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Health & Wellness

What to know if your dog has skin tags

Skin tags on dogs are rarely a cause of concern, but it’s still worth keeping an eye on them.

Whenever you notice a new bump or change to your dog’s skin, it’s worth paying attention. While most of the time skin growths, like skin tags, are benign and unlikely to cause problems, there are situations where they should be checked out and addressed by a veterinarian. Here’s what you need to keep in mind if your dog has skin tags.

What are skin tags on dogs?

Just as humans can develop small skin growths, dogs can, too. “Skin tags are very common in our canine companions, especially as they get older and their immune system starts to decline,” Dr. Linda Simon, MVB, MRCVS, a veterinary surgeon and a veterinary consultant for FiveBarks, explains. “Most skin tags are easily diagnosed within the consulting room. They are fleshy, skin-colored and loosely attached to the skin itself. They are benign growths that grow slowly and will not spread around the body.”

And while any dog may develop skin tags over time, Dr. Simon specifies that certain breeds, like poodles and Jack Russell Terriers, seem to be particularly predisposed. This means there may be a genetic component at play.

Common locations for skin tags

Skin tags can develop anywhere on the body, but some areas seem particularly prone to growths. “They’re often located in areas with high friction. For example, areas in contact with the dog’s collar,” Dr. Alex Crow, a veterinary surgeon at SeniorTailWaggers.com, says. So, if you notice a growth around your dog’s collar, or in other high-friction areas, like the armpit or abdomen, it may very well be a skin tag.

Infected or cancerous skin tags on dogs

While skin tags on dogs are almost always benign, there are some important reasons to keep an eye on them, especially if one has developed in a high-friction area. “Regular rubbing and friction can lead to irritation, pain and even infections,” Dr. Crow says. “In these cases, skin tags might need to be removed by your veterinarian.”

Likewise, Dr. Simon points out that larger growths or those impacting daily living might also need to be removed. “A skin tag that impedes vision or constantly gets infected should be removed,” she says.

And while skin tags themselves aren’t typically cancerous, it’s important to note any significant changes. “It’s important to monitor your dog’s skin tags to detect changes in size, shape or color,” Dr. Crow says. “Even benign skin tags can mutate and become malignant, so any change in appearance should be investigated. Similarly, if your dog seems more irritated by their skin tag than before, or if they appear in pain when their skin tags are touched, that can be a sign of malignancy.”

RELATED:Types of lumps and bumps on dogs

Skin tag removal on dogs

Skin tag removal should never be tried at home. Even though pulling or cutting off a skin tag may seem simple, this can easily lead to infection and more problems. If you think a skin tag needs to be removed, make an appointment with your vet. The process is simple and can usually be done in the vet’s office with a local anesthetic and a few stitches. 

Skin tag or tick?

If you see something on your dog’s skin and you’re not sure if it’s a skin tag or a tick, you’re not alone. “It’s relatively common for an owner to think a skin tag is a tick,” Dr. Simon says. “However, they are easily distinguished from one another. A tick will only live on a dog for 3-5 days and has visible dark legs and a mouth piece. They are shiny and uniform and grow quickly as they eat the dog’s blood. On the other hand, a skin tag is usually present for months or years, growing at an imperceptible rate and causing the dog no bother.”

Regardless, any new change or bump on your dog’s skin should be paid attention to. While most growths are harmless, anything that causes pain, irritation or appears infected should be checked out by a vet. Your vet will be able to help determine whether a skin tag needs to be removed or biopsied to make sure it’s not something more serious.

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The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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