Skin tags are small, benign growths that can appear on any dog, of any breed, gender and age. Some breeds are more susceptible to skin tags, and certain environmental factors can also play a role. Even if these growths are harmless, there are a few things all pet owners must know about skin tags on dogs and what to do (or not do) about them.
Table of Contents
- What Are Skin Tags?
- How to Spot Skin Tags on Dogs
- What Dog Skin Tags Are Not…
- Who Can Suffer from Skin Tags?
- How to Prevent Skin Tags on Dogs
- How to Remove Skin Tags on Dogs
What Are Skin Tags?
Skin tags are also known as papillomas, skin polyps and acrochordons. They are benign tumors that can appear as fleshy growths anywhere on your dog’s body. Occurring in different shapes and sizes, most often they are only millimeters long.
This is what a skin tag on a dog looks like:
A skin tag on a dog will most often show up as a small circular growth, a long thin growth or grow flat alongside the affected area. These lumps can be worrying for a pet owner to find, with many owners immediately fearing the worst. However, they are not cancerous and are completely harmless.
These growths are not contagious, and you don't need to worry about your pooch contracting skin tags from another dog.
A skin tag won’t show any outward signs other than the lump itself. They can become irritated and inflamed in areas of the animal's body which see more use (e.g. on your dog's paws or on the dog's neck where the collar usually stays).
As with any lump, it is best to have your veterinarian take a look anyway. But should a skin tag diagnosis be made, it’s not necessary to always remove them. If there is a medical reason to do so, you have the option of doing this at home by yourself, or having your vet surgically remove it.
Skin tags on dogs are akin to non-cancerous moles on a human and will cause no harm even when left untreated. However, if they appear in an area that may rub or irritate your pet, it’s usually better to have these removed simply to prevent discomfort for the dog.
How to Spot Skin Tags on Dogs
Unless you have previous experience with recognizing skin tags on dogs, it's recommended to have your veterinarian take a look at the growth for proper assessment.
In most cases, your vet will be able to give you an immediate diagnosis. If this isn’t as clear cut, they will likely perform a simple biopsy to rule out other possibilities.
What Dog Skin Tags Are Not…
When you spot a growth on your dog's skin, there is no need to panic just yet. If the growth is in fact a skin tag, then you have no cause for concern. Even so, many pet owners will often jump to conclusions and assume the worst. So here are some of the common things that you may confuse skin tags for (and which they are not).
Skin tags are NOT malignant tumors. There are some differences in the appearance of a skin tag and a cancerous tumor as well. Cancerous tumors will often have a clear or white discharge, and they will be larger in diameter.
Skin tags are NOT warts. Warts are most common in young dogs and can be contagious, where skin tags are not. For that reason, you should be cautious when inspecting any lump. The standard form of warts have a cauliflower-like appearance.
Skin tags are NOT ticks. These little blood suckers can be tricky to see when small, and difficult to distinguish between tumors once they fill up on blood and grow large. A tick will start as a small black lump, and grow to become paler and larger as time goes on. As ticks irritate the dog, be sure to be especially thorough in checking red or inflamed areas.
Who Can Suffer from Skin Tags?
There's not enough scientific research behind the causes of skin tags on dogs; however, there are some studies with people found a few culprits. For example, a 2008 study found that papillomavirus may cause their development. Then a 2010 study found that high levels of triglycerides in the body, large body mass index and insulin resistance may also cause skin tags to develop.
Any dog of any age, gender, breed and health can develop skin tags on their body, but some outside factors can increase or decrease a dog's likelihood of developing them.
In most cases, a small harmless skin tag on your pup should not be a cause for concern. The only time this would be worrisome is when pet owners intend to show their dogs, because then this could make the difference between walking home with a prize or not.
How to Prevent Skin Tags on Dogs
Unfortunately, there isn’t enough research to adequately tell us why skin tags happen every time. Therefore, it can be hard to know what we can do to prevent them.
