Q: My dog, Pluto, had a bump on his back that I didn’t like. It was the size of a quarter, and I decided to take him to my vet to find out what it was. He said it was a sebaceous cyst. He stuck a needle in it and nothing came out, but then he squeezed it and some thick white stuff came wiggling out. Pluto didn’t like it at all. Should I be worried and will he get more of these? What do I do from here?
A: We see sebaceous cysts quite often in dogs and sometimes in cats, too. I had a cat come in recently with a “mass” the size of a walnut midway up his tail that turned into the biggest sebaceous cyst I had ever seen to date. Needless to say we surgically removed it, and I hope he appreciated the fact that his tail probably weighs half as much now. Whew! It was big, and full and slightly yucky, even for me.
What is a sebaceous cyst? It is a cyst that forms when a pore or hair follicle in their skin gets clogged because of dirt, infection, scar tissue or due to normal oils in the skin becoming too thick. It gets its name from the oil itself, which is called sebum. The oils build up in the pore or follicle and harden into a solid white paste. They are actually similar to the blemishes on your face that we all suffered from as teens.
As you noticed, they can appear and can even grow, but they usually do not cause pain or issue with your pet. Over time, they can get smaller if left alone. That is the issue: It is hard for us to leave them alone. We want to stick needles in them and squeeze them and fix them for our pets.
By doing this we introduce bacteria into a pool of thick, white, pasty material that is a perfect habitat for bacteria to thrive in, and off we go to an infection. Topical and oral antibiotics are then needed.
Instead of this approach, it is better to go forward and surgically remove the entire cyst and its contents. Only by removing the contents and the lining of the cyst will it ever go completely away.
Some veterinarians will express cysts in the exam room with an owner. It does cause some discomfort for the pet. You can tell this because they flinch and wiggle and can even turn their head quickly and give you the evil dog stare, complete with gleaming teeth. With this approach the cyst is expressed today, but, without removing the lining, chances are pretty good that it will return at some point.
In addition to not really fixing the problem, you now have a pet with a hole in their skin that is painful, red and begging to get infected. And he is not a happy guy to boot.
Unfortunately, some pets will have a tendency to develop these cysts based on skin health. If they occur in one location, they can occur in others, too.
Just continue to check Pluto over on a regular basis and have your veterinarian evaluate any abnormalities he or she finds. If any of the growths are big, like my cat from earlier, then go forward and remove it surgically and completely. But if they are small and not a problem for Pluto, then conservative observation is a welcome treatment. Good Luck.