This article was updated on May 1st, 2023
Our dogs may develop various lumps and bumps on their skin over time. You may have been running your fingers through your dog’s fur and discovered a new lump, or perhaps your dog has always been prone to skin growths. While many of these growths are harmless, dogs can unfortunately also develop skin cancer, so it’s important for owners to understand the difference.
The good news is that about two-thirds of skin masses in dogs are benign (non-cancerous). Although you can’t definitively diagnose a skin mass without performing laboratory testing, there are some clues that can help identify whether a new mass should be of concern. Skin tags are one such growth that can appear on your dog, but should you worry about them?
What is a skin tag?
A skin tag is a benign growth that develops on the surface of your dog’s skin. They vary in appearance with a range of different sizes and shapes. Many skin tags are pedunculated – this means that they are attached to the skin via a narrow stalk leaving them dangling in space.
What causes skin tags with dogs?
While the exact causes of skin tags are not completely understood, there are a few factors that may be involved. These include previous trauma to that area of skin, genetic factors, parasitic infection, poor skin hygiene, and skin infections. However, these causes are up for debate, and so the development of skin tags is out of our control.
When should you worry about a skin tag on a dog?
While skin tags are non-cancerous masses that generally don’t cause any harm to your dog, this doesn’t mean that they should be completely ignored.
Skin tags often develop on areas of your dog’s skin where there is high friction, such as areas that are in contact with the ground or their collar. Over time, constant rubbing of these skin tags will lead to irritation and may be painful for your dog. Damage to the surface of a skin tag also leaves it prone to infection. If your dog keeps rubbing or knocking a skin tag, then it might need to be surgically removed by your veterinarian.
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It’s very important to monitor and detect any change in size or color. Even benign skin masses have the potential to become malignant and so any sudden change in appearance should be examined by your veterinarian; so should ulcerated or bleeding masses.
Other signs of malignancy include:
- Your dog seems more irritated by their skin tag than before.
- Your dog’s skin tags appear to be painful when touched.
In the vast majority of cases, skin tags will remain the same for your dog’s lifespan and usually aren’t anything to worry about, but if you have any concerns then have your veterinarian test your dog’s lumps.
Pictures of skin tags on dogs
Skin tags are more common in older animals and large breed dogs, although any dog can develop a skin tag.
Sometimes also referred to as an acrochordon, fibroepithelial polyp, or hamartoma (amongst other names), a skin tag is formed from an overgrowth of collagen and small blood vessels and is essentially a ball of extra skin attached to the surface of your dog. Skin tags most commonly appear on the face, chest, armpits, and legs of your dog, but they can grow anywhere on your dog.
Different Types of Skin Tags on Dogs
- Fibroadnexal hamartoma
These are the most common type of skin tag seen in dogs and are composed of a mixture of collagen and blood vessels. They usually form in areas of high friction and are hairless. They are generally not serious unless they are constantly rubbing on the ground and causing irritation, in which case they can be removed.
- Follicular Hamartoma
These are a less common type of skin tag in dogs. They appear as a flat mass covered in hair. These are also benign and generally nothing to worry about as long as they aren’t causing irritation by rubbing or catching on objects. They can be removed surgically if necessary.
Can dog skin tags be cancerous?
Skin tags are benign and therefore not cancerous by definition. As long as a skin tag isn’t changing in shape, size, or color, then it is generally nothing to worry about. However, that isn’t to say that cancer can’t develop in or around the area of the skin tag. All cells have the possibility of mutating into cancer and therefore just because a skin tag once looked benign doesn’t mean that a different type of skin cancer can’t develop in the same area. It’s always a good idea to have any suspicious lumps tested by your vet, especially if they are changing in appearance.
How do you remove a skin tag from a dog?
If you think that a skin tag needs to be removed because it is bothering your dog or repeatedly getting caught on objects, then there are right and wrong ways to do so.
- How do you get rid of skin tags on dogs naturally?
Some skin tags may shrink over time, but very rarely will they disappear completely. So, there is no ‘natural’ way to remove a skin tag.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
- Can I remove my dog’s skin tag myself?
