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Dog Skin Tags: What They Are and What To Do About Them

Dog Skin Tags: What They Are and What To Do About Them

Your dog is cute no matter what—even if unsightly skin growths or lumps develop when they get older.

So, is a skin tag on your dog something to worry about? Is it a danger to health, or is it just a cosmetic—something that gives your pup’s appearance some extra character?

Here are some important things to know about skin tags on dogs, why they develop, and when to be concerned…

What Are Dog Skin Tags?

Skin tags on dogs are essentially overgrowths of the skin that look like bumps or small dangly masses. They’re made up of tissues generally found in the rest of your dog’s skin, like collagen proteins and blood vessels. 

Some skin tags are also classified as tumors, but in general, they are benign (non-cancerous).

Veterinarians might refer to skin tags by other names, such as acrochordons or fibrovascular papillomas. Hairless tags on the limbs are classified as fibroadnexal hamartomas, while flatter tags with hair growth are called follicular hamartomas.

But there’s no need to remember all of these long names. The most important thing is to check in with your veterinary team for evaluation of any new skin growths.

What Causes Skin Tags on Dogs?

The causes of skin tags are not fully understood. Many dogs develop skin tags without any known inciting cause. 

However, there are some factors that make a dog more likely to develop skin tags, including…

  • Age. Just like human beings, dogs are more likely to get skin tags and growths as they get older.

  • Breed. Larger breeds are more predisposed to skin tags. But they can occur on ANY dog breed.

  • Skin irritation, pressure, or friction. Skin thickening or growths may be a natural response to anything that irritates or damages the skin. This could include skin infections, parasites, poor skin care, or irritants like chemicals. Pressure from lying on hard floors might make a dog more likely to develop skin tags on the elbows or parts of the trunk in contact with the floor. Friction—such as rubbing of skin in the armpits, skin folds, or under a collar or harness—also predisposes those areas to skin tag development. 

SEE ALSO: Dog Rash: Common Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

How to Identify a Skin Tag on Your Dog

The most typical appearance of a dog skin tag is a small, soft, fleshy growth the same color as the rest of a dog’s skin or slightly darker in color. It looks like an extension of the skin itself into a small bump, flap, or even a dangling mass attached to the rest of the skin by a thin stalk. 

Tags may grow anywhere on a dog’s body. But they are most common on the face, limbs, belly, and chest. There might be one or multiple, and they can remain small or grow larger over time. Some dog skin tags have hair growth, while others don’t.

Warts, other types of skin masses (like tumors or even malignant cancers), and ticks are commonly confused with skin tags in dogs. A veterinary visit can help distinguish between these things and determine which treatments, if any, are needed. 

If you suspect your dog might have a tick on their skin, look up pictures online for comparison. Use magnification to see a tick’s legs. Tick removal is simple, but your veterinary team can help if you’re not comfortable.

Also keep in mind that nipples are commonly mistaken for skin tags. Both male and female dogs have several pairs of nipples. If you find a small skin bump on the underside of your pup’s chest or abdomen, look to the opposite (right or left) side to see if there’s a matching structure there. If so, it’s probably a nipple.

When to Be Concerned About Dog Skin Tags

Certain types of skin cancers, like mast cell tumors or malignant melanomas, can “mimic” skin tags. So, it’s always best to have a new skin growth or change evaluated by a veterinarian.

Once a vet has determined your dog’s skin mass is just a skin tag, there’s usually no cause for concern. These growths are benign and typically don’t bother a dog at all. However, there are exceptions.

If a skin tag gets scratched, pulled off accidentally, or otherwise irritated, it might bleed or become infected. This can be painful, and it creates a vicious cycle in which a dog licks or scratches at the site and makes it worse.

Damage may occur when a dog licks their skin tag—especially for tags on the forelimbs. Or, it could happen accidentally during grooming or play. And skin tags in high friction areas like the armpit or groin might get irritated from a dog walking or running.

SEE ALSO: Chicken Allergy in Dogs

What to Watch For and When to Call the Vet

It’s best to schedule a veterinary visit for ANY new skin growth or skin change. 

Your vet can help determine if there’s cause for concern and advise you on further testing and treatment, if needed.

However, some things could potentially indicate a problem (skin infection, parasites, or cancer, for example) that requires medical care. Here are some symptoms that should prompt a vet visit as soon as possible…

  • Growth in size, or changes in color, shape, or appearance—especially if those changes happen fast.

  • Bleeding, ulceration, redness, discharge, or any other signs of inflammation or infection.

  • A skin tag that bothers a dog—look for scratching, licking, or other signs of discomfort.

  • Skin tags in less-than-ideal locations like the eyelid (which can bother the eye) or near the mouth (where a dog eating can irritate the skin tag).

  • Your dog is generally ill, unwell, or acting in a way that concerns you. Examples include lethargy, inappetance, behavior changes, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.

