Why Do Dogs Get Skin Tags?

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What does it mean if your dog developments a weird lump on their skin? Is it a sign for concern or completely harmless? Even the most veteran dog owner can be caught off guard.

As responsible pet owners, we should make sure that our dogs are in tip-top shape. So, if your canine friend develops a strange lump, here’s everything you need to know.

can dogs get skin tags

Can Dogs Get Skin Tags?

It may come as a surprise, but dogs can develop skin tags just like humans. Skin tags, those weird lumps and bumps under or above the skin, can come in all shapes and sizes.

While they’re typically harmless, they can also be a symptom of more serious problems with your dog. As such, it’s important to determine the cause of their development and rule out your worries.

First, you’ll have to ensure they’re actually skin tags, not warts.

Skin Tags vs. Warts

Skin tags are different than warts. Unlike skin tags, warts are often caused by the papillomatosis virus.

This means that warts are contagious and can be spread through fluids or skin to skin contact. This also means that warts will often go away on their own, once your dog’s immune system has defeated the virus.

Like skin tags, they also don’t need to be removed. Unless warts are growing in locations that are distressing to your dog, like near the eyes, mouth, or on their paws, warts do not need a trip to the vet.

Warts will be shaped differently from skin tags. They may have a wrinkled shape, like a head of cauliflower. They may also appear as a lump with a dot in the middle, or otherwise a lump with an irregular surface.

Finally, they tend to be darker than the usual skin tag.

What Are Skin Tags?

So how can you be positive they’re skin tags? Skin tags are made of fibrous tissue, typically of excess skin or fatty deposits.

Skin tags can appear as a single bump or many. They start out looking like a small, fleshy growth, and may appear similar to a wart on humans.

They can arrive on pretty much any area of the body, but are commonly found on the face, legs, and belly.

Unlike warts on humans, doggy skin tags do not calcify. They remain soft to the touch and are the same color of the dog’s skin.


What Causes Skin Tags on Dogs?

Simply put, there’s no definitive answer as to why dogs develop skin tags. However, there are a few theories as to why skin tags appear.

can dogs get skin tags

Environmental Factors

Skin tags may be caused by the presence of bacteria and viruses. As rowdy as dogs are, they aren’t always keen on staying away from dirty and harmful environments.

Cleaning agents, soil, and bacteria from their local park, backyard, or your home may seep into your dog’s skin, causing growths. Experts have also identified mold as a possible cause for skin tags.

To avoid skin tags caused by bacteria and viruses, try to clean the spaces that your dog regularly frequents, like their beds and play areas.

Avoid using strong chemicals on surfaces; instead, opt for more natural ways to keep your environment clean. Regular baths and grooming are also necessary to avoid bacteria and viruses.

Parasites

A dog is frequently exposed to many different parasites, like mites, fleas, ticks, and lice. They bite, irritating the skin and making your dog scratch the area.

These bites can lead to inflammation, or even infection, making your dog more susceptible to bacteria and viruses.

Irritating Products and Accessories

Certain chemicals and ingredients in shampoos, conditioners, or lotions can irritate your dog’s skin, potentially triggering the development of skin tags.

When buying skin-care products, look for ones that are hypoallergenic. These products are less harsh and do not contain unnecessary dyes or fragrances that can harm your dog’s skin.

Similarly, irritation to your dog’s skin can be a result of accessories. Sometimes, owners do not check if a collar is properly fitted to their dogs.

Collars or harnesses that tightly constrain your pet will cause skin irritation, rashes, rub marks, and other discomforts. This is also true for dog clothes, which can be made of a material that reacts badly with your dog’s skin.

Be sure to monitor how your dog reacts to the material, and once you’re positive it’s not just a preference issue, consider re-evaluating the material or fit.

skin tag on dog turning black

Too Much Bathing

While bathing is obviously necessary, it’s possible to bathe your dog too often. Like humans, there are natural oils in their skin which exist to protect against grime or dirt.

Washing this off too frequently can leave their skin bare and sore. This is further exasperated by harsh shampoos, conditioners, and soaps that strip natural oils or that contain irritating chemicals.

This irritation will leave them open to bacteria or fool their body into thinking it needs added protection – and the result is excess tissue: a skin tag.

How do you know if your bathing routine is too frequent? This greatly depends on their breed, activity level, and the environment they live in.

For example, large and active dogs that play in dusty backyards will produce more oils and become far dirtier. However, as a rule of thumb, it’s wise to bathe a healthy dog once a month.

Should your dog need to be bathed more often, be sure to use mild, hypoallergenic products.

Poor Nutrition

Not eating well can also result in skin tags. An unhealthy diet weakens your dog’s immune system, making them more susceptible to bacteria and viruses.

Be sure their food contains as many vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients as recommended for their breed.

Frequent exercise is also crucial, as lethargy can lead to other health issues that lower their immune system.

