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Pyoderma in Dogs

What is Pyoderma in Dogs?

Pyoderma in dogs refers to a bacterial skin infection, a prevalent ailment among canines. Due to certain characteristics of their skin, dogs face an elevated risk of developing pyoderma. Factors such as the thin outer barrier and higher pH levels of a dog’s skin make it susceptible to bacterial overgrowth and invasion. Moreover, damage to the skin barrier, often caused by scratching and licking, further predisposes dogs to pyoderma. Depending on the type of pyoderma, any area of the skin can become infected in affected dogs.

Types of Pyoderma in Dogs

Pyoderma manifests in various types, each affecting different layers of the dog’s skin. Understanding these types helps in identifying and treating the condition effectively:

Surface Pyoderma: This type targets the outer layer (epidermis) of the skin. It includes:

  • Pyotraumatic dermatitis (“hot spots”): Rapidly developing and intensely itchy.
  • Intertrigo: Common in short-muzzled breeds like English Bulldogs, affecting skin folds.
  • Bacterial overgrowth syndrome (BOGS): Characterized by greasy, itchy skin with a noticeable odor, often found on the underside of the body.

Superficial Pyoderma: Affects the epidermis and part of the hair follicles. Signs include redness, circular crusts, bumps, and hair loss. It encompasses:

  • Impetigo (“puppy pyoderma”): Typically affects areas with little hair, such as the belly, commonly seen in healthy puppies and occasionally in immunocompromised adult dogs.
  • Superficial bacterial folliculitis (SBF) and superficial spreading pyoderma: Causes widespread hair loss, particularly severe in breeds like Shetland Sheepdogs, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and Collies.

Mucocutaneous Pyoderma: Leads to excessive mucus production in various areas such as the lips, nose, skin around the eyes, vulva, prepuce, and the anal region. Certain breeds like German Shepherds, Bichon Frisés, and poodles may have a predisposition to this type.

Deep Pyoderma: Affects lower skin layers (dermis, subcutis), often resulting from untreated superficial pyoderma or ruptured skin follicles. Characteristics include swelling, purple-looking areas, draining tracts of infection, redness, crusting, and hair loss. It includes:

  • Furunculosis: Commonly observed between a dog’s toes or occasionally after bathing or intense brushing.
  • Acne: More prevalent in young dogs, causing inflammation and infection around the chin and mouth.
  • German Shepherd deep pyoderma: Affects the outer thighs, groin, and trunk.
  • Lick granuloma: Develops from excessive licking of lower leg surfaces, potentially due to bacterial infections or other causes.
  • Callus pyoderma: Results in dark, thickened skin over infected pressure points.


Pyoderma in dogs typically presents with various observable signs. These may include redness and itchiness of the skin, circular crusts, flakiness, patches of hair loss, and lesions resembling pimples. Dogs affected by pyoderma often exhibit visible sores and pus if they have been scratching or biting their skin.

In cases where the condition persists for several weeks or longer, the skin may darken and thicken over time. Dogs suffering from deep pyoderma may display additional symptoms such as swelling, draining tracts of infection, along with signs of discomfort like low energy levels, loss of appetite, trembling, or other indications of pain.


Pyoderma typically arises as a secondary condition linked to another underlying illness or disease process. It may develop as a complication of:

  • Allergies triggered by fleas, environmental factors, or specific food ingredients.
  • Infestation by parasitic skin organisms like Sarcoptes or Demodex mites.
  • Endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease.

Immune system disorders or instances of immunosuppression.

Clearing a bacterial infection may be necessary before further investigations into the root cause can commence. The predominant bacterial culprit responsible for pyoderma is Staphylococcus pseudintermedius, accounting for over 90 percent of cases. While this bacterium normally resides on the skin, its proliferation and consequent issues occur when the skin barrier becomes compromised or unhealthy.

  • Other causative agents include Staphylococcus schleiferi, Staphylococcus aureus (rarely transmissible to humans), as well as invaders like E. coli, Pseudomonas, Actinomyces, Nocardia, among others.


