A Common Skin Problem in Dogs
“If you suspect your dog has this or any other disease or condition you
have unsuccessfully tried treating at home,
call your veterinarian.”
Pyoderma is a relatively common bacterial infection of the skin in dogs. It is one of many different diseases that can adversely affect a dog’s skin and coat.
Diagnosing this disease without a trip to the veterinarian can be difficult because the symptoms of various canine skin diseases often look very similar even when they have different underlying causes. If you suspect your dog has this or any other disease or condition you have unsuccessfully tried treating at home, call your veterinarian.
Overview/Snapshot of the Disease
The term “pyoderma” means “pus in the skin.” In most cases, the condition is caused when bacteria that are normally present on the skin overgrow creating an infection.
Healthy skin and a well-functioning immune system generally keep these bacteria in check. Therefore, an underlying health problem is often involved in all but the simplest cases of this canine disease.
Symptoms depend on the severity of the condition. When the infection is limited to just the outer layers of skin, a condition known as superficial pyoderma, dogs generally do not act sick, but they can be very itchy.
Skin lesions can take a variety of forms, including:
- Pustules – small pus-filled pockets within the skin
- Papules – small, solid swellings in the skin that are often inflamed
- Erythema – redness of the skin
- Epidermal collarettes – a circular area that is ringed by flaky skin
- Alopecia – patches of hair loss
- Hyper-pigmentation – darkening of the skin
Dogs that scratch, lick, and bite at itchy areas also can develop “hot spots” or traumatized areas that are characterized by hair loss, infection, redness, and oozing. When infection involves deeper layers of skin, a condition unsurprisingly called deep pyoderma, dogs can become very sick. Symptoms include:
- Pain or discomfort
- Loss of appetite
- Open sores that may drain pus
Your dog’s skin is home to variety of bacteria. Under normal circumstances, his immune system and his skin’s natural defenses prevent these bacteria from overgrowing and producing an infection. If something disrupts these protective measures, bacteria take advantage of the situation. Possible underlying causes include:
- Allergies to food, pollen, mold, flea bites, etc.
- Parasites like Demodex or Sarcoptes mites
- Hormonal disturbances (e.g., canine hypothyroidism)
- Trauma to the skin (e.g., prolonged dampness under matted fur or between folds of skin)
- Immune dysfunction
Typically, Staphylococcus intermedius bacteria are to blame in superficial cases, but any of a number of bacteria can be involved with deep infections.
To definitively diagnose this dog disease and determine if any underlying conditions are present, your veterinarian may perform the following tests:
- A complete physical exam and history
- Skin cytology looking for abnormal numbers of bacteria or yeast on the skin
- Skin scrapings to check for mites
- Fungal culture (a test for ring worm)
If your dog is suffering from deep pyoderma or recurrent or relapsing of the superficial variety, additional diagnostic tests, including blood work, a urinalysis, fecal examinations, bacterial cultures, and allergy testing may be necessary.
To treat a skin infection, your veterinarian will usually prescribe an extended course of antibiotics. Clipping fur from affected areas, medicated baths and rinses, and topical ointments can all be very helpful as well.
Make sure to treat your dog for the length of time recommended by your veterinarian (often three weeks or longer) and to keep any recheck appointments. Stopping treatment of this and many other dog health problems too early can lead to a relapse that is more difficult to treat the second time around.
To avoid this common dog disease, any underlying conditions that weaken the dog’s immune system or disrupt the skin’s normal defensive mechanisms must be dealt with. Keep your dog clean and free from mats with regular grooming and prevent external parasites with the use of any of the safe and effective flea control products now available.
If your dog has been diagnosed with an allergy, hormonal imbalance, or other chronic medical condition, focus on keeping his primary disorder under control and the frequency and severity of relapses will decrease.
Consulting Veterinarian: Jennifer Coates, DVM