It is not a good idea for an owner to try and remove a skin tag themselves at home. Not only will it be painful for your dog, but it will likely create an open wound that is susceptible to infection. Skin tags should only be removed surgically under sedation or a general anesthetic. This ensures that the skin tag won’t come back and allows the skin to heal properly.
- Can I cut off a skin tag with nail clippers?
Absolutely not. For the same reasons mentioned above, this will create an open wound for infection and be extremely painful for your dog. It is also highly likely that the skin tag will grow back.
- Do skin tags grow back once removed?
If removed surgically by your veterinarian, it is unlikely that a skin tag will grow back as the surgery aims to remove all the cells that make up the lump. If a skin tag is removed at home, however, the likelihood of recurrence is higher as it is unlikely that all of the mass is removed successfully.
- How will my vet remove a skin tag?
Your vet will remove the skin tag in its entirety by cutting it off with a scalpel blade. The remaining incision will then be carefully stitched back together. It is also possible to cryogenically freeze a skin tag until it drops off.
Is It Really a Skin Tag? Things that Look Like Skin Tags but Are NOT
There are many other things that can masquerade as a skin tag in dogs. It is therefore important to be able to recognize what is and what isn’t a skin tag, as the treatment may be very different.
A tick is a parasite that buries its head into your dog’s skin in order to feed on blood, gross! As the tick feeds, its body swells up to the point where, to the untrained eye, it can look suspiciously similar to a skin tag. However, when you look closely at a tick you may notice small legs coming from the body; ticks are often whiter in color also. Furthermore, it’s often painful for your dog to have a tick – if they react when they touch the ‘skin tag’ it is more likely to be a tick. It’s important to have ticks professionally removed as if you try to do so yourself you may leave the head buried in the skin, resulting in extreme irritation.
Dog warts, like skin tags, are benign lumps on your dog’s skin. They are caused by an infection with a virus known as canine papillomavirus, and while they generally won’t cause any harm to your dog, they can be easily mistaken for cancerous tumors. Therefore, it’s always important to have them checked by your vet. If you are not sure if your dog has a wart or a skin tag, make sure you read our article: Is it a Wart or a Skin Tag?
While the difference may be obvious to many, skin tags can be easily mistaken for your dog’s nipples. Both male and female dogs have nipples, and females’ nipples will often enlarge when they are in heat. This is often the time that owners will mistake a nipple for a skin tag. Think about where the ‘skin tags’ are. Are they symmetrical on each side of your dog’s chest? If so, it’s likely a nipple, and so it certainly shouldn’t be removed!
Skin Tags Q&A with Dr. Alex Crow, Veterinarian
What about black skin tags?
Skin naturally contains a pigment known as melanin, which gives skin its darker color. Since skin tags are composed of skin cells, it’s possible that skin tags can appear darker or even black. While this generally isn’t of too much concern, if an old skin tag has recently turned black, it might be a sign of something more sinister. A type of cancerous tumor known as a malignant melanoma can easily be mistaken for a black skin tag, therefore it’s better to be safe and have any new dark lumps tested by your vet.
Should I be worried about dog skin tag bleeding?
Skin tags may bleed if your dog keeps catching them on objects around the house. This can become irritating for both you and your dog, and so is a valid reason to have an otherwise benign skin tag removed. However, if a skin tag spontaneously bleeds or appears ulcerated, without any apparent trauma, then it may be a sign of malignancy; cancerous masses often ooze blood, so get any bleeding lumps checked out by your vet.
What about skin tags on my dog’s eyes?
One location where skin tags can develop is on or around the eyelids. While these masses are benign, they can impede your dog’s vision or even rub on the surface of the eye resulting in eye ulcers and conjunctivitis. If your dog has a lump near their eye that is bothering them, then it might be a good idea to have it surgically removed by your vet.
Lumps and Bumps?
If you are not sure if your dog’s lump or bump is a skin tag, wart, tumor, cyst, or something else, view our picture gallery or our page: is it a wart or a skin tag? Remember that it can be challenging to determine the true nature of a bump or lump just by looking at it. A veterinary examination is required in most cases.
A skin tag has developed near the left leg, on the loose skin and he is licking it often.