OBJECTIVE To compare percentages of mast cells in lymph node (LN) aspirate samples from clinically normal dogs, dogs with allergic dermatologic disease (ADD), and dogs with cutaneous mast cell tumors (MCTs). DESIGN Prospective cross-sectional study. ANIMALS 20 healthy dogs (group 1), 20 dogs with ADD (group 2), and 20 dogs with an MCT on the head or limbs (group 3). PROCEDURES LN aspirate samples were obtained from easily accessible LNs in group 1, affected skin regions in group 2, and the likely draining LN or LNs of the MCT in group 3; the percentage of mast cells was manually determined for each LN. For group 3, LNs were cytologically categorized with a modified version of a published metastasis categorization scheme. RESULTS Median (range) percentage of mast cells in aspirate samples was 0% (0% to 0.1%) for group 1, 0.05% (0% to 0.55%) for group 2, and 0.4% (0% to 77.4%) for group 3. In group 3, 16 LNs (13 dogs) were palpably normal in size; 6 of these had evidence of possible or certain metastasis. Seven LNs (7 dogs) in group 3 were palpably enlarged, and 5 of these had evidence of certain metastasis. CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE This study provided evidence to support the use of a uniform cytologic grading system to further define nodal metastasis in dogs with MCTs as well as estimates of the percentage of mast cells in LN aspirate samples for healthy dogs and dogs with ADD. Palpably normal LNs in dogs with cutaneous MCT may contain metastasis.