It can be unsettling to find a skin tag on your dog. They’re not only gnarly looking, but they’re scary too — skin growths can occasionally be cancerous.
However, most run-of-the-mill skin tags are completely harmless growths. They may cause your dog a minor bit of irritation or look a bit gross to you, but that’s about it.
Obviously, you should take your pup to your veterinarian for evaluation any time you notice anything unusual, but skin tags are common, and rarely require treatment of any kind.
Skin Tags in Dogs: Key Takeaways
- Some dogs occasionally get skin tags. Skin tags essentially look like small warts, though they can vary a bit in appearance. Some skin tags are darker in color than the surrounding skin.
- True skin tags may cause a bit of irritation, but they are completely harmless. However, there are a few similar-appearing growths, which can represent more serious health issues. Accordingly, it’s a good idea to point them out during your pup’s next vet visit.
- Skin tags can usually be left alone, but they can be removed if they’re bothering your pet. Typically your vet will anesthetize the area and then cut the tag off, but some vets prefer to freeze the tags off instead.
What Is a Dog Skin Tag?
Technically speaking, skin tags are growths called fibroepithelial polyps or acrochordons.
Most skin tags are the same color as your dog’s skin, although they may also be a bit darker than his base skin color. They can be flattened, but they usually extend outward from your pet’s body. Unlike warts, which are firmly attached around the base of the raised area, skin tags are usually connected by a relatively small bit of tissue, and they are easy to move around.
Humans get skin tags all the time – some authorities claim that nearly half of the human population has at least one skin tag. As when they occur in dogs, they rarely represent a serious problem or require treatment, unless their size or location causes discomfort. They are most common among people who are older, overweight or diabetic, and they may occur in increased frequency with dogs fitting these criteria too.
What Causes Dog Skin Tags to Form?
No one knows exactly why skin tags occur or the mechanisms that lead to their development. Some of the potential suspects include:
Because they most commonly occur in skin folds, some scientists suspect that friction is part of the underlying cause. This is also thought to be the case for humans, as humans normally experience skin tags on their neck, shoulders and armpits – all of which are high-friction areas. Accordingly, it is important to make sure that your dog’s collar or harness fits properly.
Some research has demonstrated a link between papilloma viruses and skin tags in humans. While the viruses involved would be different in dogs, it is possible that viruses are at least partially responsible for the development of canine skin tags too (however, it’s important to note that true canine papillomas are slightly different from skin tags, once again illustrating the importance of having your vet examine any unusual growths).
Some authorities believe that skin tags are the result of parasite attacks. In such cases, it is hypothesized that the skin heals improperly following the feeding damage of fleas, ticks or similar pests. This is yet another reason that it is important to discuss on-going flea and tick prevention with your vet.
Poor hygiene habits may encourage the formation of skin tags. This can occur if you wash your dog too often, fail to wash your dog often enough, or use inappropriate soaps or shampoos. For the record, most authorities recommend bathing your dog about once per month, with a shampoo formulated specifically for dogs.
Others suspect that environmental factors are to blame. Proponents of this line of thought typically point to things like pesticide exposure or irritating clothing and collars.
Genetic predisposition may be part of the reason some dogs suffer from skin tags. This would help explain why skin tags are often common throughout familial lineages. However, this is probably only one small part of the overall cause.
At the end of the day, it may be ultimately determined that several different factors interact to spur the body to produce skin tags. Only further research will reveal the truth.
Treating Skin Tags on Dogs
Although vets can usually identify skin tags visually, biopsies are occasionally warranted to ensure that the tag isn’t cancerous. But once your vet is confident that the growth is, in fact, a skin tag, he or she will most likely lay out a few different treatment strategies.
Most will probably recommend leaving the tag as-is, unless it is causing irritation or pain. Skin tags are generally harmless and rarely cause problems for most pets, so many vets prefer to leave well-enough alone.
If your vet does recommend removal, he or she will usually provide your dog with a general anesthetic to keep your canine calm and eliminate any potential pain. Then, the vet will remove the tag with a scalpel or surgical scissors. The resulting wound will be cleaned appropriately, stitched up if need be, and you’ll be sent on your way with instructions to monitor it carefully.
Some vets may prefer to use cryotherapy techniques, which basically means they’ll freeze the tag off. Others may prefer to cauterize tags, by using a heated tool or laser to “burn off” the tag.
In this video, Dr. Ruhland described a bit more about how cryotherapy works:
There are a number of home remedies posted throughout the shallow end of the internet, but attempting to remove your dog’s skin tags at home is a bad idea. Simply visit your veterinarian and have him or her perform the procedure correctly, safely, and – most importantly – in pain-free fashion. You may have access to a pair of surgical scissors, but you probably don’t have access to an anesthetic.
Some people recommend removing skin tags by wrapping dental floss or tiny rubber bands around the growths. But once again, this is a bad idea. The floss or rubber band may cause an additional wound or fail to work, leaving a potentially infected skin tag behind.
Some advocate using diluted apple cider vinegar to remove the tag. This is usually done by affixing a vinegar-soaked cotton ball to the tag. Over time, the acidic nature of the vinegar may eat away at the tag, eventually causing it to fall off. However, while diluted apple cider vinegar is probably not going to hurt your dog’s skin, it doesn’t always work for skin tags.
Accordingly, the best plan of attack is to simply have your vet perform the procedure. You’ll have to go in and have the growth properly identified anyway, so just go ahead and have your vet remove it while you are at the office. If you are inclined to try a home remedy, be sure to discuss it with your vet beforehand.
Has your dog ever developed a skin tag? Did you just leave it in place or did you have it removed? Let us know how it went in the comment section below.