Skin tags are unsightly raised bumps. These benign growths can be hidden by a cat’s fur, especially if it has a thick, fluffy coat. This makes it difficult to tell whether a cat has a skin tag or something else, like a wart or tick.
A skin tag (acrochordon) is a small, fleshy mass of skin that commonly appears in certain areas of a cat’s body, such as underneath the collar. Skin tags are caused by friction, excess hormones, sweat, old age, insulin resistance, diabetes, and genetics. They’re harmless and non-painful, but they can become snagged and bleed if they get caught on something. If bacteria find a way into the wound, the skin tag can become infected.
Finding any kind of lump or bump on your cat’s skin and be alarming. But the good news is that, when identified correctly, skin tags are completely benign. However, if they get caught on something like a fence or tree, they can become painful and start to bleed, so larger skin tags may require removal.
What Are Skin Tags on Cats?
A skin tag, scientifically known as an acrochordon, is a fleshy mass that protrudes from the skin anywhere on the body. Skin tags feel soft and are usually flesh-colored. According to the Utah University of Health, they occur due to extreme friction, and they can turn black if the blood supply to the skin tag is interrupted.
Skin tags are made up of collagen and skin vessels. Some stay the same size forever, while others grow larger. They dangle from a slender stalk of skin. Unlike warts, which are hard to touch, skin tags can be flat, rounded, or teardrop-shaped. Skin tags will usually take on the color of the cat’s skin.
While they’re harmless and non-painful, skin tags can be irritating, particularly if they’re in a sensitive area – under the legs or on the neck, for example. Skin tags that are located there can easily get caught or be pinched.
Why Do Cats Get Skin Tags?
Though hard to spot due to all of the fur, skin tags are common in cats. It’s not known what exactly causes skin tags, but there are many theories. The first is that friction causes skin tags since they are usually found in between folds of skin. This includes the armpit, the leg joints, the chest (from when a cat lies down), and the abdomen.
It’s also likely that skin tags are the result of excessive skin cell growth. Other reasons for skin tags include:
- Excess hormones. The endocrine system is complex and controls many functions in the cat’s body. The endocrine glands provide hormones to the body. These hormones enter the bloodstream and affect the cat’s body in several crucial ways. If a cat has too much of one hormone or a hormone imbalance, skin tags can develop.
- Sweat. If a cat has active sweat glands, friction can occur more quickly, causing skin tags to appear.
- Obesity. Overweight cats are more prone to sweating, as are cats who have lost weight and have excess skin.
- Old age. Seniors lose elasticity in their skin. This causes the skin to be looser and more likely to rub against itself.
- Diabetes. While this is a relatively unexplored research area, there are links between skin tags and diabetes – specifically, diabetes associated with insulin resistance.
- Genetics. It’s unknown whether particular cat breeds are more prone to skin tags, but cats whose parents have lots of them are more likely to develop skin tags.
So, while there are many reasons why a cat will develop skin tags, some animals don’t get them at all. And if you have a long-haired cat breed, you might never find them due to the thick mass of fur.
Are Skin Tags on Cats Harmful?
Skin tags don’t contain cancerous cells, meaning they’re harmless. They tend to be an isolated feature on a cat and are rarely an indication of illness or disease. That being said, there is a small chance that a skin tag can develop because of insulin resistance.
Skin tags can be uncomfortable. If they develop in an area prone to friction, frequent rubbing can occur, making the skin tag and surrounding area sore. Skin tags, if caught or snagged, can also bleed and take time to heal.
Facial skin tags can pose a problem. If they are on the eyelids or close to the eyes, a cat’s vision can become impaired. Similarly, irritated skin tags around the mouth can make it difficult for a cat to eat. Skin tags of this nature might need to be looked at by a veterinarian, who might suggest removing them to improve your cat’s quality of life.
Skin tags are not contagious, so coming into contact with them will not pass on disease or illness to other pets.
How to Remove A Cat’s Skin Tag
Most veterinary professionals will advise leaving a skin tag alone if it isn’t bothering a cat or causing it pain. A cat probably won’t even notice it’s there unless it gets caught on something because of its location.
Skin tags that obstruct vision or hearing may be treated. Similarly, ones that prevent a cat from moving around comfortably will need removing. There are many methods for skin tag removal that vets use, including:
Otherwise known as cryosurgery, freezing is the process of applying liquid nitrogen directly to the skin tag. This freezes this area, cutting off the blood supply so that the skin tag dies and falls off.
Don’t be alarmed if the skin temporarily changes color after the procedure. This is normal and indicates that the treatment is working well. The skin color will go back to normal after a few days/weeks.
