Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
So What Are Skin Tags in Dogs?
It is common to see many dog owners wondering about skin tags in dogs and seeking solutions from their veterinarians. The truth is that skin tags do not really give any warning signs, other than just passively dangling under the form of a fleshy little growth that's flexible and bends when you are petting your dog. Skin tags may also pop up out of nowhere; one day it wasn't there and then suddenly there it is, the fleshy, ugly growth.
In most cases, most people that stumble on this skin issue will rush over to the vet concerned and seeking immediate solutions. Cancer is often at the top of their concerns. Most owners therefore don’t actually know what skin tags are. What do dog skin tags look like? When I was working for the vet and asked them over the phone to describe the growth, some of them described skin tags as being small, like a little grain of rice attached to the skin. If you are wondering what skin tags are and how your dog got it, this article will explain what you need to know.
So what are skin tags exactly and how did my dog end up with it? If you are looking for a medical term, skin tags are known as acrochordons. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, skin tags are benign, cutaneous growths which are usually found in old dogs. Any breed of dog can get skin tags; it can come as an isolated growth, or appear in company of one another in various parts of the dog’s skin; their head, face, chest area, torso, legs, armpit area, rear end, you name it! As ugly as they are, skin tags in dogs are normally not painful when touched.
Fortunately, if you're truly dealing with a skin tag, you don’t have to worry too much about this condition. In many cases, they are a minor problem and in most cases, your vet will just recommend that you keep an eye on the growth of these tags. On the other hand, there are vets who are more conservative and will immediately recommend that the owners have their dog's skin tags biopsied just to err on the side of caution.
Just for the sake of an example, my dog had what looked line a small raisin-like growth and the vet said it looked like a skin tag, so she said we could keep an eye on it but could eventually have it nipped off when my dog was to have his next dental cleaning. It really looked and behaved like a skin tag for several months. Then, it suddenly got larger and started weeping blood. The vet removed it and we got it biopsied and it turned out to be a melanocytoma. Of course, this is just one case out of perhaps hundreds of normal skin tags behaving as skin tags normally do.
If it looks like a skin tag, it probably is not cancer. However, the only way to know for sure is to have a biopsy done. If it grows quickly, or bleeds, or bothers your dog, I would have it checked by a veterinarian.
— Dr. Rebecca DVM
A Picture of an Engorged Tick on Dog Skin
Dog Skin Tags Versus Ticks
Dog owners often wonder whether what they are seeing is a skin tag or a tick. If you are unsure, there is an easy way to find out. First of all, an engorged tick looks like a swollen kernel of corn whereas a skin tag is more on the flaccid side and looks like skin. However, prior to feeding on a sufficient amount of blood, the tick may appear flat.
In the picture, you can see how an engorged tick looks like. I found it on my foster dog shortly after getting her from the shelter. But here's an even better way to tell a skin tag from a tick. Simply part the dog's hair to reveal the skin tag/possible tick and look carefully in a well-lit room. You may need a magnifying glass. If you see legs wriggling and a head attached to the skin, it's a tick.
A tick can be removed by grasping the tick as close to the dog's skin as possible (so to grasp the head) and pulling upwards. The goal is to get the tick's head out along with the body. If it's left behind, the dog's skin should eventually reject it. Ticks should never be removed using cigarette butts, matches, by twisting them, or using nail polish or other products, as these methods only aggravate things and cause the tick to secrete more fluids into the dog's skin. This can increase the risk for tick-born diseases. Never touch a tick directly, use gloves for this procedure.
If there are no legs wriggling, then it's likely a growth and you may want to have it checked by your vet. Don't try to pull it if you are not sure whether it's a tick for sure. If it's a skin tag, tugging and puling on it can be painful to the dog and it may cause bleeding. Again, see your vet if you are unsure.
A Wart in a Dog's Mouth
Dog Skin Tags Versus Warts
Another thing skin tags are often confused with are warts. Both warts and skin tags after all protrude from the skin. Warts, also known as viral papilloma, are contagious and commonly seen in young dogs that have been around other dogs. Warts are often found on a dog's lips, eyelids, mouth, on the paws, and in the genital area. They often appear in groups, whereas in older dogs they tend to be solitary. Warts are not contagious to people.
Warts tend to have a typical jagged, cauliflower-like appearance. Some people compare dog warts to sea anemones. While warts tend to go away on their own, they are often treated with a variety of treatments. According to Merck Veterinary Manual, since there are many things that look like warts, a definitive diagnosis may be important for proper identification.
Skin tags on the other hand, as mentioned appear mostly thin and may be attached to the skin through a thin stalk. Skin tags also tend to appear flat, almost as if the skin has been permanently pinched together. However, skin tags may be covered by a wart-like surface, which can cause them to be confused with warts. While both warts and skin tags are not cancer, It's always best to consult with the vet so to determine the proper diagnosis and treatment.
How Are Dog Skin Tags Removed?
First thing you should know is that removal of skin tags from your dog is optional; if your vet says so, you can choose to just let them be, keeping a watchful eye on them for any changes. However, there are some cases where removing skin tags out rightly is a good idea: For example, it is a good idea to have the skin tags removed if your dog tends to pester his skin tags such as rubbing them against the carpet and furniture or scratching or chewing on them.
Removing the skin tag will prevent the possible irritation and bleeding that may result from constant pestering of the skin by dog, which could lead to the dog's skin tag getting infected. Additionally, if the skin tags appear in bothersome parts such as the place where you put collar or very close to the dog’s eyes, mouth area or rectum or interfere with movement; you will need to have them removed so that your dog will be comfortable.
