There are many kinds of canine skin bumps, growths, lumps, tumors, and “tags”. Some skin tumors in dogs are benign (noncancerous) and some skin lumps are cancerous. A dog skin tag is a type of skin growth that can occur anywhere on the body but are common on the face, head, neck, elbows, and/or chest. Skin tags are common in humans and also commonly occur on the face, head, face and upper chest. Dog owners frequently have questions about dog skin tags wondering if they are cancerous, a problem that can turn cancerous, or no problem at all.
Below we will discuss what is a dog skin tag, how to determine if it is a dog skin tag vs wart, how to tell a skin tag from a cancer bump in dogs, and steps for dog skin tag removal. Before deciding if a skin tag is a problem or not, let's look at exactly what is a dog skin tag.
The medical terms for a skin tag is an acrochordon or acrochorda (pleural) and is also known as fibroepithelial polyp. A skin tag is a small flap of skin with a small base often about the size of a grain of rice but can be bigger or smaller. Some dog skin tags can be the size of a grape or even larger and appear to “dangle”.
Dog skin tags most often occur around the face, head, neck, armpits, elbows, and eyelids, but can occur anywhere on the body. Some deep chested large dogs will get clusters of skin tags over the chest area.
A true skin tag is generally painless and harmless. They generally do not change over time into something cancerous.
They are often diagnosed when combing or brushing your dog. They are easier to see on dogs with dark hair coats as they are often pink, fleshy, and protrude brightly. It is common for some pet owners to mistake a skin tag for an attached tick. Collars, leashes or grooming procedures such as combing or brushing your dog, can irritate dog skin tags.
Why Do Dogs Get Skin Tags?
You may be wondering… “Why do dogs get skin tags”? The cause for skin tags is largely unknown although but is considered to be genetic. There are some breed predispositions such as they are more common in bulldogs, boxers, and Great Danes although they can occur in any breed. Dog skin tags appear to be more common in dogs as they get older. Dogs that get skin tags will often have more than one.
Dog skin tags are most commonly diagnosed by your veterinarian after examining the growth. The classic appearance of a dog skin tag is a small raised soft piece of skin with a small base often referred to as a pedicle. It should not be ulcerated, inflamed or bleeding unless it is being irritated by a collar or by grooming.
Skin tags in dogs are not dangerous. Dog skin tags are generally permanent and do not regress. Generally, the only way they go away is by surgical removal.
If your dog has a skin tag and it is red, inflamed, draining, pigmented, then please see your veterinarian. Either the skin tag it is infected or not an actual skin tag and a different type of tumor or cancer.
Dog Skin Tag vs. Warts - What's the Difference?
Is it a dog skin tag vs wart? This is a common question that dog owners ask. Dog skin tags can appear similar to warts but there are differences. Warts, like skin tags, can grow anywhere on the body and dogs that get one will generally get more.
The biggest difference between a skin tag and a wart is the appearance of the bump. Skin tags generally are small, soft, thin, flesh-colored, floppy, and have a stalk or pedicle base. You can generally move a skin tag back and forth with your finger. Warts, on the other hand, are thicker and attached to the skin over a broader area. They are generally flatter. Warts, known by the medical term as viral papillomas, are benign, non-cancerous tumors caused by a virus in dogs and other pets. Warts are more common in young dogs and often are around the mouth commissures of the lip or are in the mouth. Learn more about Canine Viral Papillomas (Dog Warts).
Another common question pet owners ask about dog skin tag is “How do you prevent dog skin tags?” The answer is that there is nothing you can do to prevent dog skin tags.
Can Skin Tags Turn Into Cancer Bumps on Dogs?
Can a dog skin tag turn into a cancerous bump? The answer is no. Skin tags are considered harmless and are not considered “precancerous”.
There is nothing that a skin tag tells you about your dogs underlying health. In humans, there have been some associations of skin tags with hormones in pregnancy, a risk of diabetes mellitus, and risk of Crohn's disease. However, these associations have not been made in dogs.
