What is a false cyst on a dog? The Ultimate Guide

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Medical Disclaimer

The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, examination, diagnosis, or treatment. You should always contact your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional before starting, changing, or stopping any kind of health treatment.


As the name implies, follicular cysts, also known as epidermoid cysts, develop around hair follicles. These types of cysts can lead to secondary infections. As with true cysts, certain dogs — and certain breeds — are more prone to this type of cyst than others. They can look like large pimples or blackheads. When they do, they are called “comedones.”

Why a Vet Should Check For Cysts

Whatever type of lump you find on your dog, it’s always a good idea to have a vet check it out as soon as possible. Cysts might not be life-threatening, but they can cause problems as they grow or if they become infected. Plus, what you think might be a cyst could be something more serious or require different treatment. Dr. Klein recommends that if you have a wellness check scheduled within the next couple of weeks, you could wait until then if the cyst isn’t bothering the dog.

During this time, he suggests keeping a little journal. “You’re trying to look at: Is it growing? If so, is it growing evenly? And how fast is it growing? Does it change color when it’s growing or become more red or inflamed? Is it causing the dog more problems? Is the dog biting or scratching at it? Does it erupt out of the surface? Or does it ulcerate?” Of course, if your dog is in pain or discomfort, or you suspect an infection, bring your scheduled appointment forward.

Dr. Klein explains many factors go into diagnosing cysts in dogs. “If the growth can be separated from the body structure, the dog breed and age, and the location of the growth all play a factor in a veterinarian’s decision of how to proceed,” he says. However, even if your veterinarian suspects a cyst, “the only way to prove it is through diagnostic means by having all or part of the growth removed and having it assessed in a laboratory,” Dr. Klein says.

This will either be by biopsy or, more commonly, your vet will clean the area antiseptically and do a fine needle aspirate. Dr. Klein explains your vet will take a tiny needle and stick it in the center of the growth to suction out some discharge and then squeeze that onto a slide. Often, the vet will evaluate the tissues in their clinic under a microscope (called histopathology) But they sometimes need to send the material to a laboratory. This can determine the type of cyst and rule out more serious diseases.

What is a false cyst on a dog?

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You’re relaxing on the couch with your dog curled up next to you. All is well until you absentmindedly rub behind your pet’s ears. Wait a minute — is that a tick? A dog cyst? Is it a tumor? Should you worry?

Vets say the short answer is yes, there may be some cause for concern. But don’t panic. Instead, get the answers and help you need. “All new lumps on dogs should receive an examination from your veterinarian,” says Dr. Jennifer Koehl, a practicing vet. “Some cancers are terrific pretenders and can ‘feel’ like fatty tumors or appear benign. A veterinarian can assess the size of the tumor or cyst and its attachment to underlying tissue.” That way you’ll know what you’re dealing with.

A visit to the vet is warranted if you or the groomer spot a lump, agrees veterinarian Dr. Chris Bern, who says the vet visit is “the best route” to assessing your dog’s health. “Your vet can take just a few cells and tell whether you are dealing with a dog cyst or whether you need to send the sample out for a full biopsy,” says Dr. Bern. “In some cases, you can have your answer in just a few minutes.”