A complete guide to skin tags on dogs. Including what they are, what causes them, and how to remove skin tags on dogs safely.
Did your veterinarian tell you that your dog has skin tags? Are you worried that your dog’s skin tag might be cancerous? These are all common concerns for dog owners, especially as dogs get older, but luckily the answers are pretty straightforward.
What Are Skin Tags on Dogs?
Skin tags are fibrous tissue masses called fibromas or acrochordons. There are a variety of types with more technical medical names, so your vet might call them something else. They’re commonly called skin tags because of their appearance.
In dogs, these growths have elongated stalks that grow out from the skin and have a wart-like, lumpy layer of skin over them. They are not warts but rather a growth of collagen and other fibrous tissues that are present throughout a dog’s body (and ours).
They don’t spread, but they can grow in more than one place and can occur anywhere. Sometimes skin tags on dogs are confused with ticks, so always examine any suspected ticks carefully before trying to remove them.
Can Dogs Get Skin Tags?
Skin tags are common in people, and dogs can get them too. Your dog might have just one, or you may find that she has quite a few distributed over her body. Most types of skin tags occur more frequently in older dogs, although they can occur in younger dogs. Any breed of dog can develop skin tags. Large breeds may be more prone to skin tags than smaller breeds, and certain breeds, like Cocker Spaniels, seem predisposed to developing them.
What Does A Skin Tag Look Like On A Dog?
Skin tags are the color of skin where they occur. This coloring can be different from dog to dog, especially with dogs with different skin pigments on different parts of their body. A black skin tag on a dog, for instance, is perfectly normal if the dog has black skin. If your dog’s skin tag begins to change color, however, contact your veterinarian for advice.
Skin tags can occur anywhere on the body. It’s very common to see skin growths on dogs’ stomachs, paws, legs and face. But you can get them in more unpleasant places, like a dog skin tag on the eyelid or private area.
What Causes Skin Tags on Dogs?
Skin tags have several possible causes and are often the result of a wide range of factors, not all of which are fully understood. What we do know is that skin tags develop as a possible result of past damage, chronic trauma, skin infections or genetic factors.
Pressure points are a common area for skin tags, such as where your dog’s body meets the ground while she’s lying down. There are some locations where skin tags could be problematic.
Can Skin Tags On Dogs Be Cancerous?
Skin tags are usually benign. However, there are other types of growths that can look like skin tags but are potentially cancerous. Cancerous growths can start out as small lesions resembling skin tags. This is confusing because skin tags can also grow with time. Although skin tags typically grow much slower than cancer.
The safest way to make sure that your dog’s lumps and bumps are actually skin tags is to take your dog to see the vet. Your veterinarian may take a sample, called a biopsy, to examine or test in the lab to make sure that the growth does not contain any cancerous cells.
Skin tags that grow or change color over time should raise some red flags. If your dog is prone to skin tags, talk to your veterinarian about what is normal and what is not, and give them a call if your dog’s skin tags begin to change in shape, size or appearance.
My Dog Has a Skin Tag. What Should I Do?
If you have dogs, chances are you will encounter a skin tag at least once in your life. If you find something on your dog that appears to be a skin tag, make sure you mention it at the next veterinary checkup. In the meantime, keep an eye on it.
Skin tags that grow quickly or change shape or color could potentially be a type of cancerous growth. If you are at all concerned about your dog’s skin tag, call your veterinarian. They can help you determine if your dog should be seen immediately or if it can wait until their next regular appointment.
Dog Skin Tag or Tick
A tick is a parasite that feeds on your dog’s skin (or yours if you are very unlucky). And frustratingly, they can at first glance look a lot like a skin tag. The easiest way to tell is to look at whether you can see some wiggly little legs sticking out from the bottom. If it’s got legs, it is not a skin tag!
Dog Wart vs Skin Tag
Skin tags and warts can look very similar to the untrained eye. The most common type of dog wart is a papilloma. These warts are viral, which means they are contagious, and different types of papillomas affect both young and old dogs.
Papillomas appear around and in the mouth, around the eyes and on the abdomen, depending on the type of papilloma. In rare cases, these warts can progress to cancer, so it is a good idea to get them checked out by a vet.
It can be hard to tell warts and skin tags on dogs apart. An easy way to tell the difference is to look at the base. If the growth has a thin “stalk” attaching the growth, chances are it is a skin tag. If the base is broad, it is probably a wart. However, most of us lack the training and experience to accurately diagnose our dog’s conditions, so the safest way to make sure your dog’s bumps are normal is to have your veterinarian take a look.
Skin Tags on a Dog’s Lips or Eyelids
Although skin tags usually are nothing to worry about, any growth on your dog’s lips or eyelids requires a vet’s attention. A skin tag on a dog’s eyelid, for example, can rub or scratch the cornea, causing ulcers and irritation, and it can interfere with your dog’s vision. These usually require removal.
What you think are skin tags on a dog’s lip or in their mouths could be papilloma warts or even cancerous growths, so make sure you get any bumps in or around your dog’s mouth checked out. So, now that we know a bit about skin tags, what about dog skin tag removal?
