How to Remove and Prevent Skin Tags on Dogs
Have you petted your dog lately and felt an unusually soft and fleshy growth on your dog’s skin? Don't be alarmed just yet. These growths are probably just ‘skin tags’ that are common in dogs. Unless your dog is in pain, scratching, or seems to be bothered by the growth, there’s no need to be alarmed. What can you do to remove or prevent the unsightly growth? Read along to know more about these skin growths and how to prevent more from developing.
What Are Skin Tags?
Skin tags are tiny, soft skin growths that can appear anywhere on a dog's body. Also called fibropapillomas, fibrin tags, dog warts, skin polyp, and achrochordons, skin tags are fleshy growths on the skin that are about a few millimeters in length. Some growths are round while others are flat and stalk-like. Other growths are small and look like grains of rice, while the bigger ones can grow to the size of a piece of grape.
Dogs, of any breed or age, may develop these skin tags. It is most common in older dogs, as well as specific breeds, such as Cocker Spaniels due to their genetic component. It usually grows in the chest, face, armpits and legs, more often in areas where the skin is soft and thin. It can even grow on the eyelids and mouth area, which can be irritating for dogs, especially if it affects their eating or vision.
Skin tags that grow on a dog’s eyelids grow much faster in comparison to other parts of the body. This can be irritating, as it can cause the dog's eyes to droop or partially close. However, unless the dog is bothered, it may be a good idea to leave it alone. Skin tag removal on the eyelids can be sensitive so it is best done by the veterinarian.
Generally, most owners will just leave it alone, especially if the growth is just small and doesn’t really affect their pet. However, some skin tags can grow a few inches in size, which is unsightly and irritating. In such cases owners opt to have it removed with the help of a vet, while some do it on their own.
Should I worry?
You shouldn't. Skin tags are generally not painful to dogs. It can be likened to humans having common warts. Most dog owners mistake it as some form of cancer or tumor, especially if the growth is a little bit larger than usual. However, unless the tags are inflamed or infected, there is no need to worry. Just try to observe if your dog is scratching the area or showing signs of discomfort.
If you want to make sure that the growth on your dog's skin is non-cancerous or benign, you can do an initial examination yourself. Here are some things you should know:
- Skin tags are harmless! A dog will develop several skin tags over their lifetime. They look like warts but usually do not change in size, appearance, or color. If the bump on your dog does change, consult a veterinarian immediately.
- Skin tags are not skin cancer. Finding a bump on your dog's skin does not mean they have skin cancer. Tags are benign, painless, and unlike cancerous tumors, do not secrete liquid discharge.
Cancerous skin growth usually looks like lesions and will have a watery or pus-like discharge. It will be painful when touched and may change in color, size and texture.
- Skin tags are not warts. Unlike warts, skin tags are not attached to the skin by a thin stalk and do not grow back once removed. It may look and feel like warts, but skin tags are a bit softer and you can touch and move it with your finger without your dog feeling any pain. When seeking treatment or removal of skin tags, know that while they seem similar, the treatment approach is different from warts.
- Skin tags are not contagious. It does not pass on from one animal to another, and to humans. You are safe to touch it of you want to examine it, unless it is infected and oozing with pus. If you notice that several of your dogs seem to have it, it does not necessarily mean that they have infected each other. It may be an environmental factor, so check their dog houses or sleeping area to figure out if there is something there that may be causing them to grow skin tags.
- Skin tags do not spread once removed. It is a common misconception that once you remove a skin tag, it will only grow more. Remember that new ones may develop, but an old tag, which has been removed does not cause new ones to grow.
Skin tags may look different on every dog so there may be times when you seem unsure. It is important to trust your gut when it comes to your dog's health. If you have any doubts, a trip to the veterinarian can ease your worries. You can request for a biopsy to ensure that the growth is not malignant.
What Causes Skin Tags?
Veterinarians don't know exactly what causes dogs to develop these wart-like bumps. So far there have only been theories as to why dogs get them. In humans, those who suffer from diabetes, insulin resistance and hormonal imbalance (particularly during pregnancy) seem to be more susceptible to developing skin tags. This may also be a factor in dogs. Experts have identified some factors that contribute to their growth.
