Cats can get skin tags just like people. Fortunately, most skin tags are nothing to worry about. However, it’s important to understand what a skin tag is and how to differentiate it from other types of skin growths.
What is a cat skin tag?
Skin tags are fleshy patches of skin that can appear anywhere on a cat. They are usually composed of blood vessels and collagen and are covered by skin. Skin tags are usually soft flesh-colored bumps that are slightly raised or dangling from the stem. Some skin tags start small and gradually get bigger, while others stay the same size. Most are painless and benign (noncancerous). Benign skin tags in cats are usually only a problem if the cat’s location is bothering them.
The actual cause of cat skin tags is unknown, but there are several theories. One idea is that rubbing plays a role in the development of skin tags, but they don’t always occur where normal rubbing occurs (like in skin folds).
Is it really a skin tag?
Before assuming the lump on your cat is a skin tag, consider other possible things.
Many people mistake skin tags for ticks and try to remove them. Watch carefully before trying to remove what looks like a tick from your cat. Pulling on the skin tag can be painful for your cat and can irritate the skin tag and surrounding skin.
Don’t forget that all mammals have nipples – including cats! Even male cats have tiny nipples on their abdomens that look a lot like skin tags. If you notice a lump on your cat’s abdomen or chest, check for a matching lump on the other side. Most cats have eight nipples that run down each side of the abdomen.
Although rare, cats sometimes develop benign viral warts called papillomas. These may be spread among cats, but not to humans or dogs. Most papillomas resolve over time and can recur periodically in different areas.
Malignant skin growths can come in many different forms. Don’t assume a skin growth is a benign skin tag – be sure to pay attention to how it grows and changes. Any new growth in the cat should be checked by a veterinarian, especially if it changes shape, size or color or starts to bother the cat.
Treatment of cat skin tags
Many skin tags are harmless and do not require treatment. If there is some pain or irritability, it needs to be removed. When skin tags are rubbed against another part of the body or the collar, they can become irritated. Cats may also irritate skin tags when grooming themselves.
Never try to remove skin tags yourself! While some people are comfortable removing their own skin tags at home, trying to do this to your cat will almost certainly backfire. Your cat will be in pain and may bite or scratch you.
If you notice a lump that looks like a skin tag, look closely. Pay attention to the size, shape, and color of the skin tags, and check frequently for changes. If the skin tags haven’t changed and your cat doesn’t show any signs of disease, it may be awaiting your next annual or semi-annual routine veterinary checkup. If there is a change in the skin tag, please contact your veterinarian for advice and to schedule a checkup.
Your veterinarian will discuss your cat’s medical history with you and examine your cat. The veterinarian will observe and palpate the growth to determine next steps. If the veterinarian thinks there is nothing to worry about, then no treatment is required. If the growth looks suspicious or questionable, then your veterinarian can recommend next steps.
Surgery may be necessary if your veterinarian recommends removing the growth. Small growths can sometimes be clipped off by freezing or after local anesthesia. Surgery for larger growths will require sedation or general anesthesia. The removed lump may be sent to a veterinary pathologist to determine what type of cells it contains. Histopathology can determine whether the mass is benign or malignant. It can also reveal whether the growth is viral or bacterial.