White dog with skin tags

What are skin tags and how to treat them.

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Skin tags on dogs: signs, causes and treatments

By Dr Jo de Klerk, BVetMed (Hons) MScTAH MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Skin tags are a common type of growth, found on many dogs. They are usually skin colour and attached via a stalk. Because of this, they are very mobile and can easily get caught. 

Skin tags, the common type of growth found on dogs, won't cause your pet any harm and are not painful, so many owners decide to leave them alone. However, some skin tags are not cosmetically attractive, and some are in locations where they are easily caught and traumatised.

Here, we run through some useful reasons for removing them – and how sometimes it's not a tag but a tick.

How do you get rid of skin tags on dogs?

There are not many guaranteed successful home remedies for removing skin tags. Therefore, if you want to make sure it is removed and won’t grow back, it is best to have a vet surgically remove it.

Some owners have had success with putting apple cider vinegar on the skin tag, and wrapping it in a bandage. Other home remedies that have been suggested include garlic and tea tree oil, however these are both toxic to dogs and should be avoided.

Can skin tags on dogs be cancerous?

A cancerous growth is one that spreads around the body, resulting in potentially fatal implications. Skin tags are benign, which means they do not spread around the body. However, if your dog is prone to developing skin tags, it is likely that he will end up with more than one in his lifetime.

What does skin cancer look like on a dog?

Cancer of the skin looks quite different to skin tags. Cancerous lumps are less mobile than skin tags because they are usually fixed to underlying structures such as muscle or bone.

Skin tags are always skin colour, whereas skin cancer can be either skin colour, black or red. The red colour can be due to the colour of the lump or inflammation. Inflammation can also lead to ulceration on the surface of the lump. Skin tags are never painful and unless caught on something, should never have a broken surface.

Cancerous lumps also develop very quickly, and rapidly grow, whereas skin tags develop slowly and eventually stop growing all together.

Can you tie off skin tags on dogs?

It is not recommended to tie off skin tags on dogs, as it can cause considerable pain and discomfort. It is also rarely successful. You should consult a veterinarian, if you wish to have a skin tag removed from your dog.

Are skin tags on dogs painful?

Skin tags should never be painful unless they have been traumatised. If your dog has a skin tag that has sustained trauma to it, or a lump that is chronically painful, this is an indication that you should call a vet.

A vet will want to know whether it has been painful for a long time, what sort of trauma has occurred, if any, and whether the skin tag or lump has changed recently. He may want to see your dog to do further investigations.

Do dog skin tags go away?

Skin tags are permanent and do not go away by themselves. They can slowly grow continuously, stop growing, or develop multiple skin tags over time.

Does apple cider vinegar really remove skin tags?

Apple cider vinegar is a common home remedy for the removal of skin tags. It is not always effective, especially with larger skin tags. However, it does provide a safe and pain-free method of attempting removal.

The acidity of apple cider vinegar is thought to dry out the skin tag and cause it to fall off. It can be achieved by soaking a cotton wool ball in apple cider vinegar, placing it over the skin tag and bandaging it in place. Once secure, it can be left overnight, then removed and washed in the morning. If there has been no change in the skin tag after four days, it is unlikely to work.

Are dog skin tags contagious?

Dog skin tags are not contagious between other animals, nor humans. However, oral papillomas can be mistaken for skin tags, which are linked to Papillomavirus. The difference is, papillomas are usually around the mouth and more spherical in shape than skin tags.

Does my dog have a tick or skin tag?

If you are not sure whether your dog has a skin tag or a tick, take him to a veterinarian for an examination. A tick should be removed carefully from the body, otherwise your dog could develop an infection in the area of the bite. However, if you attempt to remove a skin tag thinking it is a tick, you will traumatise the skin, and cause your dog discomfort.

