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Is your dog’s scratching driving them (and you!) to distraction? Does their skin look crusty or red? Do they have a rash, pimples, or an odour to their skin? They could have pyoderma, a common skin condition that affects dogs of all breeds, sizes and ages. If you're concerned that pyoderma could be wreaking havoc on your dog's skin, read on to learn more about common causes and treatments.
What is pyoderma in dogs?
Pyoderma is a bacterial infection, which can be superficial or deep, that affects hair follicles and the surrounding skin. If you break it down, "pyo" means pus, and "derma" means skin. Potential underlying causes of pyoderma in dogs include:
- A foreign body, like a grass seed, getting under the skin.
- A trauma or bite wound.
- Sensitivities to fleas, food, or environmental factors like pollen or dust mites (atopic dermatitis). Certain breeds, such as bulldogs, boxers and Labradors, are more prone to atopic dermatitis than others.
- A hormonal disorder, like Cushing's syndrome or hypothyroidism.
- An autoimmune disorder.
- Administration of immune-suppressing drugs, like steroids or chemotherapy.
Certain breeds have issues with skin folds, such as the Shar pei and the short-faced breeds with folds of skin on their face. When furry skin gets folded, the air can’t get in and the fold becomes moist and inflamed. This allows bacteria to thrive, causing issues like pyoderma. These cases of pyoderma can be difficult to spot because they’re hidden in the folds.
What are the symptoms of pyoderma in dogs?
Pyoderma can present itself in a variety of ways, depending on the cause. It can be limited to one area, or it may cover your dog's skin. Some areas of the body, such as skin folds, chins, lips, vulvar folds, and the skin in between the toes are more likely to be affected. Sometimes pyoderma is extremely itchy; other times, it doesn't seem to make a dog itchy at all. Signs of pyoderma to look out for include:
- Red bumps.
- Flaking skin.
- Hair loss.
- Skin discolouration.
- Excessive shedding.
Puppies can get a special kind of pyoderma called puppy pyoderma. This tends to affect the less-hairy areas such as the armpits, groin and abdomen. These red bumps can scab over and scale. Puppy pyoderma can make your dog slightly itchy, but pups with puppy pyoderma are usually otherwise in good health.
What is the treatment for pyoderma in dogs?
Pyoderma is usually caused by Staphylococcus bacteria (or Staph). Unless your dog has a drug-resistant species, Staph infections are usually easily cleared up.
If your vet suspects pyoderma, they’ll first want to confirm this with a series of tests. They may take a variety of samples from the skin, like swabs and scrapes and possibly even biopsies. They will look under the microscope to look for bacteria and other organisms, such as mites, and may also send a sample to a specialised laboratory to determine the most effective antibiotic(s) to prescribe if necessary. They may also order a fungal culture or a black light test to rule out ringworm.
Once diagnosed, pyoderma is treated by resolving the bacterial infection. Pyoderma in dogs is directly treated with antimicrobial therapy — either oral antibiotics or topical antibacterial medication, shampoo, or spray applied to the affected area. The use of antibiotics should be kept to a minimum, so please follow your vet's instructions for these antibiotics closely.
You and your vet will also need to work together to determine and address the underlying cause of the infection, if applicable. There may be some trial and error involved; your vet may ask to take some blood, skin or urine samples from your dog. They may also want to do a food trial to rule out food sensitivities.
Does nutrition play a role?
Nutrition and your dog's food plays a large role in skin health. For example, the amino acids coming from dietary proteins are the building blocks for skin cells and hair, while fatty acids are key for maintaining coat quality and reducing water loss through the skin.
Some dogs may develop sensitivities to certain food ingredients, often a protein such as beef or chicken, which can lead to a secondary pyoderma. If your vet suspects a food sensitivity as the cause, they will need to treat the skin infection first. They may then recommend feeding your dog a dietetic food to see if the skin problem resolves. These trials are exclusion trials, so it’s very important that you don’t feed your dog anything else besides the special food. For skin conditions, the trial may need to last 8-10 weeks, so be prepared for the long haul and make sure the whole family is on board.
If your dog doesn't have food sensitivities, but has pyoderma secondary to other health concerns, like a hormonal disorder, then it may still be a good idea to feed your dog a food that's specially formulated for dogs with sensitive skin. It's important to talk to your veterinarian about the ideal food to make sure your dog receives the best nutrition possible. Good nutrition and using foods which support skin function can help to speed up recovery and minimise treatment costs.
Pyoderma is a pain, but with the right knowledge and care, it can be resolved. If your dog develops pyoderma, especially more than once, understand that you're dealing with an underlying issue that needs resolution. If you notice any signs of this infection, call your vet, who will work with you to get your dog feeling like their best self again.
Dr. Sarah Wooten
Dr. Sarah Wooten graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. A member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists, Dr. Wooten divides her professional time between small animal practice in Greeley, Colorado, public speaking on associate issues, leadership, and client communication, and writing. She enjoys camping with her family, skiing, SCUBA, and participating in triathlons.
Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA and Dr. Emma Milne BVSc FRCVS