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Causes of Sagging, Loose Skin in Dogs

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.

The boerboel sports extra sagging skin and dewlaps

The boerboel sports extra sagging skin and dewlaps

Causes of Sagging, Loose Skin in Dogs

The causes of sagging, loose skin in dogs can be various, but of course, dogs care less about it. Humans, on the other hand, by nature, are often concerned with how they look.

Got a double chin or some saggy skin under your arms or around the middle? Better get it under control with surgery so that you’re looking your best. That’s because appearance plays a bigger role for humans in attracting potential mates (even if we all wish that wasn’t the case).

For dogs, all of this isn’t a factor, but they can still be prone to getting some saggy skin, especially under their neck and around their bellies. And for the moment, there’s no doggy nip/tuck procedure to cure it, unless it's really interfering with a dog's wellbeing and health.

Saggy skin on your otherwise svelte pup may sometimes be a cause for some concerns and you should definitely pay your vet a visit to get it checked out if you have questions. There can be a few explanations for where that extra flab came from. The following are therefore several causes of loose, sagging skin in dogs.

This beagle has a visible "dewlap"

This beagle has a visible "dewlap"

A Dog’s Natural Look

Most likely, we’ve all seen some dog breeds who sport a flabby neck fold area. This is just a natural consequence of genetics. The saggy skin around a dog's lower muzzle and throat even has a name: It is referred to as a “dewlap” and it can range from only mildly noticeable to extremely obvious and pronounced depending on the breed of dog.

Bulldogs and Mastiffs, including the English Mastiff and the Neapolitan Mastiff sport dewlaps. The Chinese Shar-Pei, Boerboel along with Basset Hounds also sport these extra jowls.

And hey, some folks even think Bassett Hounds have a reason for their extra skin fold: the better to keep scents nearer to their nose for tracking!

Because these breeds have had this look for centuries, humans have come to associate this trait as being desirable and expected in these types of dogs.

In fact, with the Neapolitan mastiff, the pronounced dewlap from the outside of the throat with accompanying neck folds is a must-have for any show dog, according to the American Kennel Club. Maybe we should be taking beauty tips from our pooches? See, wrinkles can be beautiful!

Medical Causes of Sagging, Loose Skin Under a Dog's Neck

If your fur baby isn’t a breed that usually has skin flaps around their neck and muzzle, and you notice this condition occurring, definitely book a trip to your vet. A dog's area under the neck is not an uncommon place for fluids to "hang out" so to say.

There can therefore be several likely culprits behind this condition (often called “wet neck”). If left untreated, some of these conditions can be very serious.

An Issue to the Salivary Gland

Dogs may sometimes injure a salivary gland which leads to the pooling of saliva under the skin instead of into the mouth. This is often referred to as a salivary mucocele or sialocele.

This swelling is usually painless and according to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, it can be triggered by trauma resulting from the use of choke collars, bite wounds, or chewing on foreign materials. Another possible cause of saggy skin may be the presence of salivary tumors.

Swollen Lymph Node

Dogs have lymph nodes nearby the neck area which may enlarge and cause the appearance of a sagging neck.

It would be important to determine what the swelling is and most vets can get clues by having the dog undergo a procedure called an FNA (Fine Needle Aspirate).

In this procedure, a small needle is inserted into the swollen area and some cells are aspirated into the syringe and then placed onto a slide that is examined under the microscope by your veterinarian or sent to a board-certified clinical pathologist.

Swollen lymph nodes in dogs can be due to an infection such as a tick-borne disease, but also even cancer, namely lymphoma.

Trauma to the Neck Area

For dogs who may have experienced some sort of trauma in the neck area, perhaps another dog bite or other puncture wound (from an insect or spider bite or sting), in which case the extra skin may be due to pooling of lymph under the jaw.

In such cases, the swelling should resolve slowly over the next 12 to 24 hours, but see your vet immediately if you notice any difficulty breathing, vomiting or diarrhea.

The swelling may also be due to an abscess (infected sore) that needs to be looked at immediately.

Facial Nerve Paralysis

Dogs aren’t immune to things like nerve damage and therefore a sagging neck area may be due to partial facial paralysis or a nerve that feeds into the face being compressed.

Thyroid Issues

Sometimes dogs develop thyroid issues which creates a “sad” look (tragic face) and causes their face and neck muscles to droop a little. The most common thyroid problem observed in dogs is hypothyroidism.

As the name implies (hypo means low), dogs affected by this condition have a low thyroid hormone production by the thyroid gland. The underlying cause may be an autoimmune disease that manages to destroy the thyroid gland slowly overtime, but old age may also be a culprit.

Other signs include weight gain, lethargy, hair loss and an increased predisposition to infections.

Rare Genetic Disorder

There's a saying in veterinary medicine: "when you hear hoofbeats think horses and not zebras. " For a good reason, this health condition is left for last- it is quite rare.

This rare genetic disorder is known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome but is also known as cutaneous asthenia. It's a connective tissue disease where the skin is exceedingly extensible causing visible sagging around the neck, shoulder and back area along with other signs such as joint laxity and ocular abnormalities.