- Environmental factor. A dirty environment may contain bacteria, viruses, and germs which can adversely affect your dog's health. Harmful chemicals present in the home may seep into your dog's skin. These include pesticides, harmful chemicals in cleaning agents, an acidic soil and even germs that dogs get after you take them out for a walk. Areas that are prone to molds also seem to be a trigger, so be careful where you place your dog house. Regularly clean and air dry dog sheets and pillows to keep them free of germs and bacteria. Maintaining a clean and healthy environment is very important for a dog's health, as well as regular bathing and grooming.
- Parasites. Mites, fleas, ticks, and lice are just some of the most common parasites that can cling to your dog. When one of these tiny creatures attaches to the skin and bites, the dog's tendency is to scratch. Too much scratching may leave the area infected or inflamed. It makes the skin more susceptible to bacteria and other skin problems like skin tags.
- Skin care products. Use caution when applying any skin care product to your dog. Make sure they are hypoallergenic and free of perfumes and dyes. Using harsh products on a dog may leave their skin irritated and dry, possibly leading to unusual skin growths.
- Too much or too little bathing. Dogs need regular bathing in order to maintain good coat and skin, but just how much depends on the breed and level of activity. Experts suggest bathing and grooming a normal, healthy dog only once a month. If there is a need to bathe the dog more often within a month, then it is important to use soap or shampoo, which is safe and gentle to his skin. Too much bathing, especially with harsh products, can strip off the skin's natural oil that protects it and keeps the coat healthy and shiny. Harsh shampoos can leave the skin dry and prone to infection. This can also further lead to the development of skin tags.
- Genetic makeup. As with all living things, genetics play a huge role in a dog's well-being. Skin tags may just be a by-product of a dog's genetic composition. It is something that they inherit. If this is the case, you cannot avoid skin growth, but it is possible for you to minimize it by keeping your dog clean and healthy.
- Poor nutrition. Dogs need proper daily nutrition to live a healthy life. Skin anomalies can be a reflection of poor internal health. An improper diet can lead to a weakened immune system, making the skin prone to allergies, rashes, dryness, cracks and other skin growths. Feed your dog with high quality food and bring him outside to bask in the early morning sunlight. Exercise should also be part of their regular regimen to keep them healthy.
- Bad fitting collar. Pet owners who like to keep a collar on their dogs sometimes fail to check if it still fits well or if it is in good condition. The usual wear and tear of collars can involve rusting and molding, depending on the type used. A collar, which is too tight or moldy can leave his skin irritated, bruised and infected, making it more prone to skin tags after the skin heals. Friction, or rubbing against dirty or moldy things seem to be a trigger for the development of these skin growths.
Monitoring and Examining Skin Tags
If you found one skin tag on your dog, chances are, there may be others hidden within the fur. While generally harmless, it is important to check all other areas of the body just to check if one may be infected or growing abnormally. Some large skin tags may become infected when you dog accidentally scratch it or get caught in an object causing an open wound or sometimes profuse bleeding. Skin tags located on the dog's tail area are most prone to bruising and infection. Some dogs will grow only one skin tag their entire life, while others may grow dozens of it.
Regular bathing, brushing and grooming allow you to check on other areas of the body, particularly the hidden parts, such as the armpits, jawline and around the ears.
If you feel suspicious about a particular skin tag, monitor its growth and changes in color. It is rare, but some skin tags may turn out to be cancerous. Mast cell tumors and well as lipomas (subcutaneous masses) that develop in dogs may look like regular skin tags. A vet should be able to tell with the use of a fine-needle aspiration whether the cells are problematic or benign. If the results seem positive for tumors, a biopsy should be able to confirm it.
Dog skin biopsy
Skin tags with unusual color, foul odor, fluid oozing out, abnormally big and lesions, as well as irritated, inflamed, dark and domed, should be checked by a veterinarian immediately for a possible skin biopsy. The latter description, which is dark and domed, is a particular concern, as it is often connected to malignant skin tumors. A veterinarian will most likely recommend biopsy if the affected skin does not seem to respond to the usual symptomatic treatment.
Biopsies are done by administering local anesthetic to the problem area first. If the area where the skin tag is located is sensitive, or if the dog is rather aggressive, it may be necessary to give a general anesthetic. This usually means that the dog will be sleeping while conducting the whole procedure. Local anesthetic means that only the problem area will be numbed, so that the patient will not feel anything. If you do it properly, the dog should not be able to feel anything. Usually, the partial tissue taken out is so small that there is no need to administer any stitching or major medications. If there is a need for home remedies, however, the veterinarian should be able to give the prescription.
