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Monday, July 21, 2014

Dental Floss Doesn't Remove Skin Tags, But Thanks For Trying

After over 17 years in practice it gets difficult to surprise me or for me to see things I haven't seen before.  But today it happened.  It caused more of a sigh and face-palm than a true surprise, but it was still a variation that was new to me.
One of my other doctors saw a dog that has been a regular at our clinic for years.  He is an older beagle and generally in pretty good health.  He has had a rather large and long, but otherwise benign, skin tag for a long time.  We have talked to them about removing it while he was under anesthesia for a routine dental cleaning, but they had always declined.  It seems as if they had an inkling to try it themselves.
Today they brought him in to remove the dental floss they had placed around it. Yes, you read that correctly.  Dental floss.  About a month ago they had tied it tightly around the base of the skin tag, hoping that it would cut off blood supply and cause the tag to fall off without surgery.  The floss dug into the skin and tag, but didn't actually result in enough blood occlusion to cause the tissue to die and slough off.  But it did dig in enoug that they couldn't remove it themselves.  So our doctor had to use some suture scissors to get underneath it, cut it loose, and then clean the infected tissue around it.  All while the skin tag flapped around like it always had.

While this may be the first time I've seen dental floss used, this is an old (and rather bad) way to try and remove masses or even castrate an animal.  Usually rubber bands are used tightly around the offending growth or testicles, constricting the blood supply and eventually causing the tissue to fall off because the cells have died.  For some reason some people think that this is a perfectly acceptable substitution for surgery.

Using floss, string, or rubber bands in this way is one of the worst things you can do.  If the tissue is large enough, such as the scrotum and testicles, there will be pain and discomfort.  Would any man feel fine with having his family jewels tied off and left to rot for a month or two?  If the procedure actually does work, it's doing so because the tissues are dying from lack of blood supply.  It is literally dying and rotting off the body.  Who thinks this is a good thing?  There is a big risk of infection or having more tissue than desired be affected.  In the case of a mass or polyp you leave the base in the skin so it has a chance of regrowing.  In order to completely resolve the problem you have to cut away the attached skin, not just remove the dangling part.

Thankfully this was a relatively minor irritation and the dog is going to be fine.  And he's coming in later this week to have the skin tag properly removed.