If any bump or lump on your dog changes, grows, becomes ulcerated, bleeds or you notice any other changes that are of concern, please have your dog evaluated by your veterinarian.
Take These Steps for Dog Skin Tag Removal
May pet owners want to know about dog skin tag removal. As we discussed above, dog skin tags are harmless and not a problem. The primary reason for removal is for cosmetic reasons or because they are in a location that interferes with function or causes irritation.
For example, some dog skin tags on the neck can rub on collars causing the skin tag to bleed or to become infected. Some dog skin tags are on the elbow where a dog lays and can rub on the floor causing irritation. Other examples of skin tags that cause problems is one on the eyelid that rubs the eye or one by the mouth that can accidentally be bitten by the dog when eating. Some skin tags are accidentally cut or damaged during grooming procedures. The main reason to have a skin tag removed is if it really bothers you cosmetically or is it is in a location that causes irritation or infection.
We recommend that you see your veterinarian for surgical removal of skin tags. They can disinfect the skin, use sterile surgical tools, and have the ability to control unexpected bleeding should it occur. You vet can choose to remove the skin tag under general anesthesia or with local anesthesia. This decision will be determined by the location of the mass, your dog's overall health, your dog's personality and the size of the mass.
For example, a small mass on the neck of a calm dog with underlying health issues may do well with skin tag removal under local anesthesia. Another example is that most masses on the eyelid need to be removed under general anesthesia as it is critical for a dog to stay still when doing surgery in that area.
When general anesthesia is used, it is common that remove skin tags in combination with other procedures such as a dental cleaning. Once a pet is under anesthesia, skin tags are generally removed with a surgical laser or with a scalpel which both work well.
Some veterinarians will remove skin tags with a local anesthetic such as lidocaine to numb the area followed by removal with a scalpel or scissors. Once the area is numb, a suture is commonly placed over the base of the skin tag to cut off the blood supply.
What can you do at home for dog skin tags?
The best thing you can do is to see your veterinarian to ensure that the lump is indeed a skin tag and to have them remove it properly.
The bigger the skin tag, the better it is to have your veterinarian look at and evaluate the lump. Some of the larger skin tags have a good blood supply and trying to take them off at home can cause unnecessary bleeding and risk of infection. Small skin tags can be taken off at home with special care. The procedure most often performed is as follows:
What you'll need:
- Grooming Clippers
- Dental floss or suture
- Soap and water
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Gauze, clean towel, or paper towels
- Hydrogen peroxide
Procedure to remove a dog skin tag at home
- Shave a small amount of hair around the skin tag. Take special care not to accidentally cut your dog as this can be easy to do.
- Carefully clean the skin tag area with soap and water.
- Disinfect the skin tag with isopropyl alcohol.
- Pull the skin tag gently away from the skin. This should allow you to easily see a stalk.
- Using the dental floss or suture, tie it around the base of the skin tag. Get as close as you can to the skin. Tie firmly at the base using 3 to 4 knots.
- At this point, you can cut the stalk if you want to completely remove it or wait for the skin tag to fall off. The ligation will remove the blood supply to the skin tag. Over the following 2 to 5 days, the skin tag will turn black, dry up and often fall off. If you cut the stalk, use gauze or clean paper towel to gently dab the blood. Be careful not to cut below the suture.
- You can gently clean the blood around the site with hydrogen peroxide. Do not aggressively rub or you can rub off the suture.
- Monitor the area twice daily for 14 days. Ensure the dental floss or suture comes off when the area has healed.
- Do not allow your dog to chew, lick or scratch at the skin tag site. If needed, depending on the area of skin tag removal, use a bandage or e-collar to prevent your dog from licking.
We hope this article gave you more information about what is a dog skin tag, how to determine if it is a dog skin tag vs wart, how to tell a skin tag from cancer bumps in dogs, and steps for dog skin tag removal.