Pyoderma In Dogs: Causes & Treatment

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You may think dogs have it easy. They don’t have to wake up in the morning and wash their skin and hair or worry about things like oily skin and acne. However, even though dogs don’t have a morning routine like you do, their skin is still susceptible to infections and conditions with uncomfortable symptoms. Dogs can be affected by a range of skin issues, such as oily skin, itchy skin, pustules, acne and inflammation, just like humans can. Pyoderma is one of many skin conditions that affects both humans and dogs. It is a bacterial skin infection that can cause symptoms such as odor, crusting, hair loss, pus in the skin, lesions, and more.

What Is Pyoderma In Dogs?

Pyoderma is one of the most common diseases in dogs. It is a bacterial skin infection that literally means “pus in the skin”

Pyoderma translates to “pus in the skin,” giving you insight into this dog skin condition.1 Pyoderma is a bacterial skin infection that’s one of the most common diseases in dogs.2 Pyoderma is a condition that can affect humans, but it’s more common in dogs because of the type of skin they have. Their skin is thinner and contains a higher pH than human skin, making it easier for bacteria to overgrow.2 

Pyoderma is mostly superficial and a secondary condition to a variety of other health conditions like allergies and parasites.1 However, it should be treated as soon as possible because it can cause unpleasant symptoms like odor, crusting, pain, and blood and pus secretions.1

Types Of Dog Pyoderma

There are two types of dog pyoderma: simple and complex. Simple pyoderma only occurs in young animals triggered by one-time events, such as flea infestations. Meanwhile complex infections are recurrent and typically a symptom of an underlying illness.1 These types of pyoderma can be further classified by the depth of the infection.

  • Surface pyoderma: Surface pyoderma affects the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin. Signs include pink, irritated, or inflamed skin and hair loss. Surface pyoderma may look like dog alopecia because they have similar symptoms. Surface pyoderma can include hot spots, infection of the skin folds, and bacteria overgrowth that makes the dog’s skin feel greasy and emit an odor.2
  • Superficial pyoderma: Superficial pyoderma affects the next layer of the skin and part of the hair follicle. Symptoms of superficial pyoderma include crusty skin, bumps, hair loss, and inflammation.2 Impetigo (also known as puppy pyoderma), superficial bacterial folliculitis (SBF), and mucocutaneous pyoderma are all types of superficial pyoderma.2
  • Deep pyoderma: Deep pyoderma affects the lower layer of the skin and often has the most significant symptoms, ranging from draining infection tracts,redness, crusting, and hair loss. Common types of deep pyoderma include furunculosis, acne, lick granuloma, and callus pyoderma.2

Pyoderma depth of infection in dogs

Symptoms Of Pyoderma In Dogs

While there are several symptoms of pyoderma that depend on the type, this skin condition is generally characterized by symptoms such as:

  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Itchiness
  • Crusts
  • Flakiness
  • Hair loss
  • Lesions1

Dogs with pyoderma may bite and scratch themselves to relieve their itchy skin, potentially causing infected lesions. Surface and superficial pyoderma typically don’t cause pain. However, deep pyoderma can cause pain, crusting, and an unpleasant odor from the skin. Additionally, your dog may have pus or blood exude from the lesions.2

Most dogs with pyoderma experience excessive scaling of the skin that is pierced by hairs. Some dogs may experience itching while others don’t. Additionally, superficial pyoderma may look like scabbing, with short-haired dogs having more visible welts due to hair follicle inflammation.1 

Symptoms of pyoderma in dogs

What Causes Pyoderma In Dogs?

Pyoderma is typically a secondary symptom of a primary illness. Common causes of pyoderma in dogs include:

  • Infection
  • Inflammation due to allergies (including skin allergies, environmental allergies, and food allergies) or fleas
  • Cancer
  • Endocrine disorders1

Most cases of pyoderma in dogs are caused by bacterial infections. Bacterial pyoderma is often triggered by bacterial overgrowth on the skin. Staphylococcus pseudintermedius is a common trigger of this skin disorder, causing more than 90% of cases.2

This bacteria inhabits the skin, but it can become problematic when the skin barrier is broken or unhealthy.1 For example, if a dog scratches themselves and creates a lesion or their skin is so dry that it begins to crack.

Ultimately, pyoderma typically results as a secondary infection from a primary underlying illness, but it can also occur due to the use of glucocorticoid drugs and antibiotic medications that have been used incorrectly.1 Chronic moisture can also cause the bacteria to overgrow. For example, dogs that live in humid climates may be more prone to certain skin conditions, including bacterial skin conditions. 

Additionally, some dogs are more prone to pyoderma than others, including those with skin folds, where bacteria can grow because it provides the ideal dark and moist environment. 