To diagnose pyoderma in your dog, the veterinarian begins with a thorough physical examination. By assessing specific lesions, such as pustules resembling pimples, the veterinarian may preliminarily diagnose your pet based on their observations during the exam. However, diagnostic testing is typically required, which may include:

  • Skin Cytology: The veterinarian takes an impression smear or tape sample from the affected skin areas and examines it under a microscope. This non-invasive test helps identify the presence of bacteria and yeast.
  • Skin Scraping: This method is employed to detect mites like Sarcoptes scabiei or the Demodex species under microscopic analysis.
  • Culture and Sensitivity: A swab of the affected skin is sent to a diagnostic laboratory for fungal and/or bacterial culture and sensitivity testing. The results, although taking several days, pinpoint the precise types of bacteria and/or fungus responsible for the infection, aiding in tailored treatment.

Your veterinarian will prescribe medication tailored to treat the specific infection. In-house ringworm culture may be performed at the veterinary clinic. For recurrent or severe skin infections, bacterial culture and susceptibility testing are recommended.

  • Skin Biopsy: If your pet experiences recurrent infections or if the skin exhibits unusual characteristics, a section of the affected skin may be excised and sent to a pathology laboratory for examination.
  • Bloodwork: This may be necessary to identify the underlying cause of your pet’s skin infection, including tests for thyroid or Cushing’s disease.
  • Allergy Testing: Suspected allergies may prompt your veterinarian to suggest an elimination diet trial to identify food allergies or intradermal allergy testing conducted by a veterinary dermatologist.


To effectively treat pyoderma in dogs, certain measures and medications are typically recommended by veterinarians:

  • Use of an Elizabethan collar (e-cone) is advised to prevent licking or biting of the affected skin, thereby reducing the risk of reinfection and facilitating healing.
  • Medications prescribed by your veterinarian may include:
    • Antibiotics: Oral antibiotics like cephalexin, Simplicef, Clavamox, and clindamycin are commonly used. Injectable antibiotics like cefovecin (Convenia®) administered by a veterinarian may last for two weeks. Adjustments in antibiotic choices may be necessary for resistant or deep infections with specific bacteria.
    • Anti-itch medication: Options such as Apoquel, Cytopoint, or anti-inflammatory doses of steroids may be recommended based on your pet’s condition and safety considerations.
  • If improvement isn’t observed after several days of treatment, contacting your veterinarian is advisable. Further diagnostic steps like culture and sensitivity testing may be necessary to determine the most effective antibiotic.
  • Topical treatments suggested by your veterinarian may include:
    • Medicated shampoo: Formulations containing antibacterial and antifungal agents like chlorhexidine, ketoconazole, miconazole, or benzoyl peroxide are commonly used. Long-term use of medicated shampoo may be recommended for pets with recurrent infections.
    • Medicated spray, mousse, or ointment: Application of antimicrobial products on dry skin may be instructed by your veterinarian, especially for pets with recurrent infections.
    • “Clip and clean” method: Veterinary staff may clip hair surrounding localized skin issues to prevent reinfection and promote air exposure. Gentle antiseptic washes like 2 percent or 4 percent chlorhexidine solution may be used for cleaning.
    • Epsom salt foot soaks: For inflammation and infection of paws, soaking affected areas in Epsom salt solution (two tablespoons per liter of warm water) may be recommended.

Following your veterinarian’s instructions diligently and monitoring your dog’s progress closely are crucial for effective management of pyoderma.

Living and Management

Follow-up appointments with your veterinarian are essential to ensure complete clearance of your dog’s infection before discontinuing antibiotic treatment. Treatment might need to be extended for 7 to 14 days beyond the point when the skin appears normal, so it’s crucial not to halt antibiotics prematurely. Premature cessation of antibiotic treatment can contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance.

Clearing the infection is often a prerequisite before investigating the underlying cause of pyoderma. Identifying the underlying cause, whether it involves allergies, Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, or another condition, is crucial to prevent frequent relapses of pyoderma in your dog.

Length of Treatment for Pyoderma in Dogs

The duration of treatment varies based on the type and severity of your pet’s pyoderma. Superficial pyoderma often necessitates treatments spanning three to four weeks, while deep pyoderma may require several months of treatment. It’s imperative not to cease treatment without the explicit recommendation of your pet’s veterinarian.

Pyoderma in Dogs FAQs

Is pyoderma in dogs contagious to humans?

While it’s rare for humans to contract pyoderma from their dogs, it is possible, especially with bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus. However, Staphylococcus pseudintermedius, the primary cause of canine pyoderma, does not typically affect humans.

Is pyoderma in dogs a serious condition?

Pyoderma in dogs is usually treatable as an outpatient with favorable outcomes. However, deep pyoderma can pose greater severity and, in rare extreme cases, may necessitate hospitalization.

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