Cauterizing is different from freezing in that heat is used to remove the skin tag. The skin tag is burned off while the surrounding skin is sealed to prevent infection or bleeding. However, cauterization is a more painful removal method and can be difficult to carry out in hard-to-reach areas.
Ligation is one of the most commonly used and painless skin tag removal methods. During ligation, a vet will wrap a sterile piece of string tightly around the base of the skin tag to starve it of oxygen and cut off the blood supply. In a couple of days, the skin tag will start to turn black and eventually drop off.
Some skin tags will swell after the procedure, so it might be a good idea to use a protective layer, like a surgical t-shirt, while the skin tag heals.
A vet can cut off skin tags under local anesthetic. Using sterilized scissors, the cat’s skin tag is removed and dressed. This method of removal works, but the wound must be cleaned daily to prevent infection.
Does My Cat Have A Skin Tag?
Cats can develop all kinds of growths and bumps that feel like skin tags but are something else altogether. While harmful skin tags aren’t a problem, in some cases, other growths on a cat’s skin can be a cause for concern and require treatment. Along with skin tags, these are the most common types of skin growth:
According to VCA Hospitals, warts (papillomas) are benign tumors caused by viruses. Some cats develop immunity to them, causing them to disappear spontaneously. Others become inflamed and infected and need to be surgically removed. Though they’re relatively uncommon in cats, they can be found around the eyes, mouth, and nose.
Warts can spread between cats through direct contact. Some warts can also appear because of a cat’s or kitten’s weakened immune system, but sick or older cats are most prone to developing warts. Symptoms include:
- Raised bumps around the facial area, which may be white, dark, or flesh-colored.
- Lumps and bumps that bleed.
- Infected or inflamed areas on your cat’s skin.
- Poor grooming and hygiene because of painful warts.
- General discomfort or lack of appetite caused by the pain.
Ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of cats and are often mistaken for skin tags. They are around 1 mm to 1 cm long with eight legs and a whiteish body that becomes brown as it fills with blood. Ticks can be found in yards as well as woodland areas. They can’t jump, but they drop or fall onto a cat’s coat, where they will latch onto a cat’s skin.
Ticks are easy to spot and usually congregate around a cat’s head, neck, ears, and feet. Brushing your hand over your cat’s coat or taking a closer look at the skin’s surface can enable you to locate them if you suspect that they are nearby.
Removing ticks can be tricky, but it must be done. Be careful not to leave the head inside the skin. Also, don’t squeeze the body; otherwise, old blood can be expelled back into your cat and cause infection.
To enable you to determine whether your cat has a skin tag or tick, look closely at the appearance. Skin tags are flat against the skin, whereas ticks are swollen and engorged.
As described by the MSD Veterinary Manual, skin tumors usually appear as small lumps or bumps and are difficult to identify. Not all lumps are cancerous, but it can be alarming when you first feel a new, unidentified lump.
Lipomas are the most common type of tumor. Lipomas are slow-growing soft tissue tumors that rarely reach a size larger than 2 cm. They occur anywhere in the body but are seldom found in the upper extremities. However, lipomas appear as fatty lumps, so they don’t feel that similar to a skin tag.
Breast cancer tumors resemble skin tags more closely. Breast cancer is common in unspayed cats and appears on the underside of cats. They start small and gradually grow until they reach a much more noticeable size.
Difference Between Skin Tags and Tumors
Determining whether your cat’s lump is a skin tag or cancerous growth is essential. Check for these signs:
- Skin tags feel like skin. They’re usually soft, spongy, and flesh-colored. Cancerous growths, on the other hand, are dry and rough. They have a distinctive texture that feels a little like a callous. The texture can also change, so these growths need to be monitored.
- Cancerous growths are usually thicker than skin tags – the latter of which are small and thin.
- Skin tags don’t tend to grow quickly. More often than not, they remain the same size for the duration of their life. Cancerous lumps grow quickly and regularly change size. Fast growth is the most obvious sign of a tumor.
- Skin tags only bleed if they’re snagged or scratched. When a tumor bleeds, it’s because its blood vessels are fragile. Then, as the tumor grows, it tends to grow into a nearby blood vessel.
- A skin tag shouldn’t be itchy unless it’s snagged. If you notice your cat scratching at the site of the lump, it’s more likely to be a cancerous tumor than a skin tag.
- Weight loss, behavioral changes, bowel issues, or a reduced appetite are all signs that something is wrong. These are common symptoms in an unwell cat and should be checked if your cat isn’t getting better.
An abscess is a painful collection of pus that can develop anywhere on a cat’s body. It’s usually caused by a bacterial infection or parasites under the skin. They are common in cats and most commonly appear due to a puncture wound from a fight with another animal. They can also develop at the root of the tooth or inside the body.
