Killed by a 'Wart': Don't Let Entropy Do in your Dog

Doggie lumps start in mid-life with a little giblet you find while petting

Published: August 17, 2015

Photo by Dr. Teri A. Oursler
This dog's lump is about to be surgically removed
There’s a fundamental law of the universe that things become more disorganized over time. Little problems become big ones, pairs of socks become singletons, rocks become gravel, mountains wear down. And, as I just found out, the universe itself will cool down and cease to exist in about 100 billion years’ time.

(I’m not all that worried about that last one, since I plan to be a vast interstellar cloud of sentient xenon and living a vibrant fantasy life entirely within my own gassy reality by that point.)

But, in any case, if left alone things get disorganized and worse off. For example: small lumps and bumps. Little doggy wart-like things.

You’ve all seen little skin tags, lobules and growths on dogs – maybe even on yourself. (No pictures in the comments section, please.)

They usually start in mid-life with a little giblet that you might run across while petting your pet. Most folks think they’re hardly worth a trip to the vet, and they’re likely to be forgotten at the next trip to the vet, so they don’t get mentioned or examined – when they’re little. Most of them are benign and don’t present a threat to the dog’s life in and of themselves; by that I mean they won’t spread or become malignant.

But these seemingly innocuous little growths can become a big enough problem over time that pet owners and vets are faced with some tough decisions; sometimes life  does hang in the balance. So taking care of them when they’re small and your dog is young just might be the right thing to do. It’s a case of a stitch in time saves Fido.

In vet school, they don’t have classes on Monster “Warts” 101, or Dealing With Giant Infected Smelly Bleeding Skin Tags That Could Have Been Taken Off Five Years Ago For $90. It’s just not part of the curriculum. But when I first got out, I ran into a spate of these cases and I was totally unprepared for the level of anguish and drama that a wee little verrucous growth could cause. It’s a bump!  Who dies from a bump?

So what happens? The little, forgotten I-found-it-while-petting-him bump grows under the radar. It becomes a part of daily, disorganized life like the cobwebs in the corner of the living room ceiling, the dust bunnies under the fridge grill, or the chalky white stuff that collects behind the faucets in your bathroom (go check – it’s there). It slips into the flow of quotidian life and goes unnoticed. And it grows, little by little, day by day.

Usually the first one to notice that it’s come out of hiding is the dog. One day, the little bump, that little lump that used to be so little – remember? – reaches some indefinable critical mass, puberty or something, and the dog is like, Hey? What are you doing there? I think I’ll bite/scratch/otherwise annoy you until you bleed/itch/get infected and make a mess all over the house.

Add to this that the span of time from little bump to holy crap it’s bleeding! can be years and now you’re most likely dealing with an aged pet with attendant risks of anesthesia and surgery, and the problem starts to take form. I remember one little dog, a geriatric poodle who was forty hundred years old if he was a day (toy poodles seem overly prone to having some icky skin things and tend to do a lap-dance on their dermis – that’s skin; get your mind out of the gutter). His distraught owners rushed him in to me in the ER one night because he had discovered his large lump and chewed it until it started to bleed, and on his snowy white coat just a little bit of blood smeared around made him look like an extra from Saw.  The owners had that What the hell just happened? – he was fine an hour ago! look that we see all the time in the ER. This geriatric dog also had the requisite litany of old guy ailments – he had a heart murmur, arthritis, borderline kidneys, failing eyesight and (for all I knew) fallen arches. He seemed pretty miserable and the owners were already grappling with quality-of and end-of-life issues. He was not a patient that I really wanted to knock out for surgery without a really good reason. Problem is, is a bleeding lump a really good reason?

It couldn’t stay like it was; it would bleed all over, and we all know how the Saw sequels went. Not pretty. It would also get infected, and I’m sure if this little guy chewed on it under normal circumstances that after a little inflammation and infection was thrown into the mix he’d go positively bonkers scratching and worrying at it. It was looking like surgically removing it under anesthesia was our only viable option. It wasn’t in a place that you could bandage, either.

It was about an inch and a half across, too; it was a tad too big to just use a local and zip it off – and do it humanely. Local anesthetics are nice if you have to have a pea-sized lump taken off or a dime-sized cut stitched up, but that wasn’t happening with this monster carbuncle; he’d have to be all the way out. Using a local typically requires a cooperative patient, but this little fella (I can’t recall his name, so let’s just call him Warty McBoil) was in no mood to be trifled with that night after seeing his lump explode with blood and enduring a rushed cross-town car ride, not to mention the dreaded thermometer.

