Skin Tags on Dogs: How to Identify and Treat Them

Have you ever noticed a small skin-growth on your dog? Perhaps you were petting your dog and felt your fingers pass over a small lump or bump, or maybe you noticed a new mole-like growth peeking out from your dog’s fur. It could be a skin tag. 

Skin tags on dogs are benign growths that are typically small in size, but they can cause big worries in many dog owners. Read on to learn about dog skin tags, including what to do if you suspect that your dog has one of these growths. 

Can Dogs Get Skin Tags?

Just like humans, dogs can develop skin tags as a normal part of the aging process. No one knows exactly what causes skin tags in dogs or humans, but they are a common finding and typically not a cause for concern. 

As long as you can rule out more serious skin masses, skin tags on dogs do not typically require treatment and do not cause any problems for dogs. 

What Do Skin Tags Look Like on Dogs?

Dog skin tags can take on a variety of appearances. Many canine skin tags are small, fleshy masses that are no bigger than a pencil tip. In some cases, however, skin tags may grow to be the size of a lima bean, or even larger. 

Skin tags may be small and round, and many owners will confuse skin tags for a tick and attempt to remove it with tweezers. They can also be long and narrow, hanging from a dog’s skin almost like a cow’s udder. Skin tags on dogs can have a smooth surface, or they may have a bumpy, cauliflower-like surface. They are usually the same color as the surrounding skin, but this is not always the case. 

What Causes Skin Tags on Dogs?

The cause of dog skin tags is largely unknown. They tend to be more common in older dogs, but they can occur in younger dogs, too. Some breeds (such as Cocker Spaniels) have a higher likelihood of forming skin tags, suggesting that genetic factors may also be involved. 

In some cases, skin tags may be caused by friction. This hasn’t been definitively proven, but some short-haired dogs tend to develop multiple skin tags along the lower chest. When these dogs lay down, this portion of their chest touches the ground; friction against the ground may result in tissue proliferation and skin tags. Dogs also seem to be more likely to develop skin tags in the armpits and groin (where there is skin-on-skin friction), and there may also be a correlation between chronic itching and skin tags. 

Types of Dog Skin Tags

There are several unique types of skin tags. While all skin tags are caused by a benign skin tissue proliferation, they can differ in the specific type of cells to form the skin tag. These skin tags can’t be distinguished on appearance alone—further testing is needed to identify the cells within the skin tag. 

Common types of skin tags on dogs include

  • Fibrovascular papillomas
  • Collagenous hamartomas
  • Hyperplastic/hypertrophic scars
  • Fibroepithelial polyps

Diagnosing Dog Skin Tags

Suspected skin tags should be evaluated by a veterinarian, to rule out more serious concerns. Your veterinarian will first perform a thorough physical examination of your dog, paying careful attention to your dog’s skin. In most cases, your veterinarian can identify skin tags with a reasonable degree of certainty based on appearance alone. However, in some cases, your veterinarian may recommend additional testing to ensure that your dog’s suspected skin tag is not a cancerous mass. 

There are two tests that can be used to diagnose a skin tag: cytology and histopathology. 

Cytology involves collecting a small cell sample from the skin tag using a needle.  Histopathology requires removing all or part of the skin tag for tissue analysis. These samples are then sent to a pathologist for analysis, allowing a definitive diagnosis to be made. Cytology is less invasive and less expensive than histopathology, but it is often impractical to obtain a cytology sample from a small skin tag. If testing is necessary, your veterinarian will recommend the best test for your dog’s skin tag. 

Dog Skin Tag Removal

Skin tags are not cancerous and, in most cases, no treatment is required. However, some skin tags become problematic and may need to be removed. For example, if your dog’s skin tag is very large, prone to trauma, or constantly being nicked by the clippers during grooming, your veterinarian may recommend removal. Some owners also choose to have large skin tags removed for cosmetic reasons. 

Dog skin tag removal is often performed while your dog is anesthetized for some other procedure, such as a dental cleaning. Anesthetizing a dog solely for skin tag removal is rarely in the best interest of the dog, but it’s pretty easy to remove a skin tag while your dog is anesthetized for another routine procedure.  

Your dog will be left with a small incision that may or may not require skin sutures. 

Dog Skin Tag Removal Cost

In general, you can expect to pay approximately $100 for skin tag removal, in addition to the cost of the primary procedure. There may be additional charges if your veterinarian recommends histopathology.

Depending on the skin tag’s location and your dog’s temperament, your veterinarian may be able to remove your dog’s skin tag using sedation and a local anesthetic. In this case, your dog will not be fully anesthetized, but instead will be lightly sedated and have a local anesthetic injected around the skin tag. The cost of sedation, local anesthetic, and skin tag removal will likely be several hundred dollars.

Other Dog Skin Tag Treatments

There are no pills or ointment that will eliminate or shrink a dog skin tag—they require surgical removal. However, if your dog’s skin tag becomes ulcerated or inflamed due to trauma, your veterinarian may recommend a topical spray or ointment for treatment. The goal of these topical medications is to decrease inflammation and secondary infections, allowing your dog’s skin tag to return to its normal state.

Can You Prevent Dog Skin Tags?

Soft, padded bedding may decrease the formation of skin tags associated with friction. However, most skin tags have no identifiable underlying cause. Unfortunately, this means there’s nothing specific that you can do to prevent skin tags. 

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