Abscesses are painful and are often accompanied by redness and swelling. Cats also become unwell with a fever, even if the pus has been drained. Treatment varies depending on the severity of the abscess. In most cases, the abscesses are drained or flushed to remove the pocket of pus.
Acne is more common in cats with long hair or folds of skin, but any cat can get it. Feline acne is caused by allergies, fleas, pollen, and fungal spores. It’s most common on the chin and around the mouth but feels similar to a skin tag when felt through a cat’s fur. If it’s not cleaned properly, cat acne can become infected.
If a cat roams freely outdoors, it is at risk of bug bites. The most common bugs are fleas, ticks, mosquitos, mites, bees, hornets, wasps, and ants. While harmless in most cases, bug bites can appear as small lumps and bumps on the skin’s surface. They can be itchy and painful and become infected if a cat excessively scratches and bites them. Some bugs will burrow under the skin, causing inflammation and infections.
Applying a cold compress to affected areas can soothe the skin and ease the itchiness. Flea collars can also prevent a cat from being bothered by bugs when it is out but opt for a safety release collar if your cat likes to climb trees.
Can You Remove A Cat’s Skin Tag At Home?
Taking your cat to a veterinarian can be stressful and expensive. If your cat’s skin tag is large enough for you to grab hold of, you may be able to remove it yourself using the ligation method.
Before you do, you must have a high level of trust with your cat so that it doesn’t end up getting hurt. To remove a skin tag yourself, follow these steps:
- Clean the skin tag and surrounding area with an antiseptic solution. Wash your hands using an antiseptic wash to minimize the chance of infection.
- Find a tie, like dental floss or a thin piece of string, and wrap it tightly at the base of the skin tag. If a mass of fur surrounds the skin tag, carefully shave the area so that the skin tag is easy to get to.
- Trim the ends of the tie so that it can’t get loose or caught on anything. Once you’ve tied the skin tags, your cat might make a fuss but resist the urge to remove the tie as your cat will become oblivious to it after a few minutes.
Only attempt to remove your cat’s skin tag if you’re able to get to it safely and you are not at risk of causing your cat any harm. If you’re unsure of what to do at any point, or if your cat refuses to let you carry out the home-removal procedure, it’s best to stop and let a vet take care of it instead.
How To Prevent Skin Tags on Cats
While skin tags are rarely a cause for concern, they can become problematic if they grow in sensitive areas. For this reason, you might be looking to prevent skin tags from occurring. There are things that you can do that may help:
- Wash your cat’s skin and fur with specialized cat shampoo, especially if you have a long-haired breed. This can help wash away sweat build-up.
- Maintain a healthy diet packed with protein and vitamins. Insulin resistance, which is linked to diabetes, can be responsible for skin tags. A poor diet will contribute to the condition. It can also lead to obesity, which is another leading cause of skin tags if a cat is allowed to develop skin folds that rub together.
- If your cat wears a collar, make sure it’s not too tight or loose. Rubbing can cause friction, which, in turn, may lead to skin tags. As a cat grows, adjust the collar so that it fits around its neck comfortably.
It’s not always possible to prevent skin tags, but following these steps can help. At the very least, keeping your cat at a healthy weight and providing it with a nutritious diet will provide many long-term health benefits.
Is My Cat’s Skin Tag Infected?
In some cases, skin tags can become infected. This is more likely in cats that like to climb over fences and roam the outdoors, where the chances of them getting the skin tag caught on something are increased.
If this happens and the skin tag experiences a cut or tear, bacteria can enter the wound and create an infection. This will be painful and will only get worse if left untreated.
Cat’s Skin Tag Turned Black
As well as becoming infected, skin tags can turn black. This means that the skin tag is dying. Blood has been successfully restricted, and the skin tag has become thrombosed. If you leave it for a few more days, the skin tag will most likely fall off altogether. You don’t have to do anything to it other than ensuring it remains clean.
What To Do If A Cat’s Skin Tag Bleeds
Skin tags will easily bleed if caught or scratched. The skin will rupture and bleed, just like a normal wound. The skin tag will heal, but it may become infected. Regular sterilization will be required.
If a skin tag does get caught, it may actually help as the skin tag is more likely to drop off and die. To stem the bleeding, get a clean piece of cloth and apply some pressure to encourage the blood to clot. Use a small bandage to stop bacteria from getting into the wound and causing infection.
Some cats are prone to skin tags, regardless of how hard you try to prevent them. But these skin tags are harmless. It’s only if your cat starts to show signs of distress that you need to consider skin tag removal.