SPOILER ALERT – this doesn’t end well. But it really happened.

After lots of soul-searching, frantic calls to family, hand-wringing and tears, the owners decided that the bleeding lump was to be his undoing. This little bump was now a big lump. It crystallized all the various ailments that Warty had and gave them some concrete reason to call it quits. This is bad – he’ll never survive surgery, they said.  He’s suffering.  Call it what you will – rationalization, whistling in the dark, whatever, but it took all the grey days that grind down at the end of life and put them in perspective.

I’m not saying they were right or wrong, but I respected their decision and went through with it. I did think he was pretty generally miserable and at the end of his expected lifespan, as well, but maybe that was just me whistling in the dark.

Could he have lived through surgery? Probably.

Should they have taken off the little bump when it was little and spared themselves and Warty all this heartache? Probably.

Were they right to do what they did? Probably.

That’s the problem with living in this world and not being a sentient cloud of xenon floating out somewhere beyond Alpha Centauri. You just never, or rarely, know for sure what’s the right and wrong thing to do for your pet.


December 3, 2023

I have a 12 1/2 yr old shihtzu who also have always had skin issues.  For the past I’d say 4 years, started to get warts all over.  Vets always said leave them alone if they’re not bothering him.  Lo and behold, for the month of Oct 2023, one particular one he started licking to the point of it bleeding on his right front leg.  He has other ones on his front paw that he was able to lick also.  I notified the new vet and got him scheduled for the wart removal.  We figured if we’re putting him through anesthesia, might as well take care of all his big warts that usually pus and I’m sure very itchy for him.  Thank God he came out of anesthesia perfectly fine. He’s still a little disoriented and of course hates the “cone”. In total the doc removed 20 all over him that was real big.  Took a big chunk off his left bottom area since there were a bunch all clustered together.  Today is 24 post surgery and he’s doing pretty good considering.  I wish I can post before and after pics but u can use ur imagination. Hoping he heals and none of them come back! I also hope he gets used to the cone of shame because he’s hating life with it on. 

May 23, 2022

I am in a pickle. My 16-year-old mutt that I got when she was completely feral has a large skin tag under her ear. The vet has looked at it several times and said it is non-cancerous. I had been handling it by snipping it down periodically of course being careful to keep everything sanitized. Then Covid hit, my oldest brother died from it, my elderly mother was devastated and moved in with a family member who abused her. I had to orchestrate her rescue because I live too far away. Needless to say, he skin tag was forgotten about. When I as able to get back to it, it had grown almost and inch big and the stalk had thickened. The vet still says it’s benign and it doesn’t bother her but I’d like it gone. She’s in excellent health but the vet will charge a minimum of $1200 to remove it!  I’ve got it tied off with floss, but the stalk is so thick I don’t know that it is doing anything. I don’t know whether to start trimming it down to a smaller size or not. She doesn’t feel it at all and I stuck it with an exacto knife after tying it off per the article that said this would relieve pressure. I am in NY where pet care is incredibly expensive. I can’t afford $1200 for cosmetic reasons and the vet isn’t wild about putting her under a aesthetic. Any recommendations?  And YES I always take excellent care when dealing with it to prevent infection.  Ideas??

November 17, 2021

Because of this post I was able to act proactively for my senior dog's blood wart on back his head, very top of neck. In July during bathing, I saw this one behind his head, he has many warts but not blood warts. He is a fluffy Pom so this one was hidden. It was black indicating attached to a blood supply. I emailed photos to his vet, and believe me when I say she neglected to reply to both emails. Time passed, Pom scratching it, it was covered in puss and blood when I bathed him again in November, four months later. I made appointment with another vet and he removed the scab. By now, the wart is the size of a gummy bear and bleeds easily. Yesterday we started a compatible liquid nitrogen Tx and go back in 2 weeks for another Tx until gone. My senior dog also can not have anestesia such that he is Addisonian with weak liver, kidneys, and pancreas, and the main one, trachea collapse. I'm glad to find this post to not underestimate this big blood wart.

March 9, 2021

UPDATE TO JUNE 2020 COMMENT Good news to report. In november 2020 I finally had funds to bring him to vet. Was very afraid, cause of his age they would say there was nothing they could do. But they surgically removed the lump, amazingly for his age. They said he passed the surgery incredibly good. He even was able to come back home same day with a head wrap and stitches, I had to return next morning for them to get a look at him. I had antibiotics and etc given for him. 2 weeks later went back to remove stitches. Thank god has of this day, he doing very well. Only thing I notice a change in appetite, he actually eats much more now. It's weird lol.

