cysts that are close to the surface of the skin look like pimples, and they can appear very quickly, such as showing up in the time you’re away at work for the day. When they form deeper in the skin they can show up as raised nodules that feel like a soft pea that never comes to the surface.

Sebaceous glands produce oil that empties into the hair follicles. If the sebum becomes trapped, a cyst can form and it may increase in size as fluid collects. The cyst will appear as a raised bump that can be white or bluish in color1 and will do one of three things:

  1. Erupt — If sebum continues to collect, the cyst becomes enlarged, comes to a head, opens up and oozes material that may resemble cottage cheese or black wax. This increases the risk of infection. I don’t recommend squeezing sebaceous cysts, even if they come to a head, as this can cause them to implode, which can cause cellulitis — a secondary bacterial infection that requires antibiotics. I do recommend that you keep erupted cysts clean, however, disinfect them several times a day with dilute Betadine and keep your dog from licking the area.

  2. Become walled off — If the cyst feels like a pea under the skin, it’s likely become walled off. In this case, the pressure in the cyst may have stopped more fluid from collecting, so the cyst won’t get any bigger; it will remain mostly as is and your dog’s body will ignore it.

  3. Resolve — In many cases, a sebaceous cyst will resolve without causing any further problems. It’s also possible for the cyst to rupture internally, allowing the body to absorb the fluid and making the cyst “disappear.”2

Dogs of all breeds can acquire sebaceous cysts at any age and they can occur anywhere on the body, but are commonly seen on the head, neck, trunk, elbows, hips and anus.3 Cats can also get sebaceous cysts, but they’re much less common in cats than in dogs.

They can be an ongoing problem in some dogs prone to them, occurring one or two at a time to as many as five or six at once. In veterinary school I was taught to remove them, because it makes clients happy. But I don’t recommend removing anything benign from your animal’s body unless there’s a reason: it’s in a location where surgery becomes more difficult if the cyst grows, it becomes recurrently infected or impairs the dog’s quality of life.

How to Reduce Sebaceous Cyst Formation

While it can be difficult to prevent sebaceous cysts from forming, there are simple steps you can take to reduce the likelihood that your dog will be affected:

  • Optimal Grooming — Keep your dog well-brushed and well-groomed, which will keep the sebum oils flowing out of the oil glands and hair follicles, and reduce the likelihood of oil getting trapped under the hair follicle. Even dogs with short hair need to be regularly brushed to remove debris from the fur and skin, and some dogs need to be brushed and/or combed daily to keep their coat and skin healthy. Don’t use harsh grooming products. Chemicals and preservatives in many pet shampoos can disrupt your pet’s skin microbiome, upregulating sebum production. Look for chemical-free organic pet shampoos with ingredients you can pronounce.

  • Healthy Fats — Optimize omega 3 essential fatty acids (DHA and EPA), which are sensitive to heat and should be added to your pet’s meal at the time of feeding, especially if you feed dry food. A nutritionally diverse fresh food diet won’t have had these healthy fats cooked off, so there are more unadulterated fatty acids available to nourish your pet’s skin. You can optimize essential fatty acids by adding sardines packed in water, or an ethically sourced, third-party tested marine oil, such as krill oil, to your dog’s food. Since omega-3 fats offer many additional benefits to your pet, including for the cardiovascular system, cognitive function, neurological health, inflammatory skin disease, kidney disease and osteoarthritis, optimizing them for your dog will support not only skin health but overall health as well. You can also add coconut oil to your pet’s food; this healthy saturated fat helps to optimize and regulate sebum production. In the case of coconut oil, it can be applied topically to your dog’s skin, as a therapeutic mask, as well as given orally.

If you find a cyst, I recommend having it checked out by your veterinarian to be sure it’s benign, but there’s no need to visit an emergency center; a regular visit will do. Your vet can use cytology, meaning they’ll extract a few cells from the cyst and look at them under the microscope, to assure you that it’s nothing to worry about. While some lumps and bumps can be dangerous, the good news is that sebaceous cysts are rarely one of them.


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