Home /

Dogs / Health

/ Tick or Skin Tag on Dog: What Is the Difference?

Tick or Skin Tag on Dog: What Is the Difference?

Misfit Animals is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn More.

Ticks can be confused with skin tags, moles, or even tumors, especially when they are fully fed. Look for shape, color, or movement to tell the difference between them.

Finding a tick on your dog can be gruesome and worrying. 

But what if it is not a tick? Ticks can easily be confused with some skin conditions, such as tumors, skin tags, crusts, or moles.

It is best to take a closer look before trying to remove a tick to make sure you do not cause more harm to your pet. If you don’t pay attention and try to remove a skin tag or a mole instead of a tick, your pet is going to be in pain. 

So, put on your glasses or take a magnifier to see if it has legs and is moving or not.

In this article, you will learn about the differences between ticks and skin tags, moles, or tumors, what ticks look like, and how to remove them.

Can a Tick Look Like a Skin Tag?

Ticks can look like skin tags, especially if they are embedded into your dog’s skin. Skin tags and ticks are sometimes confused by the dog owner.

There are times when you find a tick on your dog that looks like a skin tag. Inspect it closer to tell the difference.

It matters if the tick is fed or not. Unfed adult ticks can look like big skin tags or raised moles, while engorged ones appear like a large, bluish growth.

Ticks can also embed themselves into the skin (but not fully[1]), taking on the appearance of a skin tag. In this case, you won’t see the ticks head or scutum. 

Tick embedment usually occurs when a tick is traumatized by the dog’s scratching, grooming, biting, etc. They burrow themselves to make sure they firmly attach to the host’s skin.

Tick Mark on Dog skin

What Do Ticks Look Like?

These external parasites look different at each stage of their life. Tick larvae are around 0.5mm, and you can barely see them. Nymphs are bigger than larvae, and adult ticks are at least double the size of a nymph.

Ticks have four life stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult[2]. Tick eggs are harmless, while the latter three stages feed on blood and can transmit dangerous diseases starting with the nymph stage.

They parasitize all kinds of animals, including bees[3], humans, and dogs.

Depending on their feeding degree, ticks are classified as follows:

  • Unfed
  • Partially fed
  • Engorged (full of blood)

Related: What Do Ticks Look Like?

Unfed Ticks

Unfed Ticks

Unfed ticks can roam free in your dog’s fur or they can be attached to its skin. Depending on the species, they have different colors or patterns. They have a flat body, and their legs can be clearly seen when attached. Unfed ticks look more like a crust than a skin tag, and you can clearly see their legs.

American dog tick males have a white and silver marbled pattern on their back, while the females have an off-white scutum with a brownish body. Other species of ticks have their bodies in one color: reddish-brown, dark brown, or yellow-brown.

Unfed adult ticks are about the size of a sesame seed (deer ticks and brown dog ticks) or an apple seed (American dog ticks).

Partially Fed Ticks

Partially Fed Ticks

Partially fed ticks are usually found attached to your dog’s skin. They can also be found free, but only if your dog has managed to detach them from its skin.

They have a much larger body than the unfed ones. Their coloration changes slightly as they feed, becoming darker or developing shades of dark green. Their abdomen is also more wrinkled.

Overall, partially fed ticks look wrinkled, are larger, and have a dark greenish tint, unlike skin tags that have an irregular shape and are of skin color.

Engorged Ticks

Engorged Ticks

Ticks can double or triple in size when becoming engorged, filling up with blood. They are large and globular, and the head and legs appear small in proportion to the body. The majority of engorged ticks have a greenish-silver hue, but they can also be yellow or pink.

Pinkish engorged ticks can be confused with skin tags, but if you see feet or movement, you can rest assured it is not a skin tag.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Skin Tag and a Tick

The main differences between skin tags and ticks is their color, size, consistency, shape, and movement. Skin tags usually have the same color as the skin around them, while ticks change their color as they feed. Skin tags are soft, while ticks are firm.

One surefire way to tell the difference between skin tags and ticks is to look for legs. Ticks have legs, while skin tags don’t.

Embedded ticks are most often confused with skin tags. Depending on the degree of embedment, the feet of ticks may or may not be visible.

Other things to look for when you don’t know if it’s a tick or a skin tag on your pet are shape, consistency, color, or movement.

Size

Tick Size on dogs
Image Source

Skin tags and ticks have various shapes. The size of a skin tag is usually between two and five millimeters, sometimes even half an inch (~1 cm).[4]

If the skin tag is smaller than two millimeters, it can be confused with a tick nymph, especially if it is brownish.

Skin tags of half an inch are easily confused with engorged ticks as they grow to be about the same size.

Color 

The color of skin tags is usually the color of the skin (colorless), but they can also be brown or reddish as they age. Engorged nymphs or adult ticks usually have a silver-green hue.

Consistency

Engorged Ticks are Dangerous to Dogs

If size and color didn’t help you tell the difference between a tick and a skin tag, then consistency can do the trick. Skin tags are of soft, mushy-like consistency, while ticks are hard and firm, no matter their feeding stage. The unfed or dead ticks can even feel like a skin crust.

Shape

Skin tags appear to be round, but in fact, they have an irregular shape. Ticks, regardless of species, have an oval body, which becomes globular when fully fed.

Movement

What Is a Tick

Movement is the trait that definitely tells you if you are dealing with a tick or skin tag. Skin tags do not have legs and can’t move. Tick larvae and nymphs have six pairs of legs, while adults have eight pairs.

Ticks’ legs are located on the margins of the abdomen. When they die, their legs curl beneath them.

Take a magnifying glass and inspect the growth closely. If it has legs and/or moves, it is definitely a tick.

Tick or Mole on Dog

Tick or Mole on Dog
Image Source

Ticks can also look like raised moles. Moles are more prominent and softer than ticks. They can even have tiny hairs growing out of them.

Moles also have a larger support base compared to ticks’ narrow support base.

If the bump is in your dog’s ear or between its toes, it is probably a tick as they usually like to hide and feed in these places.

Tick or Tumor on Dog

Tumors are usually the color of the skin, or more reddish, and can be round or irregular. If the tumor is small, it may look like a tick to an untrained eye.

When you are unsure whether your dog has a tick or other skin growth, part its fur, and inspect it closely. Look for legs or movement.

Contact your vet if you are ever in doubt.

How to Remove Ticks

The safest tick-removal method is to use tweezers or special tick tools. With these methods, you have to grab the tick close to the skin and pull it up.

By using tweezers or tick tools, you make sure you won’t traumatize the tick. This prevents the tick from pouring its gut content into your dog’s bloodstream, infecting it with the pathogens the tick carries.

To remove ticks, you have to:

  1. Put on gloves.
  2. Grab the tick with the tweezers or tick tools close to the skin.
  3. Pull up, applying little force and pressure.
  4. Do not twist or jerk the tick.
  5. Dispose of the tick.
  6. Disinfect the area.
  7. Monitor your dog for about a week to see if it develops any tick-borne disease symptoms.

Related: How to Remove a Tick From a Dog

About Iulia Mihai (DVM)

Dr. Iulia is a certified veterinarian with more than 10 years of experience in the field. With extensive knowledge of diet, care, and medication, she helps Misfit Animals provide readers with accurate knowledge on technical topics.

Looking for something?

Try searching our website!