Skin tags on dogs are small benign growths that can appear on any canine, of any age. Some breeds have a greater chance of developing these, and some environmental factors can also play a role. In this article, we'll tell you how you may be able to prevent these growths and how to treat them if they do show up on your pet.
Skin tags, also known as dog warts, skin polyps and acrochordons are benign tumors which can occur in dogs of any breed, age and level of health. They are small, fleshy growths which can be found anywhere on a dog’s body. Occurring in different shapes and sizes, most often, they are only millimeters long.
Skin tags on dogs will most often appear as a small circular growth, a long thin growth or grow flat along the affected area. These lumps can be worrying to find, with many owners immediately fearing the worst.
You don't need to worry about your dog contracting skin tags from another dog. They aren't contagious. Skin tags on dogs are not cancerous either. Again, these small skin growths are completely harmless.
A skin tag won’t show any outward signs other than the lump itself. They can become irritated and inflamed in areas of the body which see more use, for example, the paws, or under the collar.
As with any lump, it is best to have your veterinarian take a look. 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 or having your vet surgically remove it.
Skin tags on dogs are akin to moles on a human and will cause no harm even when left untreated. That is – unless they are in an area that may rub or irritate. In which case, it’s usually better to have these removed by your veterinarian. Or, if you’re confident, you can do it yourself at home, with the necessary equipment.
Skin Tags on Dogs
8 ways to prevent and treat them
How to Spot Skin Tags on Dogs
While skin tags are harmless, they can look very similar to warts, ticks, and other skin conditions which can be severe and in some cases, life threatening. Unless you have experience with spotting skin tags, it’s best to get an expert opinion from a knowledgeable friend or veterinarian as soon as you find the growth.
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 pet parents see a growth on their dog, they instantly jump to conclusions. We panic and think about the worst case scenario. However, there is no need to do this when it comes to skin tags on dogs.
Here are some of the common things that you may confuse skin tags for:
1. Malignant Tumors
There are some differences in the appearance of a skin tag and a cancerous tumor. With the latter often omitting a clear or white discharge and being larger in diameter.
These are most common in young dogs and can be contagious. For that reason, you should be cautious when inspecting any lump. With the standard form described as cauliflower-like in appearance.
These little blood suckers can be tricky to see when small, and difficult to distinguish between tumors once they grow.
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.
RECOMMENDED: How I Keep My Dog's Skin and Coat Healthy
Who Can Suffer from Skin Tags?
Any dog can suffer from skin tags, but some outside factors can increase/decrease their likelihood of developing one.
For most owners, a small harmless skin tag won’t be of any concern. But, for the owners who intend to show their dogs, this could make the difference between walking home with a prize, or not.
Prevention of 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, however, have enough evidence to show that some environmental factors can play a significant role in increasing your dog’s chances of initially developing and repeatedly suffering from skin tags.
These factors can include:
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 grass cut short;
- monthly parasite prevention medication;
- wash your hands after exposure to soil;
- and visiting with 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 as it’s the 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 skincare routine no matter how hardy your dog may appear to be!
As a rule of thumb, most professional groomers and dog trainers recommend that you bathe your dog once per month. This allows the skin time to build up the natural oils that aid in keeping the skin and coat healthy. When skin care routines are neglected, this can cause dry, itchy skin which can easily become inflamed and infected if your dog begins to scratch at it. This is when you risk the development of skin tags.
We all need the right nutrition to maintain a healthy immune system, and this has great reaching effects from the health of our skin to our ability to defend against infections. The trend towards healthful living can be seen far and wide, with veganism and whole food gaining mass popularity.
With this growing consumer knowledge, canine nutrition is following along with that of their owners, slowly but surely. No longer seen as one size fits all, it’s important to research your dog’s specific nutritional needs. Consider discussing this with your veterinarian or a canine nutrition expert.
Allergic reactions and intolerances – most commonly to food and hygiene products – can result in an eczema like skin condition that weakens the body’s defenses. If you notice that your dog is having issues, try changing his diet, allergy meds or even things like dog shampoo that you use. Most canine 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 this condition than others. Much as you may have been born with poor eyesight, or sensitivity to the sun – genetics are unfortunately not something that you can control. You can, however, limit the environmental impacts as listed above.
Breeds that are especially susceptible to skin tags in dogs include:
- Cocker Spaniel
Removal of 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 skin tags in and of themselves are no big deal. Just remind yourself that skin tags on dogs are not dangerous.
Next, you'll need to do what you can to keep an eye on the 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 growth, discoloration and inflammation.
If the tag lies on an area that causes discomfort to your dog, like under his collar, on his paw or near his genitals, then it’s worth having it removed. If removal is necessary, there are some very easy options to do so.
1. Home treatment
I do recommend that you always consult your veterinarian to undertake any medical procedures, but yes,removing a skin tag at home is possible. When removing these yourself it should only be undertaken by someone with a decent level of knowledge, the correct equipment and a second person to help.
It’s important to be aware that this can distress and cause pain to your dog, meaning that he may scream. It can cause a fair amount of bleeding too, as small blood vessels are often hiding inside of the tag, and these can become infected.
This option is only really doable if your dog’s skin tag is long enough to tie off. For this, you will need the following:
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 dog whilst you gather up the necessary supplies.
Start on a clean floor with a clean dog, and have the dog 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.
Now for the hard part:
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. This will definitely cause your dog some level of distress and he may whine for a few minutes until the pain subsides.
Before you let him go, it’s important to put a cone collar on your dog so that he 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 he likely won’t even notice it.
3. Surgical scissors
Perhaps the most common way of DIY skin tag removal, is with curved/mayo scissors. For this form of treatment you will need the following:
- rubbing alcohol
- a bowl large enough for the scissors to lay flat in
- cotton pads
- a new razor
- pair of mayo scissors
- styptic pencil
- 10% iodine solution
In order to remove skin tags on dogs with this method, you again need one other helper who knows the dog well. Start by placing the surgical scissors into the clean bowl, fill the bowl to cover the scissors with water. Add one teaspoon of iodine solution and allow to sit for at least one minute.
Now, on a clean floor, with a clean dog, you’re going to shave the region surrounding the skin tag and wipe the entire area thoroughly with rubbing alcohol. Once you have done this, make sure that your helper has the dog held firmly. You can now take the scissors to cut the skin tag at its base.
Immediately press a gauze firmly against the wound to help ease the bleeding, hold this in place for at least five seconds. Take your styptic pencil 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. Before letting your dog run free, be sure to also attach a cone collar to avoid any scratching and potential infection.
4. Veterinary treatment
There are two major selling points for seeking out veterinary assistance as opposed to removing a skin tag yourself. These are, the expertise of your veterinarian, and the fact that your dog will be given anaesthetic 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. They see these every day, and don’t push owners to remove them if it isn’t 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 it really is 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 anaesthetized, and a more precise tool will be used instead of scissors to remove the growth.
Your veterinarian or vet nurse may then apply antiseptic or antibiotic cream to deter any infections. They will then bandage him up, pop on a cone collar, and send him on his way.
Skin tags are rarely a reason for medical concern, sure 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 they necessarily need to be removed.
If you have made the decision that there is a valid reason for removal it is best to seek advice from your veterinarian. If you make the decision to undertake the removal yourself, please be sure that you have the right equipment and a steady hand!