Fatty cysts are a type of sebaceous cyst that can occur in dogs (and also people) and that happen due to an over-accumulation of skin sebum, a natural moisturiser, lubricant and protective agent produced by the sebaceous glands of the skin. While fatty cysts in the dog do not pose an acute or profound risk to your dog’s general health and wellness, they can potentially lead to infections and other complications, and are also often easy to prevent by means of a combination of good hygiene and an appropriate diet.
Some breeds of dogs seem to be more prone to developing such cysts than others, with the Cocker spaniel being one, and other dog breeds with long or floppy ears also being slightly more likely than most other dogs to develop them around the area of the ears.
In this article, we will look at fatty cysts in the dog in more detail, including examining what causes them, how to identify them, and how to prevent them from developing in the first place. Read on to learn more.
The short answer to this is sebum! Sebum is a product that is naturally produced by the skin of the dog, which helps to keep the skin moist and comfortable, and the coat glossy. It helps to produce an insulating layer that protects the skin against the elements and skin damage, and leads to the slightly oily, shiny appearance of the skin and coat of the dog.
However, when the sebaceous glands produce too much sebum, this thick, water-resistant substance can serve to clog the pores and lead to problems such as cyst formation, and also in some cases, acne. The actual overproduction of sebum itself can be caused by various things, which may include hormonal imbalances (as is often the case with acne) or simply a diet that is too high in fat to be wholly appropriate for the dog in question.
While any dog can theoretically develop fatty cysts due to a poor diet, it is thought that in cases where diet does not play a part and the condition is caused by a hormonal imbalance, there may be a hereditary element to their formation.
Either a hormone imbalance or failing to feed a diet that is nutritionally complete and low in fat-or giving too many fatty treats between meals-can lead to the skin producing too much sebum, which in turn, can lead to fatty cyst formation.
Changing the diet can, in some cases, prevent further cysts from developing, and in hormonal cases, many dogs will simply grow out of it, as is often the case with puppy acne, which is hormone-mediated.
Keeping your dog’s skin clean and removing any excess sebum before it gets the chance to block the pores and cause a problem can also prove helpful for some dogs too.
Understandably, spotting any type of lump, bump or other growth on your dog’s skin can be alarming, but fortunately, fatty cysts are not one of the most problematic or serious diagnosis that your dog may receive.
The main symptoms of fatty cyst formation in dogs include:
In order to get a definitive diagnosis of fatty cysts, your vet will need to perform a fine needle aspirate test of the growth and analyse the results, in order to rule out other potential problems. If your vet is not sure that the growth is a simple fatty cyst, they may also run a biopsy in order to rule out the possibility of tumours, but fatty cysts are usually instantly recognisable to experienced vets, and so this is rarely necessary.
Fatty cysts in the dog are not painful and do not generally indicate a more serious underlying problem, nor are they very likely to lead to further problems developing. In some cases, the cysts will go away on their own given time, without any treatment being administered.
However, in a small number of cases, the growths will grow into much larger lumps, and in very rare instances, may mutate into malignant cancerous tumours. For this reason, your vet will usually ask you to schedule regular check-ups for your dog, in order to monitor them and make sure that they are not mutating into a possible problem.
Some cysts may be removed for cosmetic reasons, or to remove the small chance that they will develop into a larger problem if left unchecked. If the cysts are causing a problem in terms of their location, this will likely require their removal as well, and generally, this can be performed as a minor outpatient procedure with only the use of a general anaesthetic, which will permit your vet to extract the contents of the cyst and shrink it, without unduly upsetting your dog. Fatty cysts are not hugely likely to recur again in the same area after removal.