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What are Skin Tags?

Skin tags are a type of growth comprised of fibrous tissue that can appear as a single or multiple lump or bump. This connective tissue is made up of collagen proteins, and is essential in the formation of such specialized tissues as bone and cartilage, as well as provides the connective support for the various organs and systems in the body. While some skin tags are considered to be benign cancers, termed fibromas, most are deemed non-cancerous, and can be referred to by several names. These include acrochordons, fibrovascular papillomas, collagenous hamartoma, hyperplastic or hypertrophic scar, and fibroepithelial polyp.

Just like their human owners, dogs can develop small skin lumps on the surface or just under their skin. These skin tags often appear as a dog ages, and though they can be unsightly, they are quite harmless. Very often, these growths are connected to the body by a stalk-like tissue.

Symptoms of Skin Tags in Dogs

Skin tags grow slowly and can take a long time to be noticeable. They are located on the skin, or just under the skin, and can vary in size and appearance. While harmless, they can cause distress if they grow too large or in a location that compromises your dog’s normal daily activity, or if they become damaged, in which case they can bleed and possibly become infected. Signs your dog may have a skin tag include:

  • Stalk-like growths
  • Growths with a wart-like surface
  • Single or multiple growths
  • Growths that include hair follicles
  • Flattened plaque-like growths
  • Growths that can bleed if damaged
  • Secondary infections of growths

Types

Skin tags are often referred to as hamartomas, which are described as a nodule of redundant tissue. Two types of these are:

Fibroadnexal Hamartomas

– Also called collagenous hamartomas, these are the common skin tags seen in many dogs. Often, these are hairless growths, and form near the lower limb regions and pressure points. 

Follicular Hamartomas

– This is a type of fibroadnexal hamartoma, and more rare in dogs. These growths are often found in multiples, and can be characterized by flattened masses with thick hairs.

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Causes of Skin Tags in Dogs

Skin tags are composed of fibrous tissues made up of collagen proteins. This fibrous tissue is a normal component of the body, and creates the supportive connections and tissues that hold the organs and body systems into place. The cells responsible for the production of the fibers that makes this connective tissue are called fibroblasts, and if these cells are overactive, this can cause an abundance of fibrous tissue, resulting in a slow-growing mass near or on the skin.  

Though skin tags can appear on any breed of dog, there seems to be an increased risk in larger breeds. Skin tags more commonly appear in dogs that are middle-aged and older.

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Diagnosis of Skin Tags in Dogs

If you see a growth on your dog, it will be vitally important to determine if such a growth is a harmless skin tag, or if it is a tumor or other growth that is signaling a more serious problem, such as cancer. While it is common to see growths appear on aging dogs, monitoring certain factors can be helpful to you and your veterinarian when making a determination about your dog’s condition. Once you see a bump or lump on or under the skin, take notes on the appearance, size and location of the bump. Taking pictures with an object of a fixed size next to it, such as a coin or ruler, can help to determine growth when compared to a later picture. Never use scissors or a razor to remove any hair near the growth, but instead, use electric clippers or a beard trimmer to prevent damage to the growth. 

If you notice certain characteristics about the growth, you should not delay in seeking a medical opinion. These can include a rapidly growing lump, a dark colored growth, or a bump near your dog’s ear, nose, mouth, or mammary glands. Other symptoms concurrent with the growth can also cause alarm, such as changes in appetite, weight and energy levels, signs of discomfort and pain, or vomiting and diarrhea.

Be sure to tell your veterinarian details of all symptoms you’ve noticed, including any changes you’ve seen in the growth. Your vet will examine your dog and evaluate the lump. A fine needle aspirate may be performed to collect a sample to analyze. Usually, a biopsy is recommended to determine if the growth is benign or malignant, the examination of which can confirm a diagnosis of a skin tag.

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Treatment of Skin Tags in Dogs

While some skin tags can shrink in size over time, most of them will remain unless they are surgically removed. Surgery to remove these growths is optional, as often skin tags cause no harm to your dog. However, removal can be recommended in certain cases, such as to confirm a diagnosis with a biopsy, or if the size or location of the growth is causing physical problems, pain, or secondary infections. 

Another method of removal is through cryosurgery. Nitrous oxide or liquid nitrogen is used to destroy the unwanted tissue by freezing it. The tissue then falls off or dissolves within four weeks. This procedure can be attractive for those dogs who are at an increased risk of complications due to anesthesia, as only a mild local anesthetic may be needed. The process is only temporarily painful during the freezing with no pain during recovery. Sometimes, the first treatment is not sufficient and may be repeated within two to three weeks.

