How to Remove and Prevent Skin Tags on Dogs
Have you petted your dog lately and felt an unusually small, soft and fleshy growth on your dog’s skin? Don't be alarmed just yet. These growths are probably just 'skin tags' and are fairly common on dogs. Unless your dog is in pain, scratching or seems to be bothered by the growth, there’s no need to be alarmed. But what can you do to remove or prevent these unsightly growths? Read on to learn 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 fibrovascular papillomas, fibrin tags, dog warts, skin polyps, 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 grape.
Which Dog Breeds Get Them?
Dogs of any breed or age may develop them. They are most common in older dogs, as well as specific breeds like the Cocker Spaniel due to genetics. Skin tags usually grow on the chest, face, armpits and legs—more often in areas where the skin is soft and thin. They 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 eyelid 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. Removal on the eyelids can be sensitive, so this is best done by the veterinarian.
Should I Have Them Removed?
Generally, most owners will just leave it alone, especially if the growth is just small and doesn’t really affect their pet. However, some 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.
Does your dog have skin tag(s)?
Are Skin Tags Dangerous?
Skin tags are generally not painful for dogs. They can be likened to common warts in humans. Most dog owners mistake skin tags 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 monitor whether or not 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:
- They are often 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.
- They are often not skin cancer. Finding a bump on your dog's skin does not mean they have skin cancer. Tags are benign, painless and do not secrete liquid. Cancerous skin growth usually look like lesions and will have watery or pus-like discharge. They will be painful when touched and may change in color, size and texture.
- They are not warts. Unlike warts, skin tags are not attached to the skin by a thin stalk and do not grow back once removed. They may look and feel like warts, but skin tags are a bit softer and you can touch and move them with your finger without your dog feeling any pain.
- They are not contagious. They do not pass from one animal to another or to humans. You are safe to touch it if you want to examine it, unless it is infected and oozing with pus. If you notice that several of your dogs seem to have them, it does not necessarily mean that they have infected each other.
- They do not spread once removed. It is a common misconception that once you remove one, more will grow. Remember that new ones may develop, but an old tag which has been removed does not cause new ones to grow.
Always Consult With Your Vet
Skin tags may look different on every dog. 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 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 imbalances (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 factors. A dirty environment may contain bacteria and viruses 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, acidic soil and even bacteria that dogs get after you take them out for a walk. Areas that are prone to mold also seem to be a trigger, so be careful where you place your dog house. Clean regularly and air-dry dog sheets and pillows to keep them free of 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, a 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 that 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 a healthy 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 on the skin. Too much bathing, especially with harsh products, can strip off the skin's natural oil which 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.
- 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 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.
- Poorly fitted collars. Pet owners who like to keep a collar on their dog 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 that is too tight or moldy can leave his or her skin irritated, bruised and infected, making it more prone to skin tags after the skin heals. Friction, or rubbing against dirty or moldy things seems 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 see if one may be infected or growing abnormally. Some large growths may become infected if your dog accidentally scratches it or gets it caught on something; this can sometimes create an open wound or profuse bleeding. Skin tags located on the dog's tail area are also prone to bruising and infection.
How to Check Your Dog's Body
Regular bathing, brushing and grooming allows you to check on other areas of the body, particularly the hidden parts, such as the armpits, the jawline and around the ears. Note that some dogs may grow one growth in their lifetime, and other dogs many.
Skin tags with unusual color, foul odor, fluid or those that are abnormally big, irritated, inflamed, dark and domed, should be checked by a veterinarian immediately. Dark and domed growths are particularly concerning, as these are often malignant. A veterinarian will most likely recommend a biopsy if the affected skin does not seem to respond to treatment.
In-House and Diagnostic Procedures
Your vet may order either of the following to identify the type of growth on your dog:
If you are suspicious about a particular growth, monitor it for any changes in size or color. Though rare, some skin tags may turn out to be cancerous. Mast cell tumors and lipomas (subcutaneous masses) that develop in dogs may look similar to some skin tags. A vet should be able to tell with a fine-needle aspirate whether the cells are problematic or benign. A biopsy may be ordered to confirm suspicious results.
Skin Biopsy Procedure
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, anesthesia may be necessary. Local anesthetic means that only the problem area will be numbed, whereas anesthesia means that the dog will be unconscious for the procedure or surgery. If done properly, the dog should not be able to feel anything. The tissue taken out is typically so small that there is no need for stitches or heavy medication.
Once the local anesthetic 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 laboratory for examination by a pathologist or technician.
When Are the Results Made Available?
The examination that will be done is called a histopathology analysis; the sample will be examined under a microscope. The cells in the sample tissue are looked at for any evidence of malignancy. It takes around one to two weeks before the sample is properly assessed and processed. Results can be acquired faster if needed.