When the anesthesia has already taken effect, a small portion of the skin will be cut out and taken as a sample. It is also possible that the entire mass will be removed. The samples will then be sent to a veterinary laboratory for examination. It will be in the hands of a board-certified veterinary pathologist.
The examination that will be done is called a histopathology analysis in which the sample tissues will be examined under a microscope. The examination is done to observe the appearance of the sample tissues in fine details and look for any evidence of malignancy. It would take about one to two weeks before the samples are properly assessed and the papers are processed. However, for emergency cases, the results can be acquired faster if needed.
While waiting for the result, it is important to monitor the condition of the skin growth vigilantly. Watch out for the development of additional skin tags or lesions. Any changes in the condition of the growth and the behavior of your dog should be consulted with the veterinarian as soon as possible. There are some types of auto immune diseases in which the skin growth can change rapidly. This can have an adverse effect on the condition of your dog.
The results of skin biopsies will reveal whether there is a need for concern. It should tell you what kind of cell abnormality is present, if it is cancerous, whether it is infected, a result of auto immune disease or more hopefully, whether it is benign. Biopsies are important in order for the veterinarian to determine the best treatment approach for your dog.
Signs of a cancerous growth
Don't dismiss any suspicions that you may have. Here are some signs that a growth may be cancerous:
- The growth has a different texture - Common skin tags usually have the same color and texture as the skin. If the growth seems more rough or dry when you touch it, then it may not be a common skin tag.
- There is a thickening of the growth or around the base of the skin - Remember that regular skin tags should be soft through and through. If the growth seems thick or the skin around it is thick, then it may be time for a trip to the vet.
- The growth is swelling - This is not normal, as it may be a sign of infection or presence of abscess. It can also be painful for the dog when this happens.
- It is growing rapidly - This is a sure sign that something is wrong with the growth. Sometimes it can increase in size in just a few days. Some auto immune diseases in dogs have this type of characteristic, so have the vet check it out.
- Ulceration is a bad sign as there may be a formation of pus in the surrounding tissues - It is prone to bacterial infection and may result to inflammation.
- Bleeding in the area - Any abnormal bleeding is not a good sign.
- Dog seems in pain when the growth is touched or bumped - This means that it may be infected or there is fluid build-up inside the skin.
- Dog is constantly scratching the area - Itching means it can be infected and the scratching will only aggravate the condition. It is important to prevent the dog from scratching the area, but more importantly, you should find some relief for your dog. Ask your veterinarian for an itch-relief medicine. The “cone of shame” may be a good temporary solution to keep your dog from biting and scratching into the area.
- The sore is not healing - If your dog's skin growth has developed lesions or wounds and you have already administered medicated treatment, but still fails to heal, it could be a sign of a more serious health problem.
- It has a foul odor - If the area has an offensive odor, it could be a sign of a bacterial presence or pus. Seek veterinary help immediately.
- Your dog is losing weight for no reason - If you notice that your dog is losing weight along with your discovery of the skin growth, then the symptoms may be related.
- Loss of appetite - It may be the reason for your dog to lose weight, but then again, some dogs lose weight despite having their usual appetite. Your dog losing appetite is usually a sign that there is something wrong internally.
- Weakness and loss of stamina - If your usually energetic dog is suddenly weak and seem to lose interest in the usual activities, it can be an additional sign of an internal problem.
- Problems with defecating and urinating are sure signs of a major health problem. If this happened along with the development of skin problems, then make sure to have your pet checked immediately.
- Respiratory distress - Any difficulty breathing, wheezing or abnormal panting is a sign that your dog has a health issue.
- If you observe any of these symptoms along with your discovery of the skin growth, be vigilant and take time to bring your dog to the veterinarian immediately. Observe whether he feels uncomfortable with the growth. A veterinarian should be able to assess whether it is a possible health threat and whether it is best to remove it.
Seeing a Veterinarian
The safest and most obvious choice when it comes to removing a dog's skin tag is to go visit a veterinarian, but don't be too critical if the vet does not seem too bothered about the growth or if he does not seem too eager about removing it. Some may dismiss it outright at first glance. This is because it is generally harmless, and unless there is a medical reason to remove them, most vets will probably suggest leaving it alone.
For skin tags that are very large, or if you are not confident that you can do the removal by yourself, surgeries done by your vet may be the best option. Make an appointment and ask about removing the growth. They have full knowledge and experience to assess the dog's health and how it is affected by the skin growth. However, if you have even an inkling of uncertainty that you can remove the tag yourself, just don't do it. Have your vet do it for you.
