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Similar to humans, dogs can become afflicted with unsightly skin tags. If your dog has been diagnosed with a skin tag, you may be wondering what causes them on dogs. You may be wondering if you should be concerned, if it could be cancerous, or if surgery might be needed. Fortunately, skin tags usually do not require any treatment, and in most cases, they do not pose any health risks to your dog. Let's take a look at what these skin tags are and what you should know about them.
What Are Skin Tags?
Skin tags are benign growths that can appear anywhere on the skin of a dog. They are most frequently noticed on the trunk, the face, the sternum, front armpits and other bony pointy parts, such as the elbows, hips or ankles. They may also grow on eyelids and around the mouth.
Skin tags are also known as fibrovascular papillomas. They can appear as firm, flat skin growths, or they can grow a stalk and feel soft and squishy. These tags range in size from a few millimeters to two centimeters and larger. If a dog is bothering a skin tag or repeatedly lying on it, the surface of the skin tag can become damaged and infected. An infected skin tag can turn red, be painful, have an ulcerated appearance and ooze pus. As long as the skin tag isn't oozing pus or inflamed and painful, you are free to feel it with your fingers without hurting your dog.
What Causes Skin Tags on Dogs?
There are a couple of theories as to what causes skin tags on dogs. For starters, they are seen in every breed and age of dog; however, they are more common in middle-aged to older large and giant breed dogs. Genetics are considered an aspect of what causes skin tags on dogs in cocker spaniels, Poodles and Miniature Schnauzers.
Another cause of skin tags can be due to repetitive trauma to the skin, like when skin folds continually rub against each other or the dog is sleeping on a hard surface. Skin that is repeatedly exposed to crushing trauma, as in when medium to large breed dogs constantly sleep or rest on hard concrete, can become chronically inflamed and result in a skin tag.
Unless they are irritated, skin tags are usually not painful for dogs. Most of the time, they're just a cosmetic issue. Skin tags are not warts, and they do not grow back after they have been surgically removed. Skin tags are also not considered to be contagious and will not spread to other dogs or people in the household.
How Are Skin Tags Diagnosed?
If you noticed a skin growth that might be a skin tag, it is best to have the growth checked out by your local veterinarian. While skin tags themselves are not considered cancerous, there are other skin tumors that can mimic the appearance of a skin tag that may need to be removed.
Typically, the diagnosis of a skin tag on a dog is simple. Your vet will conduct a full physical exam and may be able to tell you what the growth is with one examination. If your vet is unsure, they may recommend testing the skin growth. This can involve inserting a small needle into the growth and then examining cells collected from the growth on a slide under a microscope.
If your dog has been diagnosed with a skin tag, keep calm. Most skin tags on dogs do not require any treatment at all because they are non-cancerous benign growths. If the skin tag is irritated, bleeding, infected, growing quickly or bothering your dog in any way, then your vet may recommend removal through surgery. Surgical removal of skin tags is considered to be curative: As long as the skin tag is completely removed, it should not reoccur in the same location.
What Happens If You Don't Remove Skin Tags?
Most skin tags pose no danger to your dog. If your dog has a skin tag that is not painful or causing problems, it's fine to monitor the growth at home with the following recommendations:
- Do a monthly lump check to see if there are any changes to the skin tag. Keep an eye out for any new growths.
- Keep a journal of your findings. Record the date, location of the skin tag, size and any changes in color, injury or discharge from the skin tag.
- If you notice any abrupt changes, schedule an appointment to have the skin tag evaluated by a vet.
- If the skin tag is located on an eyelid, monitor the eye for any signs of irritation, such as redness, increased discharge or squinting.
- If your dog is scheduled for anesthesia for any reason and the skin tag is bothering them, ask if the skin tag can be removed at the same time.
Some dogs will get skin tags no matter what you do, but there are a couple of preventive tactics you can try. If the skin tag is due to rubbing in a skin fold, talk with your vet about surgery to reduce the skin fold. You can also provide a supportive sleeping surface for your dog to prevent compression injury or repetitive rubbing of the skin on hard surfaces like concrete.
Keep in mind that skin tags on dogs are benign and purely cosmetic. However, now that you know how to identify a skin tag that has become irritated or infected, you can reach out to your vet if you have any cause for concern.
Dr. Sarah Wooten
A 2002 graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and certified veterinary journalist, Dr. Sarah Wooten has 16 years experience in small animal veterinary practice, is a well known international speaker and writer in the veterinary and animal health care spaces, and is passionate about helping pet parents learn how to care better for their fur friends.