We do have enough evidence that shows how some environmental factors can play a significant role in increasing or decreasing your dog’s chances of initially developing and repeatedly suffering from skin tags. Below are some of those factors.
Fleas, ticks, and mites are horrid little blighters that result in an itchy dog. The corresponding scratching will leave your dog's skin inflamed, raw, and susceptible to infection. This weakening of that area of skin makes it easier for a skin tag to develop.
Some of the best ways to prevent parasites include:
- frequently washing your dog’s bed;
- keeping backyard grass cut short;
- monthly parasite prevention medication;
- wash your hands after exposure to soil;
- visiting your veterinarian for annual parasite checkups.
2. Skin care
It’s true that some dog breeds are naturally hardier than others, but they all need a bit of TLC every now and again. When grooming your dog, it makes sense to start with the skin, especially because it’s your pet's first line of defense against illness and infection.
All too often, we can neglect the care of the skin due to it being “out of sight, out of mind” thanks to the masses of fur covering it up. But it’s important to stick to a proper skincare routine no matter how hardy your dog may appear to be.
As a rule of thumb, professional groomers recommend that you bathe your dog once per month. This allows your dog's skin time to build up the natural oils that aid in keeping the skin and coat healthy.
When a dog's skin care routines are neglected, this can cause dry, itchy skin which can then easily become inflamed and infected if your pet begins to scratch at it. This is when the risk of developing skin tags increases.
Dogs require well-balanced nutrition to maintain a healthy immune system, and this has great reaching effects from the health of their skin to their ability to defend against infections.
No longer is dog food being seen as one size fits all, and it’s important to research your dog’s specific nutritional needs and feed them according to those requirements. Consider discussing this with your veterinarian or a canine nutritionist.
Allergic reactions and intolerances – most commonly to food and hygiene products – can result in an eczema like skin condition that weakens the dog's body’s defenses.
If you notice that your pet is having issues, try changing their diet, allergy medications or things like your dog's shampoo and conditioner. Some companies will be happy to help you on your journey to find out what allergies your dog suffers from.
Some dogs are born more prone to skin tags condition than others. Much as you may have been born with poor eyesight, or sensitivity to the sun, genetics are unfortunately not something any of us can control. We can, however, limit the environmental impacts.
Breeds that are especially susceptible to skin tags include Poodle, Schnauzer, Cocker Spaniel, and Terriers.
How to Remove Skin Tags on Dogs
If you find a skin tag on your dog, the first thing to do is stay calm. Yes, it can be unsightly and even a little gross, but canine skin tags in and of themselves are no big deal and they are not dangerous.
Next, you'll need to keep an eye on that growth. Depending on the location of the skin tag, it is possible to just leave it be. You should, however, always monitor the tag for how it's developing and growing, its discoloration and inflammation status.
If the tag lies on an area that causes discomfort to your dog, like under their collar, on their paw or near their genitals, then it’s worth having that skin tag removed. If removal is necessary, there are some very easy, simple options to accomplish this.
Removing Dog Skin Tags at Home by Yourself
It is recommended that you always consult your veterinarian to undertake any medical procedures. However, removing a skin tag at home by yourself is also possible.
When removing skin tags by yourself, it should only be undertaken by someone with a decent level of knowledge, the correct equipment and a second person to help.
Be aware that this can distress and even cause pain to your dog because you'll be directly affecting their skin. It can cause a fair amount of bleeding too, as small blood vessels are often hiding inside of the skin tag, and these can then become infected.
Method #1: Tying
This option is only really doable if your dog’s skin tag is long enough to tie off. If it is and you're ready to do this yourself, you will need the following supplies:
- rubbing alcohol
- scissors (any scissors will do)
- dental floss (unscented, for tying)
- a new razor (to shave the area)
- cone collar (or inflatable collar)
You will need two people to do this: one helper to calm the dog, and yourself to tie off the tag. Begin by asking the helper (ideally someone your dog knows well) to stroke and calm your pooch whilst you gather up the necessary supplies.