Genetics

On the other hand, sometimes there’s nothing to be done to avoid skin tags.

A dog’s genes can give them a propensity for this excess tissue development, and they may grow several tags and continue to throughout their lives.

How Harmful Are Skin Tags?

Just like with humans, most skin tags on dogs are harmless. Often times, they begin as small growths, and do not grow into anything more.

However, there’s still a chance that this is a signal of illness.

How to Determine Harmful Skin Tags

Since skin growths tend to look alike, it can be hard to determine which are harmless. When should you be worried?

skin tags on dogs

Skin tags that have a different color should be suspect. Be wary for those that have a foul odor, contain fluid, and those that look irritated and inflamed.

Dark and domed growths are also a cause for concern. If you notice any of these growths on your dog, bring them to a vet as soon as possible.

Treating Skin Tags

When seeking a professional assessment, your vet will try to identify the type of growth to ensure that it isn’t harmful.

They will ask you to monitor the growth on your dog and take note if it changes in size, color, or becomes irritated.

When necessary, your vet will have your dog undergo a few procedures to rule out serious problems, such as:

Cytology or Fine Needle Aspiration

Cytology is the procedure by which collected tissue is examined under a microscope. This can help veterinarians determine whether a dog is ill, and if so, what type of illness it is.

The most common technique in cytology is called fine needle aspiration.

Fine needle aspiration, also known as a fine needle biopsy, can be used to examine growths on the skin. This is done by taking cells directly from the growth, using a needle and syringe.

In this way, tissue cells or fluid are aspirated from inside the growth. This is then examined under a microscope to determine the growth’s status – benign or harmful?

Sometimes, the results of this biopsy are inconclusive. However, they can provide helpful data for vets to determine the next course of action.

This video explains more about skin cytology in dogs.

Histology or Skin Biopsy

If the results of the cytology aren’t sufficient, your veterinarian may have your dog undergo histology. Histology is the microscopic examination of tissue. To do this, the sample must be collected surgically.

Dogs who undergo a skin biopsy will need to be put under anesthetics or have the area numbed, so as to ensure they don’t feel any pain during the surgery.

This type of procedure often doesn’t take long and doesn’t require stitches or heavy medication, as the sample will only need to be small.

The sample is then taken to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope.

Skin biopsies are designed to determine if a growth is malignant or benign. If you have a surgical growth removed from your dog, it’s always wise to have it sent for a biopsy to confirm if that growth signals further issues.

When to Remove Skin Tags on Dogs

While malignant tags should definitely be removed, tags that are benign may need to be removed as well.

Tags that are too large or are in a location that is prone to irritation (like on the joints or the face) should also be removed.

Tags that your dog can easily reach or those located in places that can get caught on objects, like fences, should be removed.

This is because tags that can be easily damaged will be more prone to irritation. Tags that are always irritated will cause extreme discomfort to your dog and should also be removed.

How to Have the Tags Removed

Tags can be removed by a veterinarian through surgery. This is a very quick procedure, akin to taking a biopsy.

Before proceeding, your vet will consider your dog’s age and health to ensure that there won’t be complications. Vets will often refuse to operate on a dog that is advanced in age, especially for a tag that is benign.

Once they have cleared your dog for the procedure, your vet will clear the affected area of fur, clean it, and then apply anesthetic. Then they will proceed to cut off the skin tag.

After your dog’s skin tag is removed, it’s important to keep an eye on that area. Make sure to change the bandages regularly and ensure that your dog doesn’t scratch the area.

dog skin tag bleeding

Take note of any instructions that your vet may give you, so as to ensure your dog’s recovery is as speedy as possible.

Other than cutting off the skin tag, your vet may also opt to tie off a skin tag. This procedure is less invasive, but it takes longer, and may not be as effective.

Tying off a skin tag requires cutting off the blood flow to the skin tag, so that the skin will dry up and fall off.

The skin tag may swell over the course of a few hours or a few days. You should notice the skin tag on your dog turning black, flattening, and falling off on its own.

To ensure that your dog doesn’t scratch the tag, you may need a t-shirt or protective cone. You will also need to change the shirt, if you choose this, as the tag will discharge fluid. For a large dog skin tag, bleeding may be more likely.

The tag will drop off after three days. If it takes longer than this, it means that the tie hasn’t been properly secured and should be tightened.

A member of Pet Helpful detailed the experience of a vet tying off her dog’s skin tag, so you can feel more comfortable with the process.

Here’s a video showing an example of skin tags on dogs.

Conclusion

Skin tags may not be the most concerning issue, but they’re one of the most common. Skin tags come in all shapes and sizes, and each of them requires attention to ensure they don’t cause any harm to your dog.

Thankfully, they’re usually harmless. With the right diet, enough exercise, and adjustments to your bathing routine, you can rest easy knowing that your dog will likely not develop a harmful skin tag.


Do you have experience with skin tags on dogs?

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