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Recovery of Skin Tags in Dogs

While occasionally, skin tags can shrink on their own, more often they will be a harmless addition to your dog’s skin until removed. After any type of removal, prevent your dog from licking, chewing, or scratching at the area to prevent any further damage. An Elizabethan collar can be used. Keep the area clean and monitor it for changes. Be aware that once your dog has developed a skin tag, he may be more prone to develop others.

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Skin Tags Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Yorki-pom

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Four Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Skin Lump

Not sure what this on my dogs nose. Looks like a skin tag. Seemed to show up overnight. Seems painful for the dog.

Aug. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. From your description, it is possible that this is an infection, a fungal disease, or a tumor that needs to be paid attention to. Since it seems to have come on suddenly, and it seems to be bothering him, it would be best to have him seen by your veterinarian. They will be able to examine him, see what this lump might be, and give you treatment options. I hope that all goes well for your dog.

Aug. 29, 2020

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ygarris07@gmail.com

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13 Years

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Skin Tag Bleeding

Muppet has had this skin tag on his leg for a few years it was pi k and white turned partially black now its bleeding

Aug. 5, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Without being able to see the skin tag, unfortunately, it is hard to say what might be going on. It would probably be a good idea to have Muppet seen by your veterinarian, to see what options there are for treatment or removal so that it does not continue to cause problems. Hope it all goes well for him.

Aug. 5, 2020

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Beagle

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Ten Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Skin Tag

Our dog had a large pink skin tag on her cheek for over a year. Today, I noticed it was black. I touched it and noticed that it was loose and then fell off. Should I be concerned?

July 31, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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Hello- If the skin appears healthy and not irritated or infected I wouldn’t be concerned. I would recommend just monitoring the area for a reoccurrence of the growth and if it occurs have it checked out by your vet. Have a great day!

July 31, 2020

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French Bulldog

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1.5 Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Skin“Tag” On Mouth

My dog developed a black, super shiny “tag” on his lip overnight. Any idea what it is?

July 24, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. If it came up overnight, suddenly, it may be an infection, or a tick, or a growth of some kind. It would be a good idea to monitor him closely and see if it resolves or if it gets larger. If it does not resolve or it is causing him to bother with it, it would be a good idea to have your veterinarian look at it to see if any treatment may need to be given. I hope that all goes well for him!

July 24, 2020

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Portuguese Water Dog

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Nine Years

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Unknown severity

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Red Bumps

My dog has had this skin tag for a long time. Recently he has been biting at it. It has turned red and they r removing it today. I was wondering if it can be anything other than cancer. I know it can be cancer but what are the other options it could be? He has opened it so it is slightly red from irritations and it has a small wound on it but nothing major. He doesn’t take any meds I had to select something so it could send the question but he only has a prescription diet for bad bones

July 23, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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Hello The skin tag could be cancer (malignant versus benign). If it is benign, that just means that it's not going to spread to any other location in the body. I recommend that once it is removed to have it sent off to a lab for histopathology. Good luck.

July 23, 2020

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Joee

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Great Dane

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9 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Discomfort

Our " Joee " has had a skin tag for about 4 yrs. Recently, it has grown and she is inclined to chew it. It turned black overnight. The vet will not remove it due to age. It is bleeding & we have it wrapped. HELP!

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Pauli

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Labrador Retriever

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6 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Eye Redness

My dog developed a skin tag on her eye lid a few months ago. In January she had it surgically removed however now, early March, it is back and bigger than before. Each time her eye stays bright red and gets awful eye boogers. Is this something that she is going to need repetitive surgery for or what is the best next step for her?

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Chase

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Yorkie

dog-age-icon

9 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

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Skin Tag
Skin Tag Bleeding

I have a Yorkie named Chase who loves to rub his head on our carpet. He has a skin tag on his head that has bled several times and caused matts in his hair. The skin rag doesn't seem to bother him but I am worried about the bleeding. What should I do?

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Gifford

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Chihuahua

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11 Years

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Skin Lump

So I have an old dog and he typically gets random pimples, moles, skin tags, weird patches of skin, etc. that don't really seem to affect him. Months ago, maybe even a year, I noticed he had a fleshy one that I first mistook to be a tick on his toe but soon realized it was just a skin tag so I let it be. Today I looked and saw that it was completely black and partially hanging off, not completely, but enough to see where it was once attached. I'm unsure if I should leave it be and let it come off by itself or pull it off. I don't want him to get hurt/infected/or bleed profusely but blood clotting is also a concern of mine.

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Lady

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Labrador Retriever

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11 Years

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Skin Tumor

My 11 year old Lab has a skin tag on her front right leg at the bend (elbow).We took her to the vet. She said it was a rupture, shaved her leg and bandaged it. She wants to remove it surgically. We are concerned about her being put sleep for this.She has seizures sometimes.The tag has turned black on the end and pink on the rest of it. It also bleeds some. What would you recommend.

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