Medical Causes of Sagging, Loose Skin Under a Dog's Belly

A dog’s belly is another area you might notice a sudden onset of sagging skin and flab. Now, sometimes older dogs get a bit flabby (just like humans) but there could be a more nefarious culprit at play if the flab appears out of nowhere with no warning or any other reasonable explanation.

Parasites in Puppies

Puppies are particularly prone to having parasites such as worms and protozoans such as coccidia. These are one of the most common causes of a saggy belly, also known as "potbelly."

In such a case, it helps to take a fresh stool sample to the vet. While you cannot see most parasites, your vet can see the eggs under the microscope.

Female Hormonal Changes

In intact (non-spayed) female dogs, hormonal shifts may cause an enlarged belly and sagging skin. This is often due to the onset of a false pregnancy. During a false pregnancy, the female dog develops all the symptoms of pregnancy although not pregnant.

On top of this, in older unspayed females the mammary gland tissue swelling and sagging due to the heat cycles every 6 months, along with pregnancies/false pregnancies, can play a toll causing sagging skin.

Cushing's Disease

Like humans, dogs are susceptible to Cushing’s disease which affects muscle tone and function. The extra flab could be a sign that the muscle tone in your dog’s belly is losing its definition and this may also affect the distribution of fat in the rest of the area.

Unfortunately, the disease is likely to affect muscle tone in other areas such as the legs, which can later lead to problems getting around on their own. As the disease progresses, you may notice your fur baby suffering from hair loss as well.

If this condition appears, get to the vet immediately. They’ll need to run a series of tests to confirm the diagnosis and will likely perform a full physical exam. Be sure to give them all the information you have. The more, the better. Your pup’s health is so important, they don’t want to risk missing anything.

The typical Cushing's dog has a bulging, sagging belly caused by a decrease in muscle strength and redistribution of fat from body storage areas to the abdomen.

— Independence Veterinary Clinic

Sagging skin from belly in a dog who has undergone heat cycles

Sagging skin from belly in a dog who has undergone heat cycles

Addominal distension and muscle atrophy in a dachshund with endogenous Cushing's syndrome

Addominal distension and muscle atrophy in a dachshund with endogenous Cushing's syndrome

Recap

As seen, there are several reasons your dog may be sporting some extra skin around their neck or middle. Some of it is natural, while some may be cause for concern. But as always, make sure you consult your vet with any questions. So to recap:

  • Breeds like basset hounds and Mastiffs are bred to have these extra skin folds around their neck. That’s a desirable trait by their owners. An absence of such skin folds may disqualify your pup if you ever wanted to make them a show dog.
  • Other breeds who develop neck flaps may have conditions that need medical attention such as abscesses or enlarged lymph nodes or potential nerve damage. Check in with your vet for more clarity.
  • Sudden flab and sagging skin around your dog’s midsection may be cause for concern if it shows up with no explanation. One possibility is Cushing disease which affects muscle tone and may lead to hair loss as well as lack of control over muscles. Another vet visit is key to treating your fur baby.

References:

  • Independence Veterinary Clinic, Cushing's Disease
  • VetStream: Skin: Cutaneous Asthenia
  • American College of Veterinary Surgeons, Salivary Mucocele

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2020 Adrienne Farricelli

Comments

Sp Greaney from Ireland on October 08, 2020:

I would never have thought that there could be any underlying cause behind something like this. It just shows you that dog owners really do need to be cautious when suddenly their dog starts having saggy skin.

Mae Williams from USA on October 08, 2020:

Great info.about dogs. My dog is 13. I thought like people- dogs age and get wrinkles. I never knew dogs could have so much loose skin. The fur hides it.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 08, 2020:

You are educating all of us about what we should look for in our animals and when a trip to the vet might be necessary. Regular checkups might nip some of these conditions early as vets are more attuned to these types of issues.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 08, 2020:

Hi Pamela, this is one of those problems that may seem minor, but can sometimes turn out being a great deal. I recently went through this with one of my dogs (he got a sagging looking neck area) and my vet ran many tests and it turned out being cancer.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 08, 2020:

This is another interesting article about a problem that could affect your dog. You are a wealth of information about dog healthy, Adrienne.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 08, 2020:

FluorishAnyway, so sorry to hear about your cat having loose skin/swelling under the neck area and it turning out being a salivary gland tumor. My dog too ended up getting a swollen area in the neck and I was sure it was lymphoma, but my vet aspirated it and said it looked more like hemangiosarcoma as she aspirated blood from it and his bloodwork showed anemia. It's sure upsetting when a little swelling turns out being something major.

Sankhajit Bhattacharjee from MILWAUKEE on October 07, 2020:

interesting piece to read

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 07, 2020:

Your discussion of loose skin under the neck area and “wet neck“ made me think of my wonderful cat Shep (best cat EVER) who died of a cancerous tumor in the salivary gland. We were first alerted to his condition by the symptoms you described and upon closer inspection felt a tiny knot which was inoperable and in such a location the vet didn’t dare aspirate it either. I still miss him. I appreciate you sharing valuable animal information with pet parents.