Can Dog Skin Tags Be Cancer?

Yes, it’s possible for any skin growth to be cancerous. Veterinary evaluation and testing are needed to know for sure. Certain types of cancer—mast cell tumors, for example—can be “great pretenders” that look very similar to benign skin growths. 

Even if something looks like a skin tag, your veterinarian might recommend testing to be sure. A simple test could provide peace of mind.

SEE ALSO: Allergies in Dogs

Dog Skin Tag Treatment and Removal

The first step is a veterinary visit. Your vet will evaluate the mass and determine whether further testing or removal is needed.

This is comparable to your own skin check at a dermatologist’s office. The doctor will look at each mass, bump, mole, or other skin change. Based on certain criteria, they might determine the skin growth is benign and simply needs to be monitored for any changes. Or, if anything looks suspicious, they might recommend removal or biopsy. A veterinarian’s process of looking at skin growths or skin tags on dogs is very similar. 

Here are common outcomes of a veterinary visit, depending on the dog’s age and overall health, as well as how big the skin growth is and what it looks like…

  • Monitoring. If a dog’s skin growth looks exactly like a skin tag, isn’t bothering the pet, and isn’t demonstrating any suspicious symptoms or changes, your veterinarian might simply recommend monitoring. They will note the tag’s location, size, and appearance in the medical record, for comparison in case anything changes. And they’ll recommend you monitor for changes at home.

  • FNA (Fine Needle Aspiration). If there’s any possibility the growth is something other than a skin tag, further testing is needed. An FNA is a common next step. It’s non-invasive, doesn’t cause much (if any) discomfort, and doesn’t require sedation in most pets. It’s also valuable for planning the most effective surgical removal if cancer is suspected. In this test, a small needle is used to obtain cells that are then viewed under a microscope. A veterinarian might look at a sample during your visit or send the sample to a laboratory, or both. Often, this tiny sample is enough for diagnosis and guiding the next steps of treatment—or simply confirming that a skin tag is benign. 

  • Biopsy or Surgical Removal. Sometimes, the entire mass is removed and submitted as a biopsy. Depending on the pet and the size of the skin growth, this might be done under general anesthesia, or under sedation using a local anesthetic. 

Cryosurgery, or removing the skin tag via freezing, might be an option for some pets. Not all veterinary practices have the equipment for this, though, and it might prevent appropriate testing of the mass to ensure it is benign.

SEE ALSO: Aural Hematomas in Dogs

Do Dog Skin Tags Need To Be Removed?

If a dog’s skin tag is benign and not bothering the pup, there’s no need to remove it. But removal might be recommended if the tag gets irritated by a collar or during grooming, if a dog injures the tag by catching it on something during play, or in similar circumstances.

It might also be reasonable to remove a skin tag if your furkid is going under anesthesia for another reason, such as a dental cleaning. This could potentially prevent future issues. However, this isn’t recommended in all circumstances. Talk to your vet about whether or not this is a good option for your pup.

Can Skin Tags Be Removed at Home?

No, attempting to remove skin tags at home is not a good idea.

Perusing the internet, you might find all sorts of ideas for how to get rid of skin tags at home or using natural remedies. Unfortunately, these recommendations rarely work and often make things worse.

First, if the growth is actually cancerous or something other than a skin tag, home treatments delay appropriate diagnosis and treatment. 

Either way, home removal attempts could also result in pain to your pet, as well as bleeding or infection.

If you really want to try a supplement or topical product (and you know for sure your dog’s mass is a benign skin tag), ask your veterinary team if the product is safe for your pet. Or, consider calling the Pet Poison Helpline to confirm. If the product is safe and your pet doesn’t require urgent medical care, there’s usually no harm in trying it—other than perhaps some harm to your wallet!

Many skin tags are completely natural, so there’s no way to prevent them. But as a dog owner, you can do a few things to prevent the development of tags from skin irritation and improve your pup’s overall skin health…

  • Monitor. Check your furkid’s skin monthly for any changes. Note the location, size, and appearance of any skin growths. Take pictures. Note any changes and seek veterinary care as needed (see above).

  • Care for your pup’s overall health and skin health. This includes a healthy diet, appropriate bathing and grooming, parasite (flea and tick) prevention, and discussing any concerns about your dog’s skin with your veterinarian.

  • Keep your dog at a healthy weight to minimize rubbing from skin folds. 

The good news is, most skin tags don’t cause issues. Most dogs don’t even notice them, unless the tags get injured or infected. 

Schedule a veterinary visit to ensure new growths are in fact skin tags and not something more serious. Monitor for any changes. But other than that, you and your four-legged friend are free to go about your normal activities and enjoy life!

Have you noticed a skin growth on your pup that needs to be evaluated? Schedule a virtual or in-person veterinary consultation today to get all your questions answered! 

SEE ALSO: Fall Allergies in Dogs

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