What Is Pyoderma In Dogs?

by Britt
Photo credit: Zivica Kerkez / Shutterstock.com

The sight of an itchy dog often raises concerns among pet parents. From parasites, like fleas and ticks, to uncomfortable skin issues and irritation, the explanation is rarely a positive one. In some cases, even finding a cause is an uphill battle.

One condition you may have read about or heard your veterinarian mention is pyoderma. But what is pyoderma, and what does this mean for your best friend?

In this article, we will dive deep into the world of dog skin issues, uncovering not only the warning signs and possible causes of pyoderma in dogs but also the steps you can take to offer some much-needed relief from the itch and irritation.

Let’s get started…

What is Pyoderma?

Pyoderma is a term used to refer to a bacterial skin infection, with the word literally translating to “pus (pyo) in the skin (derma).” It is one of the most common dog skin conditions. Luckily, it is also often easy to treat once it has been diagnosed. Most dogs recover fully with the proper medication.

The condition is classified into one of three types based on its location in or on the skin. They include:

  • Surface Pyoderma: infections on top of the skin’s surface
  • Superficial Pyoderma: infections in the outermost layer of the skin, including in the hair follicles (which may be referred to as superficial bacterial folliculitis)
  • Deep Pyoderma: infections in the deeper layers of the skin

The condition itself isn’t always visible, making it sometimes difficult to spot. This is why it is so important for dog parents to familiarize themselves with the warning signs of skin irritation and seek veterinary help. They can do the tests necessary to look beyond what is visible to the naked eye.

What Causes Pyoderma in Dogs?

Every healthy dog has bacteria on the surface of their skin. When a dog’s skin becomes irritated for any reason, they respond by scratching at the spot. This creates openings in the layers of the skin where the bacteria can move deeper, creating the perfect environment for them to grow and thrive.

There are several potential triggers for the initial irritation, including:

  • Environmental or seasonal allergies
  • Food allergies
  • Flea allergy dermatitis
  • Chronic exposure to moisture (like skin folds)
  • Seborrhea
  • Impaired blood flow to the skin
  • Endocrine disorders (Hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease)

It can also start when the skin is damaged due to an injury. Even a minor injury could cause just enough of an opening into the skin’s layers to begin the cycle.

Is Dog Pyoderma Contagious to Humans?

As this is a bacterial infection, it isn’t a risk of transmission like an airborne virus would be. Some strains of the bacteria can occasionally lead to an infection in humans or other dogs. However, the risk is incredibly low unless you have a compromised immune system.

You can minimize the risk of transmission by focusing on keeping your home clean as your dog fights the infection. This includes regularly cleaning their food and water dishes as well as any bedding your dog sleeps on regularly.

If you have an open wound, keep it covered when spending time with your infected dog.

Common Warning Signs of Skin Irritation and Pyoderma

As we already mentioned, pyoderma isn’t always visible. It can be especially difficult to spot in the early stages. However, we never want to see our dogs suffer from something uncomfortable. The sooner you recognize a problem, the faster you can seek treatment to give them much-needed relief.

Some of the most common warning signs to watch out for include:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Lesions that look like human pimples
  • Dry, flaky patches
  • Welts or blisters
  • Bald patches
  • Unpleasant odor
  • Blood or pus

If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian. Not only will they be able to confirm if a bacterial infection is present, but they can also provide instant relief for any irritation and discomfort.

Are Some Dogs More Susceptible to Pyoderma?

While pyoderma doesn’t have a genetic component, breed-specific factors could increase the risk. Dogs with natural skin folds, like the English Bulldog and the Shar Pei, may experience skin irritation more frequently within the folds. The folds collect and trap moisture, creating the ideal environment for bacterial growth.

Female dogs who have had multiple litters of puppies may also be at risk. This is due to the fact that the mammary glands develop folds over time, much like the skin folds we already mentioned.

Young puppies are also at a higher risk due to their sensitive skin. There is also an increased risk for dogs with medical conditions that compromise the immune system. Additionally, senior dogs often experience increased skin sensitivity and lower immune system performance.

How is Pyoderma Treated?

Treating pyoderma in dogs requires treating the infection and addressing the underlying cause. If the cause of your dog’s skin issue isn’t resolved, the condition will return.

Your veterinarian will prescribe an oral antibiotic that your dog must take for approximately 3-4 weeks. Sometimes, a topical antibiotic like a medicated cream may be used. But, this only solves one piece of the bigger puzzle by treating the infection. Treating the infection repeatedly without addressing the underlying problem will often lead to more significant complications, such as antibiotic resistance.

Your veterinarian may ask many questions about your dog’s lifestyle and diet. This is to help establish a better understanding of the potential triggers, including opportunities to be exposed to environmental, seasonal, or food allergens. By managing the allergies, you can prevent the skin irritation that ultimately results in the formation of an infection.

If your dog’s pyoderma is the result of a medical condition, like hypothyroidism, you will need to work with your vet to address that problem directly.