Diagnosing Pyoderma In Dogs

To diagnose the illness behind your dog’s skin condition, vets will perform a physical examination. Based on the visual signs of the skin, such as lesions, they may be able to diagnose your pet without any additional testing. However, diagnostic testing is typically used to determine whether your dog has pyoderma and what’s causing it. Some tests used to diagnose pyoderma in dogs include:

  • Skin scraping: Skin scraping is done to look for mites under a microscope. If there are no mites, your vet can rule them out as the cause of your dog’s skin condition. 
  • Skin cytology: Cytology is a smear of the affected skin, and it’s looked at under the microscope to look for signs of bacteria or yeast. 
  • Culture: Vets may also swab the affected area to have it sent to a diagnostic laboratory to determine the type of bacteria on your dog’s skin. Depending on what type of bacteria is found, there are different treatment options. 
  • Biopsy: A skin biopsy may be used if your dog has recurring skin infections or if the skin looks strange to your vet and they’re unsure what could be the cause.
  • Allergy testing: Since allergies can cause pyoderma and a range of other skin conditions, they may perform allergy tests to determine whether an elimination diet is an appropriate method of treatment. 
  • Bloodwork: Bloodwork may be needed to diagnose the underlying cause of your dog’s pyoderma. Since most cases of pyoderma are secondary symptoms of a primary illness, identifying what’s causing the skin issue is key to ensuring your vet can effectively treat it.2 

As we’ve mentioned, pyoderma is typically triggered by an underlying illness, so your vet needs to diagnose the primary illness to ensure the pyoderma won’t be recurring. 

Treating Pyoderma In Dogs

How to treat pyoderma in dogs depends on the cause. Unfortunately, the treatment of pyoderma can be challenging because the bacteria has become more drug-resistant. However, vets will typically treat pyoderma with antibiotics. There are several common oral antibiotics your vet may use to treat dog pyoderma, but there's also an injectable antibiotic that can last up to two weeks. Depending on how resistant your dog’s infection is, your vet may prescribe other antibiotics.2 

They may also use topical therapy, such as shampoos and ointments to reduce some of the more uncomfortable symptoms for dogs, such as itchiness or pain.1 Anti-itch medication and anti-inflammatory steroids can help reduce some of the symptoms, but they may not treat the underlying cause of the pyoderma. Other topicals used include:

  • Medicated shampoo: Bathing your dog in medicated shampoo can help remove some of the bacteria causing the symptoms, providing itch relief. This shampoo is typically antibacterial and antifungal to eliminate bacteria and prevent recurring infections.
  • Medicated spray or ointment: Vets may prescribe medicated spray and ointment to reduce some of the side effects of pyoderma in dogs. If your dog has recurrent pyoderma infections, your vet may recommend using these products long-term to keep symptoms at bay. 

How Should I Take Care Of My Dog After The Vet Visit?

Once your dog is diagnosed with pyoderma, your vet will formulate a treatment plan with antibiotics and other products to help you care for them at home. The length of treatment varies depending on the type of pyoderma and severity of the infection. For example, superficial pyoderma may be treated within just a few weeks, but deep pyoderma may require more intensive treatment for a longer period of time.2

Always follow your vet’s instructions to ensure your dog has the best chance of a successful treatment. Not following these directions can lead to a recurrence of pyoderma. Therefore, even if your dog looks better after a few days of treatment, you should continue treatment for as long as your vet says to. The symptoms can start to disappear within a few days, but the bacteria will still be on their skin until the treatment is over.1

You should also pay attention to grooming and use medicated shampoos as best you can. Even though some dogs might be resistant to baths, it’s important you cover their skin and fur in shampoo to limit the growth of the bacteria. 

Pyoderma In Dogs: Frequently Asked Questions

Is pyoderma in dogs contagious?

Pyoderma in dogs can be contagious to humans, but it’s not likely. The pyoderma itself is not contagious, so as long as you know whether the underlying issue causing your dog’s pyoderma is transmittable, you can safely interact with your dog. You may still pet your dog and show them love when they have an infection. Additionally, dogs can’t catch pyoderma from each other because it’s typically a secondary issue from a primary underlying illness. Some of the underlying illnesses and infections can be contagious to other dogs, though. For example, dogs can catch fleas from one another, leading to pyoderma. However, the pyoderma itself is not contagious. 

Will pyoderma go away on its own?

Pyoderma does not go away on its own. Since it’s caused by bacteria, the bacteria on your dog’s skin can continue to multiply if it's not eliminated. The only way to get rid of this bacteria is through antibiotics and other treatments, such as antibacterial topical medication. While pyoderma may look like a surface problem, it can be painful for your dog. Additionally, if it’s not treated, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream through lesions, causing potentially fatal health complications. 

What does pyoderma look like on a dog? 

Pyoderma looks like red, inflamed skin with pustules. These pustules look similar to acne on humans and are often raised and filled with pus. Your dog’s skin may also appear crusty and dry, or they may experience flaky skin with patchy hair loss. 

Close up side profile of dog staring out of a window

Final Notes

Pyoderma is a painful condition for dogs that won’t go away without treatment. If you notice your dog has red, inflamed, itchy skin, take them to the vet as soon as possible, especially if their lumps are oozing blood and pus. Pyoderma is a serious skin infection that requires treatment as soon as possible. Since it may occur as a secondary infection due to a primary underlying illness, it may also help you catch serious illnesses before they worsen. 

If you think your dog has pyoderma, consult a Dutch vet. We can help diagnose and treat pyoderma in dogs to reduce your dog’s symptoms and make them more comfortable. Try Dutch today. 

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References

  1. Moriello, Karen A. “Pyoderma in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Oct. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/skin-disorders-of-dogs/pyoderma-in-dogs.

  2. “Pyoderma in Dogs.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/skin/c_multi_pyoderma.

Frequently Asked Questions

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