Before the procedure, it is important to make a quick assessment on whether your dog has other internal problems or not. Consider his age and health before performing any removal procedure of the skin tag. He may have an autoimmune disease in which symptoms are still not visible at that time and may be aggravated by the skin removal, prescription medications and anesthetic procedures.
The removal of the skin tag is usually painless, as veterinarians normally administer anesthesia during surgery. Listen well to the veterinarian's post-surgery instructions to help your dog recover as quickly as possible.
When you opt to bring your beloved pet to the vet, here is the possible scenario. He will be laid on the table and a local anesthetic will be applied to the area of the growth. If your dog is furry, some of it may have to be shaved off to expose the skin tag. If your dog is feeling nervous and moving too much, you may need to help calm and hold him down. Once the anesthetic has taken effect, the vet will use a special tool to slice off the growth, without him feeling any pain.
Some bleeding may occur but this will be quickly controlled by the vet. Some antiseptic or antibiotic cream may be applied to prevent the wound from getting infected. The vet may prescribe some medications before your dog can be allowed to go home.
At home, it is important to monitor his wound for about a week or two and see if it is healing properly. Prevent him from scratching the area, especially if the wound is still fresh. Keep him comfortable and make sure to feed him with nutritious food in order to speed up the healing process. See if your dog is showing any signs of lethargy or weakness as an effect of the anesthesia or the procedure itself. Talk to the veterinarian immediately for any signs of other health concerns.
Removing Them Yourself
Reasons for removing a dog's skin tag vary. It may be because it causes discomfort to your dog or because the mere sight of it has become too disturbing. It may also get caught in the dog collar or when you brush him, which can lead to a wound and infection.
You may have pondered many times if you can simply just snip it right off, after all, it doesn't look like it is completely attached to the skin. It just looks like a small bump hanging off a thread. Consider, however, that it is still part of your dog's skin and any type of cutting will cause it to bleed or have an open wound. It is easy to snip it off but be prepared for what might happen afterwards.
Open skin can be prone to bacteria and infection so it is important to use sterile tools and other medications ready. If the skin tag is located in an unusual or sensitive area such as the eyelids or mouth, it may be wise to just let a veterinarian do it to prevent any complications.
The veterinarian is always the best person to remove your dog's skin tags. However, some dog owners worry that it would be too costly. A procedure can cost hundreds of dollars, for something they believe they could do themselves. So if you're considering removing the bump yourself, be prepared with the right tools and knowledge. It is important to examine first whether the skin tag is just a simple growth or something that can be a cause of concern. If you feel suspicious that the skin tag may be cancerous, do not attempt to remove it yourself. Same case if the skin tag has grown too big, it might be wise to have it removed by a vet as you may not be able to control the bleeding afterwards.
There are different methods to try, so be critical in choosing which is best for your beloved pet. Below is a list of your options. Read this over before making any decision. It may turn out that taking your dog to the vet is the best choice. Consult your dog's veterinarian about your plan to make sure that your dog will not be hurt by the process you wish to use. Your dog's safety and wellness should be your primary concern.
Cutting With Sterile Scissors
This method is crude, but it can work well on small tags. This is the closest method to a veterinary procedure. It would require 2 or more persons to accomplish the task. One will have to calm and hold the dog down as there will be no anesthetics used. The other person will be the one to do the cutting and disinfecting. It would be best if one of the people involved is the actual owner so that the dog will be more trusting and easier to pacify. He will feel more relaxed when the owner is present.
- Things needed include a curved scissors (sometimes used for manicuring nails are ideal), povidone-iodine, isopropyl alcohol, cotton balls, bandages or gauze, bowl, hot water, antiseptic solution, antibiotic cream and cauterizing pen (optional).
- Sterilize your scissors in a mixture of hot water and povidine-iodine. This will prevent bacteria from entering the dog's skin once the tag is removed.
- Clip any fur away around the tag. Clean the area around the bump using a cotton ball damp with isopropyl alcohol.
- When cutting, make sure to begin at the base to ensure full removal of the skin tag.
- After removal, it is important to stop the bleeding and put a bandage on the wound. Place an antiseptic solution or antibiotic cream on the area to prevent infection. If there is too much bleeding, place two tablespoons of flour or cornstarch on wound. This serves as a coagulant to stop the blood flow. Bleeding should cease within a few minutes.
- Reapply antiseptic or antibiotic cream when the bleeding has stopped.
