Written by Vet

Dog Skin Tags: What Are They And What Causes Them?

Margarita Boyd
Written by: Dr. Margarita Boyd, BVSc MRCVS
It can be unpleasant or even upsetting if you discover a bump or a lump on your dog's skin. But, with our guide on skin tags in dogs, you will know exactly what to do when you find something unusual on the dog's skin.

As your dog gets older, it is common for them to develop a few skin tags. Although they might look unsightly, they are usually nothing to worry about and your dog probably won’t be bothered at all by the little growth.

However, how can you tell if it’s a skin tag or skin cancer?

In this article, we will take a detailed look at these little skin growths, including what causes them, what the treatment options are, and when you should be concerned about your dog’s skin tags.

What Are Skin Tags?

Skin tags are small, benign tumors that are often attached to the dog’s skin by a little stalk or peduncle. Benign means the tumor does not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body.

Skin tags are known by several different names including acrochordon, fibrovascular papillomas or fibroepithelial polyps.

If you were to look at the cells of a normal skin tag under a microscope you would find that it consists of fibrous tissue, fat cells, and normal epidermal skin cells. Fibrous tissue is made up of bundles of collagen.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in your dog’s body and needed to form connective tissues throughout the body including skin, muscles, and ligaments.

What Are The Signs Of Skin Tags?

Skin tags are more commonly found in older dogs but any breed can be affected. Common signs of skin tags include:

  • Usually they are the size of a grain of rice
  • A dog can have one or lots of skin tags
  • They may have a smooth or irregular surface
  • Their color can vary, but they are often pink
  • They may slowly grow bigger over time

They can form anywhere on the dog’s body but are more commonly found around the eyes, neck, elbows, tummy, and legs.

Sometimes owners can even get skin tags confused with ticks! Usually, these little skin growths are totally harmless, but sometimes they can bleed or get infected.

What Causes Skin Tags In Dogs?

Skin tags are made up of fibrous tissue composed of collagen.

Collagen is a normal component of the connective tissue throughout the dog’s body, including the skin, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

The cells that produce this connective tissue are called fibroblasts. If the fibroblasts on the skin become overactive then they start to produce an excess of fibrous tissue, resulting in a slow-growing mass on the skin. This is how a skin tag is formed.

The actual cause of skin tags is not fully understood, but it is thought to be a combination of a few different factors:

  • Skin rubbing: Skin tags tend to form where the skin forms a crease or rubs together
  • Age: More common in older dogs
  • Genetics

What To Do If Your Dog Has A Skin Tag Or Skin Lump?

Have It Checked Out

If you notice a lump, bump or skin tag on your dog’s body then it is best to go to your veterinarian to have it checked out.

Your veterinarian will do a full physical examination and closely check the lump.

They will be able to tell you if it is a skin tag or something else more worrisome such as skin cancer. Also, they may advise doing a test on the lump to check what type of cells are present, that way they can be 100% certain what they are dealing with.

Monitor The Skin Tag

It’s a good idea to take note of the skin tags location, appearance, and size. Taking a photo of the skin tag, with an object such as a coin or ruler, allows you to easily recheck the size in the future.

If your dog has a thick coat, then you could remove a little bit of hair around the skin tag using electric clippers. That will make it much easier to check for any changes.

Treatment For Skin Tags In Dogs

Apart from looking a little unsightly, a simple skin tag will usually cause a dog no pain or harm. Therefore, most skin tags in dogs don’t need any treatment at all.

If the skin tag stays the same shape, size, and color, and does not bother the dog then sometimes its best to just leave it alone.

1. Surgical Removal

However, surgical removal may be recommended for some skin tags. If the skin tag is in a prominent position near the eyelids or seems to be bothering the dog, then removal may be advised.

A skin tag that is growing bigger, or is a location where it can become irritated, bleeds or infected, then removal is usually recommended. The skin tag is often removed surgically when the dog is under an anesthetic.

2. Cryosurgery

Some vets might offer cryosurgery, using nitrous oxide or liquid nitrogen to “freeze” and destroy the abnormal tissue.

This procedure might be done with the dog awake with just a local anesthetic, or with the dog under sedation or general anesthetic. Usually, the skin tag would then fall off slowly over a few weeks.

3. Biopsy

If there is a concern that the skin tag appears abnormal then it should be biopsied or removed entirely and submitted for analysis.

A histopathologist in a veterinary laboratory can check the cells in the skin tag, to decide if it is benign or cancerous.

Recovery From Skin Tag Removal

Here are some helpful tips if your dog has a skin tag removed:

  • Prevent your dog from licking, biting or scratching the area. Depending on where the skin tag was removed you could use an Elizabethan collar, inflatable Buster collar or a dog surgery shirt.
  • Monitor the area for signs of infection: redness, swelling or discharge.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.
  • Bring your dog back to the vet clinic for his post-surgery check-up.
  • If your dog is showing signs of sickness or the area looks infected, bring your dog back to the vet clinic sooner.

If your dog has developed a skin tag, he will probably be prone to developing more skin tags in the future. Regularly check your dog’s skin for any changes.

When Should You Be Concerned About Skin Tags?

Most skin tags in dogs are nothing to worry about, and once checked out by your vet, you may just decide to monitor the growth. However, you should remember to closely monitor the skin tag for changes.

Get in the habit of checking your dog’s skin regularly, and take regular measurements or photos of any skin tags to track changes.

There are some instances when you should be concerned about a skin tag:

  • Increasing in size
  • Change in color
  • Swelling under the skin
  • Dog scratching, licking, biting the skin tag
  • Skin tag bleeding
  • Skin tag swollen and sore
  • Dog developing lots of skin tags

If you notice any of these changes, then it might be a sign of skin cancer.

Your vet will fully examine your dog and evaluate the lump. A fine needle aspirate or a biopsy may be performed to collect a sample to analyze the skin tag. These procedures can help to determine if the growth is benign or malignant (cancerous).

Skin Tags In Dogs – Conclusion

Skin tags are a common benign skin growth mainly found on older dogs. They are composed of fibrous collagen and usually grow to the size of a grain of rice.

Skin tags shouldn’t cause a dog any harm, and most of the time no treatment is needed, and the skin tag can just be monitored for any changes.

A veterinarian can confirm if your dog has a skin tag, or if it is another more worrisome skin growth or even cancer. Some skin tags may need to be surgically removed if they are increasing in size, bleeding, or in an area where they are causing a problem.

Get into the habit of regularly checking your dog’s skin for any lumps, bumps or growths and seek advice from your veterinarian if you find anything unusual.