January 16, 2021

Is the photo of the dog the same as the one in the story? By the sounds of the description it seemed it would be much larger. That’s the same size and general area of a bump on my dogs head (similar breed too)

Tiffany Bewley
January 15, 2021

“Warty Mcboil” :D. We are dealing with this with my almost 14 year old l, blind, but otherwise mostly healthy old lab mix. He’s licked a growth on his leg to “death” for lack of better phrase. He’s too old for anesthesia and the growth is too large for local. He’s mostly cooperative but ya never know when someone comes at him with a knife. Who could blame ya. I’m gonna try to wrap it up so he’ll leave it alone, a d take him to true vet to see their thoughts. Thanks for the laugh. Brings it all in to perspective!

Lola St. Velasco
December 12, 2020

My pit bull used to be healthy and happy. Until we moved into a home with disgusting old carpets. Leaving aside  all the rage, fantasies of landlordicide and the why didnt i/he/they ... Suffice it to say, it started with the licking and scratching, then ear yeast  infections, one time i cleaned his ears and it literally smelled like trash, garbage, refuse.  then these bloody skin tags hed make worse with the licking, almost like a hickey, it was drawing the blood up. He popped a big one i couldn't believe the amount of blood. The vet said it was from the bacteria and fungus in the carpets. The one he popped had become cancerous thats why he chewed it off. I have a microscope and id take a skin scraping it always looked like mini branches or bushes with leaves even. Thats what fungus looks like under microscope. Occasionally id see what looked like asbestos. Of course nobody believes me. But im not forcing my dogs skin to freak out and become cancerous.

Lynn Bailey
October 11, 2020

My elderly dog has a bad bleeding, weeping tag mole on his ear that cannot be removed do to liver problems. What can I put on it to stop the weeping and bleeding? How do I put a bandage on just the long floppy ear without it coming off and him looking stupid, LOL. Thanks, Lynn

October 3, 2020

We have a 17 yr old Jack Russell with one bigger than the one in the pic. But it’s knobby and oozing   I did actually have it removed about a year ago and it came back with a vengeance a few weeks ago. He’s mostly deaf and has no energy any more. Not really unhappy though, so not sure I’d it’s time or if we should keep trying to “fix” him.

Katherine S Kelley
August 28, 2020

When my older Yorkie was about 3 or 4 I came across a little white lump on her head.  Over the years it grew like crazy and was at least 1/2" in diameter.  It bothered her like crazy...alway rubbing it along the side of the fence or ground.  It got "bumpy" and would bleed.  She went under for a dental and I decided to take it off at the same time.  Best decision I have every made.

July 11, 2012

I have a 10 yrs. old Chihuahua. She has 4-5 small wart-like growth at various locations. I noticed them several years ago & brought them to the attention of my Vet who measured and chatted them, but was pretty unconcerned. Over the years two of them started growing and became more raised from the skin. Wart remover had not affect on them.  One day, one of them appeared to be scanned over. The scab fell off as I thought she had scraped it. Then it grew another scab and the Vet decided to take it off. These things look like warts, but they don’t act like warts. Now another one is starting the scabbing  process. Anyone familiar with these warts that don’t seem to be warts. Again, she’s had them for years and years.

Nancy Schumacher
July 10, 2012

I'm a groomer and used Super Clot on a bleeding wart with the owners permission.  I keep it on hand on the rare occasion I get a bleeding nail.I bought it at a pet store, but I'm sure you can find it on line.  It can be used for minor wounds. I've even used it on my kids.

Linda Steiner
June 24, 2020

My friend has a Bishon that’s only about 6 yrs old with warts that break open and bleed. Her last Bishon had this condition so bad she put him to sleep- he was covered with them. Yesterday she was fussing about a sore looking one on the dog’s back and I told her to try putting some Medihoney on it. Today, a big hard brown pellet (looks like a pencil eraser, only brown and not quite that big) and a whitish lump of weird looking skin came out of the wart. It bled afterwards.?. We’re going to put more on it tonight with a bandage and if nothing else comes out we’ll pack it with neosporin and bandage it and see what happens.

