It can be a frightening moment for a dog owner: You're petting your beloved companion and notice a small growth on your dog's skin. It's easy to jump to the worst conclusions, but the truth is that small skin growths known as skin tags are very common among our canine friends. And in most cases, they're nothing to worry about.
You're likely to find a few lumps and bumps on your dog as you go through life together, especially as your dog gets older. Older dogs are more prone to various growths, including skin tags. The important thing is to avoid jumping to any conclusions. Skin tags on dogs are usually harmless.
Read on to learn more about skin tags on dogs, as well as other growths and things that you might mistake for skin tags. You'll also learn when you should be concerned about skin tags and whether to ask your DVM (Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine) or veterinary professional about removal.
A skin tag is a small, fleshy skin growth that can appear on any area around a dog's body. Known medically as acrochordons or fibroepithelial polyps, these growths are typically composed of collagen and blood vessels covered with skin. In most cases, skin tags on dogs are benign growths (meaning that they're non-cancerous), and they only cause a dog discomfort if they're located in an area that bothers your pet. For example, a skin tag located in the armpit could make walking uncomfortable.
Your dog's skin tag might appear as a small, raised bump on the skin, or it could be dangling from a small "stalk." (You’ll see the main round part of the skin tag protruding away from the body on a small “stalk” of skin.) Some skin tags remain the same size forever, while some grow or change in shape and size over time. They most commonly appear on your dog's chest, stomach, legs, armpits, face, eyelids, and nose.
Veterinary professionals don't know exactly why skin tags on dogs occur. They often appear on areas of your dog's body where skin rubs against skin, so some believe that friction plays a role in their development. Parasites, lackluster skin care, skin irritation, or over-grooming may also play a role.
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Other kinds of growths can appear on your dog's skin besides skin tags. Sometimes, it's easy to mistake one of these growths for a skin tag. But since some can cause problems, it's important to know what you're looking at. That way, you can seek your veterinarian’s help if necessary.
Let's take a look at some other common skin growths that could be mistaken for skin tags on dogs:
Benign viral warts, also known as papillomas, are another common type of skin growth that appears on dogs. Dog warts often appear around the mouth, but they can occur anywhere on a dog's body. They're usually harmless and may disappear and then reappear over time.
How can you tell the difference between warts and skin tags on dogs? Warts appear as small, round lumps or bumps, whereas skin tags are often more tear-shaped and may protrude more from the body. And dog warts are usually darker than your dog's skin, while a skin tag is the same color as the rest of the skin.
Because of the teardrop-shaped appearance of ticks, it’s common to think skin tags on dogs are actually ticks. However, if you tug on a skin tag thinking it's a tick, it can be painful for your pet. Be sure to take a closer look to identify ticks and remove them safely. If it’s a tick, it’ll be black or gray and have its signature eight legs.
Just like you, your dog can develop scabs on almost any part of the body. This can happen because the cat scratched your pet or because they ran through a thicket of thorn bushes outside, for example.
Sometimes, scabs can be mistaken for skin tags. But while a skin tag will be flesh-colored, scabs are usually dark brown, black, or reddish in color and typically make less of a raised bump than a skin tag.
Don't try to remove a scab, and try to prevent your dog from chewing or biting it. If your dog's scab is particularly large or you think it's causing your pet discomfort, let your vet know.
Fatty tumors, or lipomas, are another relatively common growth found on dogs. They appear as bumps that form underneath the skin's surface, and they may stay the same size or grow over time. Fatty tumors are particularly common among dogs that are older or overweight.
Luckily, they're harmless — lipomas are benign. However, lipomas can cause irritation depending on where they grow, just like skin tags, so removal might be required in some cases.
Mast-cell tumors can develop on dogs of any age and can vary in appearance. Generally, they're bumps that develop on or underneath the skin. Mast-cell tumors are cancerous and can be hazardous to your dog's health — you'll want to seek the help of a veterinarian to find out whether a bump is potentially cancerous.
Skin tags are usually harmless and may not require any medical intervention at all. But it's easy for a skin tag to become irritated, whether it's because your dog licks or chews at it or the skin tag rubs against a collar or another part of the body.
If you spot a skin tag on your dog, look for these signs of a potential problem:
Let your vet know if you spot any of these signs. You'll want to set up an appointment to have your dog's skin growth examined as soon as possible.
If a skin tag needs to be removed because the above signs are present or it’s causing your dog discomfort, there are several ways your vet might approach it. Small growths can be removed by giving a local anesthetic, then snipping the growth or freezing it off (a process known as cryosurgery).
Larger growths, growths found in a sensitive area, or growths causing irritation might require a different approach. Sedation or general anesthesia might be needed. Then, your vet can take off the skin tag while your pup is unconscious.
Skin tags are usually identified based simply on physical observation. For growths that aren't skin tags, your vet will probably need to take extra steps to identify it before deciding to remove it. A biopsy might be required to determine if a lump is cancerous or not. Something called a fine-needle aspiration is a common type of biopsy for lumps. It involves using a very thin needle to take a sample of the mass. This procedure is quick, virtually painless for your pooch, and minimally invasive, so it's a great diagnostic choice for veterinarians.
Similar to skin tags, your vet can get rid of growths like warts or tumors through surgical removal or cryosurgery. Of course, this will likely require local anesthesia or full sedation.
Whether your dog's skin growth is a skin tag or some other kind of growth, don’t use home remedies or DIY approaches to remove it. This can lead to bleeding, irritation, infection, and other unsafe results. Instead, let your veterinarian take a look.
No one likes to find a strange growth on their dog. It's scary to feel an abnormal bump as you’re petting your dog, or to hear your pet's groomer say they found something out of the ordinary.
Most of the time, a growth will be nothing more than a benign skin tag — a small outgrowth of flesh that doesn't cause your dog any harm whatsoever. The only time skin tags on dogs are a cause for concern is if they appear irritated or they're causing your dog discomfort.
If you aren't sure whether your dog's skin growth is a skin tag or something else, check with your vet. Warts, fatty tumors, mast-cell tumors, and other types of growths should be evaluated by your veterinary professional.
Maintaining your dog's nutrition properly means you're keeping the skin healthy, too. That can help avoid skin growths, including skin tags or other growths, in the first place. Our Probiotic for Dogs is a great way to provide an extra boost of nutrition for the whole body. And since evidence shows that probiotics can positively effect canine skin health, especially for dogs with allergies, it might be the perfect choice for your pet.Do you want to read more great articles about your dog's health and wellness? Visit the Native Pet blog.
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