You have just discovered a lump of fleshy skin on your pet's paw – its bendy and an eye sore. Panic sets in, because a skin tumor can be bad news.
Relax, that fleshy growth is a skin tag, a mass of fibrous tissue and it is most probably a benign growth. Skin tags are common in dogs, even puppies. No breed is
immune. However, older dogs and larger breeds appear predisposed to contracting skin tags.
Identifying skin tags
How do you know what you've seen is actually a skin tag? Skin tags on dogs look like skin; they are quite easily distinguishable from warts and big ticks. They are
attached to the skin by a stalk, may comprise of one or multiple growths or have hair follicles.
Dogs may have a solitary skin tag or a number of them on their face, torso, legs, back, armpits and other areas. Also known as hamartomas, skin tags are mainly of two
- Hairless lumps of flesh on lower limbs (fibroadnexal hamartomas)
- Multiple growths that appear flattened and have hair growing out of them (follicular hamartomas)
Causes of skin tags in dogs
Overactive fibroblasts, cells that promote the production of fibers and collagen required by your pet's connective tissues, can cause an overproduction of fibrous tissue,
giving rise to masses on or near the skin.
Certain factors may produce a conducive environment for skin problems in dogs, which can co-exist with skin tags as a secondary growth or infection:
Too much bathing, which can strip your dog's skin of natural oils, is one of the culprits for dryness and chafing. An organic shampoo that has a mild effect yet gets the
job done is a safer bet than products that can make your dog's skin unnecessarily dry. A healthy diet is also essential to keep your pet's immune system functioning
optimally, minimizing the risk of cracks, rashes and skin disorders.
Now to the big question – how do you address the issue of skin tags in your pet?
Dog skin tag treatment
The first thing you want to do is have your vet take a look at the skin tags. Your vet may either ask you to monitor the tags for growth or recommend a biopsy. A biopsy
will reveal if the growth is benign or malignant, and enable you to plan next steps without delay.
If the skin tags are growing quickly or have turned dark, or if your pet seems to have lost his/her appetite, gets tired easily or frequently vomits or has loose bowels, get
a medical opinion at the earliest.
1. Surgical removal
Skin tags on dogs can get smaller over time. If they persist, you can have them surgically removed. Some pet owners may choose to opt out, especially if the skin tags
have been deemed harmless. Vets may recommend surgery if the tags are causing a secondary infection or if your pet can't stop chewing on them. Torn tags can bleed
and give rise to infection – in particular, tags near the tail are prone to bruising. When the tags appear close to your pet's eye or mouth, interfering with activities of daily
living, it is best to have them removed.
The surgical procedure is often a quick one, performed with local anesthesia and sedation. Total anesthesia may be used for fidgety pets.
Though there are anesthesia protocols for all dogs, some breeds require extra caution. To minimize risk, your vet may recommend an outpatient procedure called
cryosurgery that uses nitrous oxide or liquid nitrogen to freeze out and destroy unwanted tissue, which then dissolves or falls out within a few weeks. Your pet may feel
a slight pain during the freezing process, but it goes away as quickly as it comes, and recovery is entirely painless. Depending upon the severity of the skin tags, the
procedure may be repeated within 2-3 weeks if the first treatment is not adequate.
After skin tags have been removed, make sure that your pet does not scratch or chew at the area. One option is to use an Elizabethan collar. In any case, monitor for
changes, if any. Skin tags may appear on other areas and when determined to be harmless, you can let them be. They may shrink on their own, and if they're not causing
your pet any problem, medical intervention is not necessary.
Note: Avoid a do-it-yourself (DIY) dog skin tag removal at home. Even though the procedure may seem simple enough, there is always a risk that you may
inadvertently injure your pet or cause him/her a lot of pain during the procedure. In a worst case scenario, a flawed procedure can lead to infection and create more
2. Holistic prevention
If your dog is maturing or is genetically predisposed to skin tags, there isn't much you can do to prevent the onset of these fleshy masses. A few small harmless ones that
your pet isn't bothered by shouldn't bother you either! However, you should keep a tab on your pet's skin condition and invest in the right skin care products. Some
holistic measures that are in the best interests of your furry buddy include:
Ensuring that you don't use expired products
Avoiding harsh bathing and/or grooming products
Minimizing chemical exposure in your surroundings – pesticides, insecticides, lawn chemicals and sprays.
If bites from fleas, ticks and other parasites are frequent and getting problematic, address them quickly or prevent unnecessary skin problems.
Feeding your pet with nutritious food, ideally something that keeps his/her immune system in good shape and promotes healthy digestion.
Once you spot skin tags on your pet, get a quick diagnosis to take informed action. It will alleviate stress and help you return your pet to good health.