Skin tags on dogs are common and are generally harmless. However, it can be worrying to find a lump on your furry friend, especially if it’s new.
Although most lumps on our dogs are benign (non-cancerous) fatty tumors, it’s always best to have them checked by a veterinarian who can confirm it.
If your dog does have a skin tag, it won’t usually need any treatment. So what are they, and how do you identify them?
What are skin tags on dogs?
A skin tag (acrochordon) is a small harmless growth. It can appear anywhere on your dog’s body but is most likely to appear where skin rubs on skin. Common places for tags to appear are armpits, inside of back legs, and sometimes around the neck.
Despite looking a little like warts, skin tags are not caused by a virus. Warts have a thick base that sits close against the flesh. In contrast, skin tags are often teardrop-shaped, with the skin at the base appearing pinched. Skin tags are also soft, whereas warts feel hard to the touch.
Skin tags on dogs vary in shape and color but commonly look like a small teardrop or a flattened lump of skin. They often dangle away from the body and should not cause any discomfort to your dog if touched or handled.
Most dog skin tags will be relatively small, a few millimeters at most, but they have been known to grow to the size of a grape. It’s those big lumps that tend to cause most problems. Because of their size, they can get caught or rubbed. If this happens, the skin tag may bleed or become inflamed and can cause your dog discomfort.
What causes skin tags in dogs?
There is ongoing debate as to why dogs get skin tags, but one common theory is that environmental factors play a significant role:
- Skin irritants
- Improper skincare
As most skin tags commonly appear where there is skin on, skin friction seems to support the idea that they grow from previous damage to the skin.
Ticks, fleas, and mites pose a problem for our dogs despite their diminutive size. Direct damage to the skin from these bugs and resulting allergies can create inflammation and cause the skin to become vulnerable. Once the skin has healed, skin tags are more likely to develop.
Environmental irritants also seem to be key indicators of whether a skin tag will develop. Anything from seasonal allergies to a poorly fitted harness can cause damage to soft tissue. This damage is thought to prime the skin to go on to develop abnormalities. Also, with our sometimes over-enthusiastic desire to wash our dogs, it’s possible to strip away the natural oils from their coats, leaving them dry and susceptible to damage.
Genetic factors may also influence whether your dog will be affected by skin tags—some breeds, like the Cocker Spaniel being more prone than other breeds. That said, no matter how careful you are with your do, as they age, they are more likely to go on to develop lumps, bumps, and skin growths.
When should I be concerned?
Since most skin tags are harmless, they don’t need medical intervention or removal. However, there are certain circumstances where it’s wise to pay for a trip to your vet.
If you notice any of the following signs, you should book a veterinary appointment straight away:
- Skin tags around the mouth or lips
- Bleeding or discharge
- Pain or discomfort when touched
- Change in color, size, or shape
- Large tags that are rubbed or appear sore
Your vet can advise you if your dog needs to have their skin tags removed. Despite plenty of online advice about removing skin tags, please don’t. Not all skin tags are what they seem. You risk making the situation worse by causing your dog pain or making your dog vulnerable to infection. A skin tag is live tissue; if you cut it, it will bleed.
If your dog isn’t bothered by its skin tags, then leave well alone.
Other lumps, bumps, and cysts
Unfortunately, not all lumps are harmless. Skin tags, although highly unlikely, have been known to become cancerous.
As they are not the only skin abnormalities out there, it’s essential to be vigilant and regularly inspect your dog’s skin. If you notice a growth on your dog, it’s a good idea to contact your veterinarian. As your dog ages, this is especially important when they are more likely to develop these problems.
Fatty lumps can develop at any age but are most common in overweight and older dogs. They form just underneath the skin surface. Although most are harmless, they can irritate your dog depending on where they develop.
A visit to your vet is vital since it’s impossible to identify the nature of the tumor at home. A biopsy can clarify the type of lump it is and ensure that it is benign.
Mast cell tumor
Almost twenty percent of all tumors found in dogs are mast cell tumors. Although this doesn’t automatically mean that the lump is cancerous, these types of lumps are the most common cause of skin cancer in dogs.
The tumors can vary widely in appearance and can develop at any stage of your dog’s life. They can be found on or under the skin and may be small or large. Some dogs like beagles and schnauzers are more genetically prone to developing them, so they should be monitored closely.
Mast cell tumors provide a strong argument for going to see your vet as soon as you notice a skin abnormality on your canine companion. Early diagnosis is essential if the lump is malignant.
Warts are harmless and are caused by a virus. Despite looking horrible, they often disappear on their own. Unless it is causing your dog discomfort, there is not usually any need for medical intervention.
Skin tags on dogs, the need to be vigilant
If you notice any abnormalities on or under your dog’s skin, then it’s wise to get it checked out. Despite skin tags usually being harmless, it is not always easy to identify them correctly.
Once your vet has confirmed that the lump on your dog is a skin tag, you still need to be vigilant. Any changes in its shape, color, or size should be monitored and reported back to your vet. In rare cases, skin tags on dogs can become cancerous. If your dog has them around their mouth or gets a skin stage caught and starts to bleed or develop a discharge, particular attention is needed.
Despite the need to be careful, skin tags on dogs are very common and often harmless. Most dogs will not even notice they have them unless they have grown in an awkward place that rubs.
If you are tempted to get them removed for aesthetic reasons, consider whether it’s worth putting your dog through an unnecessary procedure. Even if your vet does get rid of them, there is no guarantee that your dog won’t develop more.
So if you can learn to love every lump and bump on your dog while keeping an eye on them, too, there is no need to do more.