Dog Skin Tag Removal
There are several reasons why you might want to have your dog’s skin tag removed, even if it is benign. Sometimes, dogs lick, bite or scratch at skin tags they can reach. This can lead to irritation, bleeding and infection. In these cases your veterinarian may recommend removal. Other times, the location of the skin tag could cause a problem.
Skin tags on dogs that require frequent clipping, like Cocker Spaniels or Poodles, pose a potential risk at the groomers. Clipping blades can nick skin tags, making them bleed and hurting your dog. To reduce this risk, some owners put a dab of nail polish or indelible marker on the tags to make them easier to see, but sometimes removal is the safest option.
Skin tags also pose an aesthetic conundrum. They might be harmless, but many owners do not like the way they look. While this is not necessarily a good reason to put your dog through an elective procedure, talk to your veterinarian about removal if your dog has to go under anesthesia for another reason.
However, skin tags do tend to grow back and pop up again in other places, so removing skin tags for aesthetic reasons can end up costing you money and putting your dog through unnecessary discomfort.
Methods of Dog Skin Tag Removal
There are a few ways veterinarians remove skin tags on dogs. Skin tags can be excised (cut out), removed using electrosurgery or frozen during cryosurgery. You may be able to have the skin tags removed when your dog is under general anesthesia for another procedure, like a dental cleaning.
In other cases, your veterinarian may recommend an outpatient procedure like cryosurgery to remove your dog’s skin tags. Cryosurgery essentially freezes the skin tag or wart, destroying it and slowing its regrowth. This typically less expensive than traditional surgery.
The benefits of cryosurgery are that in most cases, the dog does not have to be anesthetized or even sedated, and the recovery is less painful than traditional surgery. There are no stitches needed, either. Instead, the dead tissue sloughs off painlessly over a few weeks.
Dog Skin Tag Removal Cost
The cost of removal can vary widely, depending on the location of the clinic, the procedure, potential complications and your dog’s size and general health. For instance, cryosurgery for a calm, well-behaved small dog might cost less than the same procedure for a large, energetic or aggressive dog. The larger, excitable dog might require sedation, and the larger the dog, the more anesthesia that’s required.
Keep in mind that removing a skin tag from a sensitive location like an eyelid can be more complicated than removing a skin tag from your dog’s paw. In addition, sending the removed skin tag to a specialist to make sure it’s not cancerous will cost as well.
The best way to get a quote for your dog’s skin tag removal is to speak with your veterinarian. If you think the cost is too high, call other clinics in your area to get a feel for what the rates are, and don’t be afraid to ask about alternatives.
Since most skin tags on dogs are harmless, removing them is often done on a case by case basis for specific reasons. However, if your veterinarian does express concern about your dog’s skin tag, it is a good idea to take their advice. Considering the expense of having a veterinarian remove your dog’s skin tags, some people are tempted to try home removal. Let’s consider whether that’s a good alternative.
Dog Skin Tag Removal at Home
If you’ve done an internet search for skin tag removal in dogs, then you’ve probably seen several sites that claim that skin tags can be removed at home. This is not a good idea. Depending on the method, it can open your pet up to infection, and removing skin tags without anesthetizing the affected area can be unnecessarily painful for your dog.
The other thing to keep in mind if you are considering removing a skin tag yourself is that not all skin tags on dogs are the same–and not every lump on your dog’s body is a skin tag. Removing all or part of a pre-cancerous growth yourself, for instance, prevents your veterinarian from catching a cancer early on. Just because the person on the other end of the YouTube video had no issues removing their dog’s skin tag (that you know of) does not mean that your DIY surgery will be successful.
If you’re tempted to try a homeopathic remedy, keep in mind that there is no evidence that it will work. It probably won’t do any harm either, but it’s still best to consult a veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis. Play it safe and do not try to remove your dog’s skin tags at home. Instead, talk to your veterinarian about your options.
Skin Tags on Dogs
Skin tags are benign (non-cancerous), slow-growing fibrous tissue masses. They’re easy to confuse with ticks, warts and cancerous growths, so consulting a veterinarian for a correct diagnosis is important.
There’s no simple answer to what causes skin tags since both environmental and hereditary factors are involved. Generally, they seem to be caused by repeated trauma or pressure on the tissues where the skin tag forms. They occur more often in older dogs and certain breeds, but any dog can develop a skin tag.
Because they are usually benign, removing skin tags is not always necessary or advised. However, skin tags in certain places on your dog’s body may require removal, so veterinary advice is important. It is not recommended to try to remove them at home.
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Further Reading and Resources
- Animal Hospital of Sussex County. “Cryosurgery for Pets.”
- Biros, D., “Eyelid Margin Masses in Dogs: To Cut or Not To Cut?” MSPCA-Angell.
- Pinnard, C., “Benign Fibrous Skin Tumors.” VCA.
- Villalobos, A. E., “Connective Tissue Tumors.” Merck Veterinary Manual.
- Villalobos, A.E., “Epidermal and Hair Follicle Tumors.” Merck Veterinary Manual.