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Skin Tags On Dogs: What Are They And What Do They Mean?

Written by Ella White

Updated

brown retriever lying on grass

Just like humans, dogs can develop skin tags. These small growths can appear anywhere on dogs, and though they’re usually harmless they can cause some alarm to owners when they’re spotted for the first time.

In this blog we’ll look at what causes skin tags on dogs, whether skin tags are a health risk, and if they need to be treated or removed.

What Are Skin Tags On Dogs?

A skin tag is a small growth like a mole that appears on the skin. Usually, they are benign though they can easily become damaged or infected. Also known as fibrovascular papillomas, a skin tag can be identified as a firm and flat lump on the skin, though sometimes they can feel soft and squishy.

Skin tags are fairly common in dogs, and even more so in older dogs and larger breeds. They vary in size and can be flat on the skin, or ‘dangling’ away from the skin on a thin stalk. On dogs, these tags tend to appear in bony areas like the elbows, ankles, hips, sternum, and armpits. They can also develop on the face and body, including on the eyelids. 

If it’s not infected, bleeding, or filled with pus it should not cause your dog any discomfort. However, contact between bony body parts and hard floors can cause skin tags in these areas some damage.

What Causes Skin Tags On Dogs?

Because dogs of all breeds and ages can develop skin tags, it’s largely believed that they are genetic. Some can also be caused by repetitive trauma to the skin that causes inflammation, like rubbing or contact with hard floors and other surfaces. However, overall there is no clear cause.

The armpit, chest, and abdomen are fairly common areas for dogs to develop skin tags because they experience more friction. But the good news is, whatever the cause, it’s unlikely to be painful or contagious, and it probably won’t need to be removed. Unlike warts which can grow back and even spread, skin tags are simply a cosmetic issue that can largely be left alone.

Diagnosing Skin Tags On Dogs

If you’ve noticed a growth on your dog that you believe to be a skin tag, it’s best to have it checked by your vet. Though probably benign and unproblematic, your vet will be able to confirm that it is indeed a skin tag and not a sign of a more serious health issue.

To diagnose, the vet will complete a physical examination. This should be all that’s needed to identify the skin tag as such. They might also recommend a further test to determine whether it’s actually a tumor.

Are Skins Tags On Dogs A Problem?

Skin tags on dogs are usually not a sign of any health problems. It’s unlikely that your vet will recommend a surgical removal unless it’s appeared somewhere that could become problematic. 

If your dog’s skin tag sits away from the skin, it can get caught and pull on objects, particularly during grooming. If this is a common occurrence, or if the skin tag is infected or bleeding or appears to be growing, it might be more comfortable for your dog in the long run to have it removed.

If you notice it’s changing in size or color, if more skin tags form in the same area, or if it's bleeding or oozing and appears to be causing your dog discomfort then you should return to the vet for further examination and diagnosis.

Treating My Dog’s Skin Tag

If your dog’s skin tag does need to be treated, this should always be done professionally. Trying to treat or remove a skin tag at home can be painful and lead to further health issues for your dog.

To remove a skin tag, your vet will put your dog under a local anesthetic and surgically remove the growth. Your dog should be able to return home the same day and will require monitoring of the affected area for a few weeks following the procedure. 

The wound will need to be checked for healthy healing and to ensure your dog has not licked or scratched at it, causing further damage.

Do I Need To Get My Dog’s Skin Tag Removed?

Before you decide to get your dog’s skin tag remove, there are some factors to consider:

  • Does it need to be removed for medical reasons? If not, you could be putting your dog under medical stress (and racking up vets bills) for no reason other than to correct a minor aesthetic abnormality.
  • Is your dog’s skin tag in a fold of skin? If so, your vet might recommend surgery to reduce the fold, rather than the skin tag.
  • Is your dog’s skin tag caused by repeated trauma or rubbing on hard surfaces? If so, ensure they always have access to soft bedding and blankets to prevent injury.
  • Have there been changes to the skin tag or have new skin tags appeared? In this case, your vet may recommend removal.
  • Has there been a quick change to the skin tag? In this case your vet might advise further testing and possibly removal.
  • Is the skin tag in an area that causes discomfort or regular irritation, such as the eyelid? If so, your vet may recommend removal.