While a lot of cysts and tumors are non-cancerous or benign, there is always the chance that this one is malignant and potentially fatal. The earlier you detect cysts and tumors, the better the prognosis. So it’s important to regularly handle your dog thoroughly all over her body so you can immediately detect any new lumps or bumps.

cocker spaniels prone to cysts and tumorsWhat are cysts?

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, cysts are hollow spaces in skin tissue that are filled with a liquid or solidified material. Some cysts are non-cancerous and some cysts are cancerous.

Non-cancerous cysts

There are five types of non-cancerous cysts:

  • Epidermoid cysts (previously follicular cysts). Dilated hair follicles cause these cysts and they contain either a fluid or cheese-like substance. They can lead to secondary infections, especially if squeezed – so don’t squeeze them.
  • Sebaceous cysts. These develop in sebaceous glands and are filled with sebum. They are also prone to secondary infections. Many veterinarians and doctors don’t refer to sebaceous cysts anymore; instead they fall under the epidermoid cyst category.
  • Dermoid cysts. These are congenital and form in the middle layer of skin while pups are still in utero. They contain anything from skin flakes and hair follicles to nerve remnants and sebaceous gland secretions.
  • True cysts. These have a secretory lining that produces secretions. These can block gland ducts, which is why many true cysts form in glands. They are particularly common in sweat glands.
  • False cysts. These don’t have a secretory lining and are usually caused by some kind of skin trauma that kills off tissue. The fluid in these cysts is actually the liquefied dead tissue.


Certain dog breeds are more prone to benign cysts than others. For example, including Mexican Hairless and Chinese Crested dogs are prone to follicular cysts. Rhodesian Ridgebacks are prone to dermoid cysts. Cocker spaniels are prone to sebaceous cysts.

How to treat non-cancerous cysts

There are several ways to treat benign cysts, or you could try leaving them alone. In many cases, benign cysts will go away by themselves. However, if cysts burst or keep recurring, you may need to take serious action.

Surgery is the best option if cysts recur because it gets rid of the entire sac. Surgery is also best if cysts adversely affect quality of life and are prone to reinfection. Topical treatment and antibiotics treat ruptured cysts and secondary infections.

Whatever you do, don’t squeeze cysts because you risk making them worse and spreading secondary infections. Try to stop your dog from rubbing, biting, scratching and licking cysts as this can also aggravate cysts and spread secondary infections.

Malignant cysts and tumors

Veterinarians will send away samples of suspicious-looking cysts and tumors for biopsy. This will determine if the cyst is cancerous or benign. Some of the most common cancerous tumors include:

  • boxer-dogMast cell tumors. These commonly affect beagles, Boston terriers, boxers, Labradors, pugs and schnauzers. This type of tumor spreads quickly and is treated with surgery or radiation and chemo.
  • Melanoma. These look like dark, raised moles and are common around the mouth and toes. They grow quickly, especially if your dog spends a lot of time in the sun or is an obsessive licker. While they start as skin cancer, they can spread to the liver and lungs. They are often treated with radiation, chemo and surgery.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma. This often looks like warts and is common in bassets, beagles, bull terriers, collies, Dalmatians and schnauzers. Sun exposure is a major cause and this type of tumor commonly affects surrounding tissue.
  • Hemanglosarcoma. This looks like a bruised lump or lumps. The tumor grows from blood cells, which is why the lumps look bruised. It is common in boxers, German shepherds, golden retrievers, pit bulls and whippets. Tumors spread easily and quickly to other parts of the body and also affect internal organs. They are surgically removed and the area is treated with radiation therapy.
  • FibrosarcomasThese are common in golden retrievers, Dobermans, Irish wolfhounds, and Brittany spaniels. They are often difficult to detect. For example, if they are under the skin, they form obvious lumps. However, if they are in fatty tissue, they require a thorough hands-on examination to detect. They often affect muscle tissue around the lump and they can spread to other parts of the body. Surgeons will remove a wide area surrounding the lump during surgery to try and remove all cancerous tissue and glands. However, more than 70% of tumors recur within 12 months. Radiation and chemo are recommended post-surgery to treat lingering cancer cells.

A life saver?

Regardless of whether your dog has non-cancerous or malignant cysts or tumors, treatment is expensive. Many people question whether the cost of treatment is worth it in terms of ultimate quality of life. The truth is that it depends. In cases where treatment is effective, your dog’s quality of life can dramatically improve and she can enjoy many more years of happy good health. However, you’ll only know if treatment is effective, once it’s underway.

This is when a good relationship with your veterinarian is essential. And when pet insurance really comes into its own.