- Start on a clean floor with a clean dog, and have the pet lying in a comfortable position where you will easily be able to access the skin tag.
- Carefully shave the area surrounding the tag, and clean the entire area thoroughly with rubbing alcohol.
- Take a piece of dental floss (unscented to avoid irritation), and tie it around the base of the skin tag (be sure to do this as close to the skin, and as tight as possible).
- Be prepared for some struggle: this will cause your dog some level of distress and they may whine and try to run away for a few minutes until the pain subsides.
- Before you let the dog go, it’s important to put a cone collar on them so that your pup doesn’t fuss with the area.
In approximately two to four days, the skin tag should simply fall off. The falling off of the tag itself will cause your dog minimal discomfort and they likely won’t even notice it.
Method #2: Surgical Scissors
The most common way of DIY skin tag removal is using curved/mayo scissors like these. For this form of dog skin tag treatment, other than curved scissors, you will also need the following supplies:
- rubbing alcohol
- a bowl large enough for the scissors to lay flat in
- cotton pads
- a new razor
- pair of mayo scissors
- styptic pencil (or styptic powder)
- 10% iodine solution
In order to remove skin tags on dogs using this method, you will again need one other helper who knows the dog well and will hold the pet while keeping them calm.
- Start by placing the surgical scissors into the clean bowl, and fill the bowl to cover the scissors with water.
- Add one teaspoon of iodine solution into the bowl and allow the scissors to sit in there for at least one minute.
- Now, on a clean floor, with a clean dog, you’re going to shave the skin tag region and wipe the entire area thoroughly with rubbing alcohol.
- Once shaven, make sure that your helper has the dog held firmly and keeping your pup calm.
- You can now take the scissors out of the bowl to cut the skin tag at its base.
- After you cut off the skin tag, immediately press a gauze firmly against the wound to help ease the bleeding. Hold this in place for at least 10-15 seconds.
- Take your styptic pencil (like this one) and apply directly to the site of bleeding. This will cause the blood vessels to contract at the site of the wound and help stop the bleeding.
- Carefully place a gauze over the wound, and bandage it. That's it for now.
Before letting your dog run free after the procedure, be sure to also attach a recovery cone collar or inflatable collar to avoid any scratching and potential infection.
Veterinary Removal of Skin Tags on a Dog
There are two major selling points for seeking out veterinary assistance as opposed to removing a skin tag by yourself at home: (a) the expertise of your veterinarian, and (b) the fact that your dog will be given anesthetic to numb any pain.
When you take your dog to the veterinarian to discuss the removal of a skin tag, it’s quite common for a vet to recommend leaving the tag. Vets see these growths every day, and don’t push owners to remove them unless it is medically necessary.
The age, health, and medical history of your dog will also have to be taken into account. Any surgical procedure, whether big or small, comes with its risks, and for that reason it’s important to consider whether skin tag removal is really necessary.
Once you and your vet have decided on a plan of action, the removal itself is similar to the surgical scissor option we went though above. However, your dog will be anesthetized, and a more precise tool will be used instead of scissors to remove the skin growth.
Your veterinarian or vet nurse may then apply antiseptic or antibiotic cream to deter any infections. They will then bandage your pooch up, pop on a recovery cone collar, and send you and your dog on your way.
Skin tags on dogs are rarely a reason for any concern. They don’t look too pretty, and they might give you a shock should you run your hand along Fido and feel something fleshy. But that doesn’t mean that it's necessary to remove them, since they are not cancerous and are completely harmless.
If you have made the decision that there is a valid reason for removal of a dog skin tag, it is best to seek advice from your veterinarian. If you make the decision to undertake the removal yourself, be completely certain that what you're about to remove is in fact a harmless skin tag, and then be sure that you have the right equipment, a steady hand and someone to help you out.