- If possible, wrap a cloth bandage around the area or secure gauze with bandage tape.
- Monitor the wound for several days after bleeding has stopped. If the area is not healing or if your dog is uncomfortable, make an appointment to see a veterinarian.
It may be necessary to cauterize the newly-cut area for two seconds using a cauterizing pen or a small soldering iron. Make sure to do this for two to three times to stop bleeding and to ensure that the tag does not grow back. Be sure not to burn other areas of the skin. Handle cauterizing tools properly. If you feel uncomfortable or not confident about using it, better to skin this process and just manage the bleeding best way you can. Finally, cover the area with a gauze or bandage.
After the procedure, observe your dog for any signs of discomfort. The light pain should go away after a few minutes and your dog should be back in shape within the day. It is normal for your dog to feel uneasy at first and lick in the area. Try to prevent the licking as much as possible.
Tying the Tag
This method is only recommended for types of skin tags that are protruding, or hanging on the skin by a small thread of flesh. Take note that this method takes longer and can cause your dog discomfort, especially if the location of the tag is in an area of the body that can be easily scratched. Be sure your dog does not bite or lick the tied tag, as this can cause infection.
To tie the tag, you will need a dental floss, strong thread or fishing line. You will also need a disposable razor or scissors (to shave away fur), isopropyl alcohol, cotton balls, and a cone collar.
- Shave or clip away fur around the area of the skin tag to expose it further.
- Disinfect the area with cotton balls soaked in isopropyl alcohol.
- To tie the skin tag, use dental floss, thread, or string. Make sure to make a knot as close to the base of the skin as possible. Tighten as tight as you can. This should not cause your dog so much pain. However, he may feel utmost discomfort. The pain should subside after a while. If your dog seems to be in a lot of pain while you are tying the tag or even after the procedure, re-assess your options and examine the growth again. It may be something that a veterinarian should handle.
- Once you have tied the tag successfully, use a muzzle mask or cone-shaped collar to prevent your dog from licking or biting into it.
After a few days, the tag will begin to shrink and shrivel and will eventually fall off. This is due to the lack of blood flowing in the area. Be sure to monitor the tag and check if there is any swelling or reddening in the area. Keep your dog from chewing on the tie until the skin has completely dried and fallen off. You can sanitize and disinfect the area daily to ensure that there will be no infection.
What to Avoid
Skin tags are not dangerous and need only be removed when causing discomfort. Simply ignoring them will not put your dog at risk. In order to avoid causing your dog any unnecessary discomfort, avoid these methods:
- Applying apple cider vinegar. There have been various pros and cons about this method, but some suggest that applying apple cider vinegar (ACV) to skin tags will help for the skin to fall off. It is said that the natural acidity of the vinegar helps break down the cells of the loose skin, causing it to shrivel and fall off. It will take about a week or two of daily application before it is said to work. While apple cider vinegar may be an effective method to remove warts, a skin tag is not a wart and therefore, ACV will be useless for removal. Take note however that when opting for a safe and natural way to remove the tags, this will be relatively safe to try, as ACV has no known side effects. However, it does not guarantee that the complete removal of the skin tag.
- Using liquid nitrogen. The use of liquid nitrogen to remove skin tags or other skin growth is called Cryosurgery. This is another method commonly used on warts removal and other larger growth. The procedure involves freezing the growth with liquid nitrogen. After about a little over a week, the frozen skin will die and fall off. This is a procedure done for special cases and is not generally recommended. Liquid nitrogen might injure your dog's skin or change in color. There are also other complications associated with it.
- Burning off the tags. Applying heat and/or fire to these skin growths won't do any good and may cause burning, infection, and discomfort. Additionally, it can be quite a painful and traumatic experience for your dog.
- Your dog has a health condition. Never attempt to remove your dog's skin tag if you suspect that he is sick or suffering from an illness. This is especially dangerous if he is suffering from some type of diabetes as the wound may be more prone to infection, not heal or the bleeding cannot be controlled.
- Never use scissors or clippers that has not been sterilized. The sterilization procedure of the scissors is important to protect your dog from any bacteria entering the wound. Do not skip this first procedure.
- Think twice before using anesthesia on older dogs. Older dogs are more prone to skin tags, but their age and weakened health makes skin tag removal procedures more dangerous for them. The use of local anesthetics for example, can be dangerous to their health. If the tags are not so much of a bother, then simply leave it be. The procedure for removing it may be more risky for their health.
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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.