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Overview of Dog Skin Tags
The medical terms for a dog skin tag is an acrochordon or acrochorda (pleural) and are also known as a fibroepithelial polyp.
A skin tag can be described as a growth of skin with a small narrow base. It is generally the color of the underlying skin but can be slightly darker. Dog skin tags are often about the size of a grain of rice but can be bigger or smaller and some can be very long in dogs. Most dog skin tags look like small pieces of hanging or dangling skin. Dog skin tags are permanent growths unless you have them removed.
The most common location for dog skin tags is around the face, head, neck, armpits, eyelids, elbow and chest, but can occur anywhere on the body. They can occur in clusters, especially on the chest (sternum) in a heavy deep chested dog. Skin tags are also common in humans and also frequently occur around the face, head, face and upper chest.
A dog skin tag is considered a benign type of tumor. Benign tumors are proliferations of cells that do not invade other tissues or spread to other locations. A true skin tag is generally painless and harmless. They generally do not change over time into something cancerous.
Their significance is largely cosmetic, as pet owners may not like how they look on their pet. They may need removal if they inhibit any important function, become damaged and bleed, or become a nuisance. They can create issues when grooming, as they can be accidentally cut. Other problem can occur if a collar rubs on the tag causing it to break open, bleed, or become infected.
The cause for skin tags is largely unknown although there are some breed predispositions e.g. they are more common in Great Danes, Bulldogs, and boxers. Friction is thought to be a factor in some skin tag clusters on the chest that can occur in large deep-chested dog breeds. They can occur at any age but are more common in dogs as they age and are most common in dogs over the age of 7 or 8 years.
Many pet owners confuse a dog skin tag with a canine sebaceous adenoma or common dog “wart”. Learn more about Sebaceous Adenomas (LINK PENDING) and Canine Viral Papillomas (Dog Warts). This article has a helpful section about how to tell a skin tag from a wart – go to “What to do if Your Dog Has a Skin Tag” (Pillar article – link pending).
Diagnosis of Skin Tags (Acrochordon or Fibroepithelial Polyps) in Dogs
The diagnosis of a skin tag in your dog will largely be by the history and physical examination. Generally, veterinarians can diagnose a dog skin tag be looking at it. It is generally soft, attached to the underlying skin with a narrow stalk, hairless, easily moveable, and flesh colored.
Your veterinarian may take a complete history and ask questions about any growth that may include:
- How long has the skin tag been there on your dog?
- Is there only one skin tag or are there others?
- Has it gotten larger or smaller or changes in appearance?
- Does the skin tag appear to be attached to the underlying skin?
- How fast is it is growing?
- Have there been any recent injuries or injections?
- Are there any changes in your pet’s behavior, such as eating less, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea or lethargy?
- Are there any other lumps, tumors, masses, or growths?
- Have you done anything to “treat” or remove the skin tag?
- A complete physical exam will be done and your veterinarian will pay particular attention to the appearance of the mass, whether it is hot or painful, whether it is within the skin or under the skin, if it is attached to underlying tissues and where it is located on the body.
Additional tests may include:
- An aspirate of the mass with a small needle may be done to collect cells for staining and examination under a microscope (cytology). This test usually requires no anesthesia and often leads to a diagnosis.
- If the mass is ulcerated or draining fluid, a microscope slide may be touched to the fluid to make an impression for microscopic examination.
- A biopsy may be taken to send to a veterinary pathologist for examination. The biopsy may involve removing the entire mass or removing a piece of the mass.
- A piece of tissue may be submitted for culture if infectious agents such as bacteria or fungi are suspected.
These tests are generally not required for a typical dog skin tag.
What to Watch For
Any new lump or bump should be evaluated right away, especially a lump that is rapidly growing, is warm or painful, is ulcerated or bleeding, is irregular in shape or is well attached to the tissues under the skin.
Any of the above signs should prompt you to seek veterinary attention.
Treatment of Dog Skin Tags
Treatment depends on the cause of the mass. If the growth is diagnosed as a true skin tag, no treatment is required. However, some skin tags can be irritated by leashes, collars, halters or be close to the mouth and become damaged. In these cases, surgical removal of the skin tag is recommended.
Dog skin tags can be removed with a surgical scalpel or surgical laser. Some veterinarians can remove skin tags by giving a local anesthetic (lidocaine) to numb the skin areas then surgically removing the skin tag.
Observe for additional masses or skin growths. Evaluate the skin tags for heat, redness and pain, which can be signs of infection. Also observe any lump or mass on your dog for changes in color, ulceration, or other changes. This could mean that it is not a benign skin tag and should be evaluated by your veterinarian.
If the growth has been removed or biopsied, keep your dog confined to allow for healing. Do not allow your dog to scratch or lick at the surgical site. Observe the incision site closely for drainage, swelling, redness, heat or pain. Follow-up with your veterinarian for suture removal if needed.
Prevention of Dog Skin Tags
There is no known way to prevent dog skin tags.