Continue to Monitor Your Dog
While waiting for the results, it is important to monitor the condition of the skin 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 reported to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
The results of the skin biopsy will reveal what kind of skin abnormality is present, if it is cancerous, whether it is infected and more; hopefully, it is benign. Biopsies are important in order for the veterinarian to determine the best course of action and treatment.
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 skin. If the growth seems more rough or dry when you touch it, then it may be abnormal.
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.
It is swelling: This is not normal and may be a sign of infection or indicate an abscess. Swelling can also be painful for the dog.
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.
Ulceration: Ulceration is a bad sign as there may pus in the surrounding tissues; this means the area is prone to infection and inflammation.
Bleeding in the area: Any abnormal bleeding indicates the need for a veterinary exam.
Pain: If your dog is in pain when the growth is touched or bumped, this means that it may be infected or there is fluid under the skin.
The dog is constantly scratching the area: Itching means it can be infected, and 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 the area.
The sore is not healing: If your dog's skin growth has turned into a lesion or wound and you have already administered medication but it 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 indicate the presence of bacteria or pus. Seek veterinary help immediately.
Your dog is losing weight for no reason: If you notice that your dog is losing weight, then the symptom may be related.
Loss of appetite: Some dogs lose weight despite having their usual appetite. If your dog is losing its appetite, this is usually a sign that there is something wrong internally.
Weakness and loss of stamina: If your usually energetic dog is suddenly weak and seems to lose interest in the usual activities, it can be an additional sign of an internal problem.
Problems with defecation and urination: These are sure signs of a major health problem. If this occurs alongside 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 or she feels uncomfortable.
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 by the growth and chooses not to remove it. Some vets may dismiss it outright at first glance. This is because it is generally harmless, and unless there is a medical reason to remove it, most vets will probably suggest leaving it alone. For skin tags that are very large, your vet may elect to do surgery.
Before the procedure, it is important to assess whether your dog has other internal problems or not. Consider his or her age and health before agreeing to any elective procedure. He or she may have underlying conditions which may be aggravated by the skin removal, prescription medications and anesthetic procedures. Listen well to the veterinarian's post-procedure or post-surgery instructions to help your dog recover as quickly as possible.
Your dog will likely be shaved around the area of interest. Sedation may be used or local anesthetic injected around the site to numb it. Once the local anesthetic has taken effect, the vet will remove the growth. Some bleeding may occur, but this will be subdued quickly. Some antiseptic or antibiotic ointment may be applied to prevent the wound from getting infected. The vet may prescribe some medications for your dog.
At home, it is important to monitor the wound for about a week or two and see if it is healing properly. Prevent your dog from scratching the area, especially if the wound is still fresh. Keep them comfortable and make sure to feed them nutritious food in order to speed up the healing process. Talk to the veterinarian immediately for any signs of other health concerns.
What Not to Do
Skin tags are not dangerous and only need to be removed if causing discomfort. Simply ignoring them will not put your dog at risk. In order to avoid causing your dog any unnecessary discomfort, avoid doing the following at home:
- Applying apple cider vinegar. Some suggest that applying apple cider vinegar (ACV) to skin tags will help 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. 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. ACV has no known side effects, however, its use does not guarantee the complete removal of the skin tag.
- Using liquid nitrogen. The use of liquid nitrogen to remove skin tags or other skin growths is called cryosurgery. This is another method commonly used for wart removal and other larger growths. 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 its 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 additional burning, infection and discomfort. Not to mention, these techniques can be quite painful and lead to a traumatic experience for your dog.
- Never use scissors or clippers that have not been sterilized. Sterilized equipment is used in surgery for good reason and prevents bacteria from entering the wound.
- 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. If the tags are not so much of a bother, then simply leave them be. The procedure for removing them may be more risky than worth it. Your vet will likely have proper insight on the matter.
Does Your Dog Have a Preexisting Health Condition?
Never attempt to remove your dog's skin tag if you suspect that he or she is sick or suffering from an illness. This is especially dangerous for patients with diabetes as the wound may be more prone to infection, slow to heal or bleed uncontrollably.
Removing Them Yourself
Reasons for removing a dog's skin tag vary. It may be because it causes your dog discomfort or because it's simply unsightly. It may also get caught in the dog's collar or when you brush them, which can lead to infection.
Do Not Attempt to Remove It Yourself
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 and lead to an open wound. Remember that open skin can be prone to bacteria and infection. If the skin tag is located in an unusual or sensitive area such as the eyelids or mouth, you should have a veterinarian do it to prevent any complications.
Why Seeing Your Vet Is the Best Choice
The veterinarian is always the best person to remove your dog's skin tags. 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, but taking your dog to the vet is the best choice. Your dog's safety and wellness should be your primary concern.
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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.