When you book an appointment with a vet and he recommends that you remove the skin tag, there are various options. If your dog is calm, the skin tag can be removed through a small surgical procedure which can easily be done using some local anesthesia with some sedation. Alternatively, the tag can be removed using total anesthesia. Your vet may recommend laser surgery which helps minimize the bleeding.
If we have a truly benign skin tag we can use laser surgery to remove them, taking a small amount of tissue around the base so that they don't regrow. This has the benefit of little bleeding and inflammation and no stitches needed postoperatively.
— Dr. Kara DVM
Whatever You Do, Don't Remove Your Dog's Skin Tags at Home!
Many dog-owners, especially those who have no idea how skin tags should be removed, use home remedies when trying to treat skin tags in dogs. Unfortunately, most of these home remedies are a waste of time; they don't tackle the root of the problem and risk causing complications. In fact, most of them are not safe or recommended.
There are various websites which claim you can remove dog skin tags using home remedies, but dog skin tag removal is not something you can do at home. You will need a veterinarian to help you as it requires a surgical procedure done in a sterile environment and with proper pain management. You cannot replace your vet's experience and perform a surgical procedure at home!
For example, a veterinarian, Dr. Loretta warns that the practice in which people tie off the end of a skin tag with dental floss, apply alcohol and cut the tags off with scissors can be very stressful on the dog. It could lead to unacceptable (and most of all, unnecessary!) pain to the dog and the skin tag getting infected.
With this practice, a skin tag, which may appear small and easy to remove, could actually have a large blood vessel that bleeds which will lead to risks for infections when cut off. Don’t be deceived into believing that you could remove dog’s skin tag at home easily and without any problems. You could be setting yourself up for a lot of problems than bargained for.
There are stories of people who end up regretting doing this when their dogs got nasty complications. The best way and the only recommend way is to get a veterinarian to remove the tags in a sterile, veterinary environment with the dog pain-free.
Another Veterinarian, Dr. Deb warns that in her years of practice, she has seen so many people with the best of intentions trying to get rid of their dog skin tags at home only to end up giving their dog nasty infections. Forget what you read, skin tags should not be removed at home!
Dr. Chris, another respected veterinarian, explains in his blog "A Vet's Guide to Life" how tying your dog’s skin tags with floss, string or rubber bands is one of the worst things you can do to your dog’s health condition. This practice encompasses literally dying and rotting off the body. It is in no way a good thing. In fact, there is a very big risk of infection or having more tissue than desired getting affected.
Moreover, you leave the base in the skin which has a chance of re-growing in the case of a mass or polyp. The only way you can completely resolve skin tags problem in dogs is to have a veterinarian cut away the attached skin, not just remove the dangling part!
Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog has a lump, bump or growth, please see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
I can understand your instinct to remove this skin tag at the base of her body by cutting off the blood supply to it with something like dental floss, but I'd not encourage you to attempt this for the following reason. I've seen such procedures done by owners in the past with the best of intentions, but I've seen some nasty infections associated with these attempts.
— Dr. Deb DVM
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.
© 2016 Adrienne Farricelli
Charles Davis on August 31, 2020:
When I was cutting my dogs hair, I found these two pinkish looking bumps on my dogs foot and other places. The small one on the foot got cut open while using the clippers and it bled hardly at all and there was no pain to the dog. And when I tried to squeeze the big one , my dog did nothing. Is possible that you can by chance look over this picture and maybe, be able to tell me what this thing is. And my dog is a Blond Cockier Spaniel about 10 years old his hair was about 2 inches long and matted in a few areas. Can you please help me? Thank You very much for your help.
Mw on August 27, 2020:
Way too long and too much bs yapping to get to any info.. non are useful
rylee on February 25, 2019:
my dog has a skin tag and im worried that it migtt be infected because i have been trying to pick it and get it out of my dog
Jaimi phillips on August 20, 2017:
My dog lady has just always had skin issues but lately she has been getting skin tags and there are a lot and in multiple locations. She has really bad anxiety and is allergic to just about everything so I don't want to bring her to the vet unless it's absolutely necessary. She doesn't seemed bothered by any of them. She is getting older so I am hoping that's what is the reason.
Sharon McIntyre on May 27, 2017:
My 13 year old Maltese Shizu has skin tags. They are starting to ooze out a black sticky substance that has a slightly bad odour.
Is this a sign of something serious?
I will be taking him to the vet asap to get this checked out.
Abbygail Rubio on May 11, 2017:
My dog has a skin like tag on his left front leg. it seems to bother him, I've been doing some research and it says that skin tags only grow a few milimeters. But my dog had is about 2 to 2 1/2 inches.
Is this a sign of cancer, or tumer, I dont have the money at the moment to check him up, I'm saving up. I am really worried of the thing I have searched up, he is only 5 yeas old.
Please someone help.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 07, 2017:
As the article points out, skin tags should not be tied off at home string. It causes excessive bleeding and potential infections. Please see your vet for safe removal.
David gordon on May 06, 2017:
My lucy has had this growth for 2-3 yrs and as of last week i decided to tie it off w/strong string but she scratched it off leading to perfuse bleeding and the tags still there. My question is in the event of not falling iff do they bleed so heavly it took over a hour to slow the blood flow. Im ready to retie a suture string around the tag is there something i should know beforehand?