June 17, 2020

Interesting coming across this article. Deep sigh...I have a 14 yr old yorkie still full of life and energy, but had this wart that appeared on top his head near 4 yrs ago. It kinda big now, but never was an issue of bleeding, until last year his habit on hanging underneath the bed, when coming from under bed, last year, he must have hit it hard, he was in my mothers room, typical he would be there, and come to my room near bedtime. I totally panicked seen blood streaming, washed him, good thing always been one to carry lots bandages, ..I cleaned him and where he hit wart and bandage it up. I have blocked him from going underneath the beds. But now and then he scratches or runs it. Sometimes weeks and weeks past no bleeding, but then it comes back. I have tried some of the so called natural stuff. This thing called Naturasil, small bottle, near 30.00  , did not a damn thing, but irritated his skin. Someone told me try castor oil, but...deep sigh..iam at point to just continue what I been doing, washing it everyday and covering with bandaid. Some of these so called safe, painless treatments, only seem to make matters worse. And I wish I did more thorough research on Thuja oil before messing with it.

Jerry Sinard
May 26, 2020

My Bichon Harry had a large marble size one on his back, luckily not reachable for licking or scratching. I read somewhere, mix baking soda with apple cider vinegar into a paste. Careful it bubbles and takes a lot of soda. I put it on daily. Within probably 14-20 days, it dried up and was gone.  He has a new one we started early. That said, giving him a haircut, he’s got a few BB size ones here and there. Just about to turn 12. Taking him and his partner Sophie who has about 3 one large one we thought was something under the skin, as she’s had it for 3-4 years, to their Doc for checking them then set up their teeth cleaning and wart removal.  We hate it as we know they will be in a little pain for a couple days but better that than an oozing bloody one like Harry had on his back.  Don’t put it off. Have them removed as necessary.

April 29, 2020

We have been struggling with this recently with our 16 year old dog.  A small bump that she started scratching 6-8 months ago has grown.  Now she is blind, deaf,  has seizures, and has a large bump between her eye that she won't leave alone. She's also pretty obese and cranky.  That's how I'll probably be, too. We don't know what to do with her and the local vet wouldn't even give us a diagnosis and then confused her with another dog when they finally called back.  She is happy most of the time and we don't know if we are holding on for our own sake or hers.  We are pretty rural and I don't know where to go with her that I can trust. Her former vet retired and we are still hoping to find someone we trust.  Clean it and stop it from bleeding.  That's all we've been doing.

Dr Tony Johnson
April 17, 2020

The peroxide might be a little irritating - I'd consider skipping, or diluting way down :)

April 17, 2020

Thank you so much! I’ve been using a cotton ball with warm water mixed with peroxide to clean it and neosporin as well.  The halo sure helps but she still manages to bump her head every once in a while.

Dr Tony Johnson
April 17, 2020

I think you are doing what you can. Keeping it clean and treating any superficial infection with something like Neosporin are helpful. Preventing self-trauma is a must.  You can also put some topical cortisone cream on it if it look red and inflamed. Just make sure anything topical isn't licked off. Good luck:)

April 16, 2020

Do you have recommendations for daily treatments for these?  My poo is almost 18 but still has a spark for life.  We just sprinted - on leash of course - in the park today.  She wears a halo during the day to protect her head which is where her bloody wart resides.  I'm trying to keep up with the cleaning daily.  She can go a number of days without bleeding but one little tap on a sofa it will form a crusty blood layer.  As per your article, if I leave it, it's fine, but then it start to REEK and puss a tad.  I also had the quality of life, mine and my pooch with the vet a few weeks ago, but we aren't there yet.

March 15, 2020

My Scruffy party poodle is going through the same thing.  I fear the end is near. He’s deaf, going blind, can’t eat hard food, and bleeds slowly from the many warts on his body.

January 23, 2020

Similar situation here with an aged poodle chihuahua. This morning I started seriously thinking of putting an end to her misery. She's a lively, bleeding-warty, arthritic, half blind, demented sixteen year old.

January 21, 2020

Great post. At times I was laughing out loud. We're dealing with a 16-year old, half-blind, half-deaf, half-senile dog who has now begun chattering, as well as chewing on her ever growing collection of warts. We're not there yet, but it sure would be nice if a The End sign would drop from the sky to tell us the right moment. Thanks for this.

May 11, 2019

I love this article so much. Thanks for making me smile as I think about my senior dog's future. I just adopted her and she's currently chewing on a skin tag that never got removed, and I'm wondering how I can "diy" it. *Sigh*

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