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Your Guide to Skin Tags On Dogs: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Your Guide to Skin Tags On Dogs: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Finding odd lumps, bumps, and growths on our dogs is always distressing, so skin tags on dogs can make any pet parent nervous.

Washing our dogs with a gentle shampoo and grooming them is about keeping them clean and overall dog health. Bathing and brushing is a chance for us to do our own medical check-ups and look for problems like strange spots on the skin, blackheads, or folliculitis.

So when we are grooming, we may find skin tags or other lumps and growths by thoroughly examining our dog’s skin. However, when we do find skin growths, it’s essential that we have a good idea

What are skin tags on dogs?

Skin tags on dogs are benign, small growths in the skin where extra cells build up in the top skin layers. You usually find them in older dogs from medium and large breeds. Many types of canine skin tumors are similar to skin tags, so if you suspect a skin tag, always take your dog to the vet to be sure.

One example of what a skin tag could be is a fibroma, where the connective tissue cells proliferate into masses on the skin.

Another common growth that can look like a skin tag is a canine sebaceous adenoma or cyst. This benign tumor grows out of the sebaceous gland in the hair follicles.

They can also be hamartomas when skin tags involve more skin cells, including hair follicles and glands. Other possibilities include the following:

  • fibroepithelial polyp,
  • acrochordon,
  • hyperplastic or hypertrophic scars,
  • and fibrovascular papilloma.

Often there will be only one skin tag, but sometimes you can get clusters of skin tags, usually on the inside of the hind legs. This is most common in German Shepherds with uterine or kidney cancer.

What do skin tags on dogs look like?

A dog skin tag looks like a small, fleshy growth. It may have a long stalk. It should be the same color as your dog’s skin. It can protrude like a wart and the surface may be smooth or bumpy like cauliflower. It can be barely visible or the size of a fingernail.

Because they can be small and round, they can look like a tick, so be careful not to try to pluck it out by mistake. It should grow slowly. Here are some images that can help you differentiate a benign skin tag from another growth that may be more dangerous.

Pictures of skin tags on dogs

One of the best ways to know when to worry about your dog’s skin tag is to get a good idea of what they usually look like when they are benign and when they are cancerous. So here are two pictures for reference.

The image below shows a small skin tag that is likely benign. The vet will likely remove it surgically if it grows, changes color, bleed, scab, or shows other signs.

skin tags on dogs: this is an example of a benign, non-malignant skin tag on the back of a senior English Bull Terrier

The image below shows three examples in one area of skin tags that may need to be removed and are a bigger cancer risk. In the picture, you can see one long skin tag that has turned black and crusty.

Another has swollen and looks similar to a blood blister. This will probably bleed if it’s irritated. The third tag is bright red growth with irregular edges and is a type of skin tumor called a hemangioma.

What causes skin tags on dogs?

As with humans, skin tags on dogs are idiopathic. This means we don’t really know what causes them. But we can make a few educated guesses.

Skin tags tend to appear in larger and older dogs. You also find more of them in areas with a lot of friction, like underneath a collar on the neck or under a dog’s armpits. Areas prone to yeast and bacterial infections also seem to get more skin tags. 

This implies that prolonged irritation, inflammation, and rubbing against the skin may play a role in why skin tags develop.

They may also develop for the same reasons they do in humans. So places where the skin rubs against itself are common problem areas. The heavier the dog, the harder the friction will be, so weight and size play a role.

Some dogs may have a genetic predisposition to skin tags. But since these breeds are often also prone to other skin issues like yeast infections, we can’t say if it’s a breed problem so much as a reaction to prolonged skin irritation.

How do you diagnose a skin tag?

Always have your vet check out any suspicious skin growth. Skin tags are benign, but you need to make sure it really is a skin tag. Usually, your vet will be able to diagnose a skin tag just by having a look, but if they’re unsure, they will need to test it. 

Your vet can use two methods to diagnose a skin tag. 

Firstly, they may use cytology to collect a few cells with a needle.

They may also remove the skin tag and send it to a lab for histopathology, where the tissue is tested. They will send the sample to a pathologist to diagnose the skin tag in both cases. 

You can expect to pay around $150 to $300 for a pathology report. Cytology is cheaper since your vet won’t need to remove anything surgically, but getting a good cytology sample from a skin tag isn’t always possible. 

Should you have a vet remove your dog’s skin tag?

If the skin tag is benign and not bothering your dog, there is no reason to remove it other than aesthetic reasons.  However, if your dog is chewing or scratching on it if it is bleeding, changing color, or making grooming difficult, it is better to remove it. 

How much it costs to remove a skin tag depends on whether your vet decides to put your dog under full anesthesia. It also depends on additional costs if it goes to the pathologist. But removing the skin tag alone may cost around $100. 

There are several ways that a vet may do it. They may choose to freeze it off or cauterize it, but most often, they will remove it surgically with a scalpel so it can be sent to a pathologist. Occasionally a vet can do this with a local anesthetic, but sometimes your dog will need to go under full general anesthesia.

Home remedies for skin tags on dogs removal

DIY methods for removing skin tags from your dogs at home are dangerous. Do not fall for any tips and tricks in this regard. Not only will you hurt your dog, but you may cause an infection or worse. 

Wrapping floss or string around the growth (or worse, cutting it off yourself) is going to be painful for your dog. It will also leave a wound that can quickly pick up a secondary infection and become a hot spot or worse. 

Undiluted apple cider vinegar may cause a chemical burn and be extremely painful if you compress it on your dog’s skin with a bandage. Diluted, ACV is not likely to do anything at all. 

Another reason not to remove a skin tag from your dog is that you need a vet to diagnose it correctly. Suppose you remove what you think is a skin tag but is actually a form of melanoma. In that case, you may risk your dog’s life. 

How to prevent skin tags on dogs

It’s difficult to know exactly how to prevent dog skin tags since we don’t know the cause. But we do what can help:

  • Keep your dog a healthy weight to avoid unnecessary friction.
  • Do not use any collar or harness that is not well-fitted or chafes on your dog’s skin.
  • Ask your vet for a safe doggy moisturizer under their armpits and inner legs to soften the skin and prevent friction.
  • Use gentle, hypoallergenic, and anti-inflammatory dog shampoos, preferably with aloe vera.
  • Limit exposure to allergens that cause itchy skin and excessive scratching.
  • Treat any bacterial or fungal infections promptly
  • Keep skin healthy with plenty of vitamin E, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids in their diet.

Final Thoughts

Skin tags are quite common on dogs, especially as they age. We don’t know exactly what causes them. Still, we can probably help prevent them by reducing any friction on the skin, or any kind of trauma from inflammation, irritation, or infection. 

It’s a good idea always to have a vet check out any skin tags, just in case. If they are getting in the way of clippers during grooming, or if they change color, size, or bleed, have them removed and tested immediately. 

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.

Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.