Some cases of pyoderma can be traced back to lifestyle-related causes. For example, if you have a long-haired dog that isn’t properly groomed, it could lead to irritated skin and the ideal conditions for the bacteria to thrive. After treating the infection, proper grooming will be required to avoid a recurrence.

Photo credit: KPhrom / Shutterstock.com

What Happens if Pyoderma is Left Untreated?

As with any infection, pyoderma should be addressed by a veterinarian as soon as possible. While you may find suggestions for managing the discomfort at home, the infection must be treated with an antibiotic for your dog to recover fully. Failure to take this step could lead to the infection getting into the blood and spreading, causing a possibly life-threatening systemic infection.

Not only is untreated pyoderma a severe risk to your dog’s health and well-being, but it will also be excruciating for your dog. The condition starts with an uncomfortable skin irritation. However, as it progresses, this discomfort will become exponentially worse.

How Can I Prevent Pyoderma?

The best scenario for both your dog and your bank account is to prevent an infection from ever starting – avoiding both the discomfort for your best friend and the significant costs that can come from veterinary care to treat it. There is no guaranteed way to prevent pyoderma. But here are a few steps you can take to reduce your dog’s risk:

Maintain a Regular Grooming Schedule

One of the most preventable causes of pyoderma is a lack of appropriate grooming. As a dog’s coat becomes tangled and matted, it traps moisture and grime beneath its surface. This irritates the skin, starting the cycle, which often leads to pyoderma. Luckily, this cause is 100% avoidable.

The first step is to ensure that you fully understand your dog's grooming needs. If you’re a first-time dog owner or this is your first time with your dog’s breed specifically, you may benefit from having a conversation with a groomer. They have the experience and knowledge necessary to recommend how to best care for your dog’s coat.

Once you understand your dog’s grooming needs, you can purchase the necessary gear or make appointments with a local groomer to meet your dog’s needs.

Flea and Tick Prevention

Another preventable cause of pyoderma is flea allergy dermatitis. This refers to an allergic response to the saliva of fleas when they bite. Therefore, the easiest and most effective solution is to commit to using a trusted flea and tick prevention product.

Many options are available, depending on your preference, including both oral and topical options. When selecting the best flea and tick prevention for your dog, consider breed, weight, and age recommendations. For example, many products are safe for a full-grown adult dog but unsafe for a young puppy.

If you’re unsure about the best flea and tick preventatives for your dog, contact your veterinarian. They will discuss the various options and help you determine which suits your lifestyle best.

Identify and Avoid Triggers Where Possible

Does your dog suffer from seasonal or environmental allergies? Do they have food allergies or intolerances? Understanding the triggers that cause skin irritation can prevent this before it begins.

Avoiding the trigger can be challenging for dogs with environmental or seasonal allergies. After all, who can keep their dog away from grass or pollen? Right? Instead, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe a medication to reduce the symptoms and minimize discomfort. For those with food allergies, a change in diet will allow you to eliminate the trigger by being careful with the food and treat choices provided.

Extending this further, some dogs are susceptible to parasites like fleas and ticks. If this is the case, avoiding higher-risk areas or time periods can help to reduce the risk of an infestation.

Keep Up with Regular Veterinary Check-Ups

There are several potential medical explanations for the development of pyoderma in dogs, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease. The best opportunity to reduce the risk of skin irritation is to identify and manage these conditions as soon as possible. Ensuring your dog sees the vet annually for their routine check-up gives them a better chance of catching a problem before it develops into a more significant issue.

Conduct Weekly Body Scans

In addition to a skilled veterinarian monitoring your dog’s health daily, you can also prioritize their health and well-being. Once a week, take a moment to examine your dog carefully for any signs of skin issues or irritation. This can often be done while petting or cuddling on the couch.

Simply run your hand over your dog’s body, checking for the development of lumps or bumps. If your dog has a longer coat, separate the fur to check their skin. Is it red? Dry? Flaking? Irritated? These are all signs of a bigger problem and warrant a call to your veterinarian. Explain your observations and concerns. This will provide them with a better understanding of your dog’s health between exams.

Use a Medicated Shampoo

Oral antibiotics may not be the most effective approach for dogs suffering from surface pyoderma. Instead, your veterinarian may recommend a topical treatment, like a medicated shampoo. These products work to address the bacterial growth before the condition has a chance to migrate under the skin’s surface. Carefully read and follow the instructions on the packaging regarding how often the shampoo should be used and how long it should be left on the skin before rinsing it off. This will help boost the effectiveness of its use.

Final Thoughts – Pyoderma in Dogs

Pyoderma is the most common skin condition experienced by dogs. Luckily, treatment is highly effective, especially when the infection is caught early. To reduce your dog’s risk, focus on their overall skin care, including prioritizing grooming and annual veterinary appointments.

If you notice signs that your dog may be suffering from pyoderma, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Treatment will involve antibiotics for the infection as well as addressing the root cause. With proper care, your dog will be back to their happy, healthy self before long!

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Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Indiana and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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