The main difference between a tick and a skin tag is the colour. Ticks are usually brown whereas skin tags are usually the colour of the skin. The colour of ticks can vary from light brown to dark brown, and so it can be particularly difficult to tell the difference when it is light brown. Also ticks suddenly appear, whereas skin tags grow slowly. Nevertheless, in some cases, it can be difficult to distinguish between them at times.

What do ticks look like on dogs?

Ticks are usually light or dark brown in colour, and become rapidly engorged with blood as it feeds. When feeding, the head is not visible as it is rooted in the skin, however the legs are sometimes noticeable around the head region. Female ticks are much larger than male ticks, and therefore the size of them can range from a peppercorn up to a five pence coin.

Can a tick on a dog look like a skin tag?

A tick can easily look like a skin tag on a dog when the colour of the skin is dark or the tick is very light brown and similar to skin colour. When a tick is very small, it can be difficult to see whether there is a head and legs at the base of it, and therefore they can be easily confused with a skin tag.

If you are unsure whether your dog has a tick or a skin tag, a veterinarian or veterinary nurse will be able to determine that for you.

How do I know it’s a tick on my dog?

Sometimes it is difficult to be certain that it’s a tick on your dog. The best way to confirm whether it is a tick is to visualise the legs around the base of the body. These can also become embedded with the head, and so it is not always possible to see them. Ticks feel like a bump on your dog that rapidly appears, and grows as it feeds on the blood.

Should I be worried if my dog has a tick?

There are some risks related to tick bites, however within the UK, the risks are relatively small. The most common occurrence is a local infection around the tick bite. This can be very sore.

Ticks can transmit infectious diseases, such as Babesia, Anaplasma and Ehrlichia, however these are not present in the UK. With climate change, and rising tick populations, they could become a threat in the future. The only tick-borne disease currently present in the UK is Lyme disease, however this is very rare. Therefore, you should only be concerned if your dog develops any unusual symptoms after the tick bite.

Should I take my dog to the vet after a tick bite?

It is not necessary to see a vet if your dog has a tick bite, if you are confident at removing the tick effectively by yourself. However, if you are not able to remove it without breaking off the head, or your dog is displaying any signs of ill-health or skin infection around the bite, you should take your dog to a veterinarian for a clinical examination.

What kills ticks on dogs instantly?

There are many tick treatments on the market that kill ticks in under 12 hours. A veterinarian will be able to advise which treatments are most suitable to your dog. However, there is nothing safe to administer to your dog to kill the tick instantly.

How long do ticks stay on dogs?

Ticks stay on dogs for the duration of their feed, then they fall off. This is usually a few days; however, it can be up to two weeks.

What do I do if I find a tick on my dog?

If you find a tick on your dog, you can easily remove it using a tick-twister fork. These help you to remove the tick without breaking off the head in the body. If you break off the head, your dog is at a higher risk of a local infection or of an abscess forming. By twisting the tick as close to the base as possible, the head will usually come out easily with the body.

How do I kill a tick on my dog?

To kill a tick on your dog, you will need to administer a tick treatment from a veterinarian. A vet will be able to recommend which is the safest treatment for your dog, as not all dogs can tolerate all medications.

What will make a tick back out?

There are several home remedies that claim they make a tick back out and de-latch. The most popular of which is smothering the tick in petroleum jelly with the aim of suffocating it. Other home remedies include touching it with a match or putting nail polish on it.

Not only are some of these dangerous, they also do not work. Ticks must either be killed with a tick treatment or manually removed.

Will apple cider vinegar kill ticks on dogs?

It is a myth that apple cider vinegar kills ticks. Ticks usually de-latch within a few days by themselves, which is why it is commonly believed that apple cider vinegar is effective.

How do you get rid of ticks on puppies?

Many treatments that kill ticks are safe to use on puppies over eight weeks old. There are also some treatments safe for younger puppies, which a veterinarian can provide you with advice about. However, puppies are sensitive to medications, and therefore it is best to avoid medications wherever possible. To do this, manually removing ticks with a tick twister is the best option.

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