Just like humans, dogs can grow skin tags on various parts of the body. The good news is that most skin tags are nothing to worry about. They are fibrous growths that tend to affect older dogs, but puppies can also get them. However, some can skin tags can grow large and become a nuisance, especially for your dog. As a dog owner, it's important to understand what a skin tag is and how to tell the difference between skin tags and other types of growths.
What Is a Skin Tag?
A dog skin tag is a fleshy skin growth that can appear anywhere on a dog's body. It is also the same color as your dog's skin. Most skin tags are composed of collagen and blood vessels covered with skin. Some skin tags start small and grow larger over time while others remain unchanged. They are usually non-painful and benign (non-cancerous). A benign skin tag on a dog is usually only a concern if it's in a location that bothers the dog.
Symptoms of Skin Tags on Dogs
If you find a growth on your dog that looks like a skin tag, monitor it closely. Make a note of its size, shape, and color. Check the area frequently for changes. If the skin tag does not change and your dog is not exhibiting signs of illness, it can probably wait for your next annual or biannual routine wellness exam (don't forget to bring it up with your vet at this visit). If you notice any changes to the skin tag, contact your veterinarian for advice and to schedule an examination.
Flattened Growth/Nodule on Skin
Skin tags often appear as soft, slightly raised, skin-colored bumps, flaps, or wart-like (but skin tags are not completely round or dark in color like warts). Some may contain hair follicles with thick hair. There may also be multiple growths in the same spot. A hairless lump is referred to as hexal hamartomas. A hairy lump is referred to as follicular hamartomas.
Stalk-Like Growth on Skin
Some skin tags are pedunculated, meaning they dangle from a stalk. A dangling growth is most likely a skin tag versus a flatter growth that can resemble other issues.
Excessive Licking and Chewing
Skin tags can easily become irritated or bleed if they rub against a collar, harness, or another part of the body. Some dogs will lick or chew the area where a skin tag is present, leading to irritation.
Causes of Skin Tags
The actual cause of skin tags in dogs is not known or fully understood. But several theories may explain the formation of skin tags:
- Friction, chronic irritation, or trauma may play a role in the development of skin tags, so you may find them in the skin folds and creases of the body or pressure points, such as your dog's elbows. However, these growths can be found anywhere on the skin.
- Skin tags may also be caused by overactive cells, called fibroblasts, that produce fibers and collagen.
- Skin tags may be the result of bathing your dog too much which can dry out the skin, causing a tag to form.
Diagnosing Skin Tags on Dogs
During your next veterinarian appointment, the doctor will review your dog's history, perform a physical examination, and closely inspect the growth to determine the next step. Your veterinarian may recommend removing skin tags if they are causing problems or have a likelihood of becoming problematic.
However, if you think you have found a skin tag on your dog, you should first take a closer look. Many other skin problems, or issues such as ticks, nipples, warts, and tumors can look a lot like skin tags at first.
You may think you have found a tick on your dog and attempt to pull it out, only to find an unhappy reaction from your dog. Take a closer look before you attempt to remove what looks like a tick. Tugging on a skin tag will be painful to your dog and can irritate the skin tag and the area around it.
Remember that all mammals have nipples and dogs are no exception. Even male dogs have small nipples on their abdomens that look quite a bit like skin tags. If you find a bump on your dog's belly or chest, look on the other side for a matching one. Dogs usually have eight to 10 nipples that run along the abdomen on each side. This should not concern you as long as the area looks like the other nipples and none appear irritated.
Some dogs get benign viral warts called papillomas. These are caused by a generally harmless yet contagious virus. Papillomas may spread from dog to dog but cannot spread to humans or other animals. Most will fade over time but can return periodically in different areas. In dogs, papillomas often occur around the mouth but can be found in other areas.
Malignant (cancerous) skin growths can appear in many different forms, some of which can look like skin tags. Never assume that a skin growth is simply a benign skin tag. Monitor the area for changes in shape, size, and color. Any new growth on your dog should be examined by a veterinarian, especially if it begins to bother your dog or is changing in any way.
If you spot a skin tag, do not attempt to remove a skin tag from your dog yourself. You may be comfortable removing your own skin tags at home, but trying to do this to your dog is a bad idea. Your dog will be in pain and may bite in self-defense. You may not be able to remove the whole thing and find that you have more trouble than you started with. Additionally, the area can become irritated or even infected.
Skin tags are often harmless and do not usually require medical treatment. If treatment is necessary, the method is usually decided by the growth's size.
- Small skin tags: Small, non-painful growths can sometimes be removed with local anesthetic (numbing the area and removing the growth while the dog is awake). Your vet can simply remove the growth by snipping or freezing it off. A laser or electrocautery may be used for this process.
- Large skin tags: Larger growths or growths in sensitive areas will require sedation or general anesthesia for removal. If your dog is having another procedure that requires sedation or anesthesia, your vet may want to take off the skin tags while your dog is under just to get rid of them before they have a chance to grow and cause issues. After surgery, the area may have stitches that need to be removed. Be sure to keep the area clean and dry while it heals. Contact your vet if it looks irritated or is oozing.
Prognosis for Dogs With Skin Tags
If the growth is removed, the mass may be sent to a veterinary pathologist to analyze the cells it contains. Histopathology can determine if the mass is benign or malignant. It can also reveal if the growth is viral or bacterial.
Most skin tags are benign and a small percentage of them may even shrink over time if they haven't been removed. Though the prognosis for a dog with skin tags is excellent, always monitor your pet's tags for changes. It also helps to know that if your dog has one skin tag, it's prone to developing more.
How to Prevent Skin Tags
Though it's tough to prevent skin tags, you can take some action to keep the skin healthy to reduce the risks of any growths:
- Use sunblock on your dog if it has a short, smooth coat.
- Brush frequently to promote natural oil secretions and to eliminate dirt, loose fur, and any matting that can irritate the skin.
- Feed your dog skin-healthy food to reduce dryness and flakiness.
- Bathe your dog less frequently and use moisturizing products; too much bathing can dry out the skin.