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Skin Ulcers in Dogs

What Are Skin Ulcers in Dogs?

Skin ulcers in dogs are deep wounds or open sores on the skin that often have difficulty healing on their own. They can result from factors that reduce blood supply to a specific area of the skin.

Skin ulcers in dogs can be categorized as either erosive or ulcerative. Erosions refer to shallow wounds, while ulcers are deeper wounds that typically take longer to heal. When ulcers develop, it’s usually due to issues with blood flow to the area or chronic irritation hindering the healing process.

Ulcers can be painful to the touch and may excrete fluid or blood. They are also prone to becoming infected, particularly if they weren’t initially caused by a skin infection.

Given the variety of skin conditions that can lead to ulceration, it’s a relatively common issue among dogs. If a dog is maintaining regular eating and drinking habits and has normal energy levels, it’s generally safe to schedule a visit with their regular veterinarian. However, it’s important not to delay, as ulcers can deteriorate rapidly, and noninfected ulcers can become infected swiftly.

If scheduling with the veterinarian during business hours isn’t feasible, it might be acceptable to wait until the weekend, but prompt attention is advised. The veterinarian may request photos and inquire about whether the dog is licking or scratching the affected area. If so, it’s recommended to use a comfy collar until the dog can be seen by a veterinarian.


  • Red, oozing sore(s)
  • Hair loss
  • Skin inflammation (swelling)
  • Painful sensation upon touch in the affected area
  • Presence of odor
  • Itchiness in the area
  • Occurrence over pressure points (e.g., joints)
  • Formation of dried crusts on the surface or leakage of fluid from the affected area


Skin ulcers in dogs can stem from various causes, each affecting blood flow to the skin. Here are several conditions associated with skin ulcers in dogs:

  • Hereditary disorders: Certain congenital skin issues, like familial dermatomyositis and zinc-responsive dermatosis, can manifest as ulcerations, particularly in breeds like Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Siberian Huskies, and Alaskan Malamutes.
  • Self-trauma/pyotraumatic dermatitis: Allergies often prompt intense itching and self-trauma, leading to hot spots or ulceration from excessive licking or chewing. These areas are prone to bacterial infection.
  • Other trauma: Burns, pressure sores, snake/spider bites, and chronic pressure on thin skin regions can result in ulceration.
  • Skin infections: Bacterial, yeast, fungal, and protozoal infections like staphylococcal pyoderma, candidiasis, blastomycosis, cryptococcosis, neosporosis, and cutaneous leishmaniasis can lead to skin ulcers.
  • Vasculitis: Infectious diseases like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or conditions such as cutaneous vasculitis can disrupt blood flow, causing skin rashes and ulceration.
  • External parasites: Fly bite dermatitis due to fly bites or mange caused by mites burrowing into the skin can lead to ulceration.
  • Immune-mediated disease: Conditions like pemphigus vulgaris, bullous pemphigoid, systemic lupus erythematosus, juvenile cellulitis, and vesicular cutaneous lupus can trigger the body’s immune system to attack itself, leading to skin ulceration.
  • Drug reactions: Rarely, dogs may react adversely to medications, resulting in immune-mediated responses like erythema multiforme, which can cause severe skin ulceration.
  • Skin cancer: Certain cancers like squamous cell carcinoma, cutaneous lymphoma, mast cell tumors, sarcomas, and mammary tumors can lead to skin ulceration over affected areas.

Understanding these potential causes can help in diagnosing and treating skin ulcers in dogs effectively.


When diagnosing skin ulcers in dogs, veterinarians typically commence with a thorough examination of the dog’s medical history and a comprehensive physical assessment.

During the evaluation, veterinarians may inquire about the following:

  • Signs of itching and self-grooming behaviors such as licking, scratching, or chewing.
  • Assessment of the dog’s appetite and energy levels.
  • Exposure to new medications, dietary changes, travel, or contact with other animals.
  • History of trauma or injury, including unsupervised outdoor activities.
  • Whether the dog is on regular parasite prevention measures.

To further investigate the condition, veterinarians may perform the following diagnostic procedures:

  • Impression smears of the ulcers to examine bacterial presence under a microscope.
  • Skin culture tests involving sending swabs to external laboratories to detect various fungal or bacterial agents.
  • Collection of urine and blood samples for additional testing.
  • Skin biopsies, involving the removal of tissue samples, to determine the underlying causes of the ulcers.

By conducting these diagnostic measures, veterinarians can accurately identify the underlying factors contributing to the development of skin ulcers in dogs and devise appropriate treatment plans.


The treatment of skin ulcers in dogs varies depending on the underlying cause. Here’s a general overview:

  • Antibiotics: If the ulcers are caused by bacterial infection, antibiotics may be prescribed to combat the infection.
  • Anti-itch Medications: Drugs like Apoquel® or Cytopoint® might be recommended to alleviate itching and prevent the dog from aggravating the affected area during the healing process.
  • Immunosuppressive Medications: In cases of autoimmune diseases, steroids or other immunosuppressive drugs may be necessary to manage the condition.
  • Pain Management: Dogs experiencing severe discomfort may require pain management to alleviate their symptoms.
  • Medication Adherence: It’s essential to follow the veterinarian’s instructions carefully when administering prescribed medications and monitor for any potential side effects.
  • Topical Treatments: Veterinarians may suggest topical products containing antimicrobials or antifungals, such as Douxo S3 Pyo® Wipes, to aid in the healing process.
  • Specialized Creams: Silver sulfadiazine cream is often used for burns, while wound care creams like Silver Honey® can help promote healing.
  • Caution with Over-the-Counter Products: It’s crucial to avoid using over-the-counter products on the dog’s ulcers without consulting the veterinarian, as some may contain ingredients that could worsen the condition.
  • Preventive Measures: During the healing process, prevent the dog from accessing the ulcers to avoid further irritation. A cone may be necessary to prevent licking or chewing.
  • Hygiene: Keep the ulcerated skin clean and dry to facilitate healing and prevent additional complications.

By adhering to these treatment guidelines and closely monitoring the dog’s progress, pet owners can help promote the healing of skin ulcers and improve their pet’s overall well-being.

Recovery and Management

Effective recovery and management of skin ulcers in dogs hinge upon preventing further irritation to the wounds during the healing process.

While wolves in the wild may lick their wounds, dogs have better options available. Licking wounds can introduce bacteria from saliva, potentially hindering the healing process. Hence, it’s advisable to clean the wounds with antiseptic solutions recommended by your veterinarian, such as diluted chlorhexidine solution or saline.

Consider utilizing products like Vetericyn® Antimicrobial Wound Care Spray, Silver Honey® Spray Gel, or medicated Douxo S3 Pyo® wipes, upon approval from your veterinarian, to maintain cleanliness of the ulcerated skin.

Recovery times vary based on factors like the severity of the ulcers, the extent of skin involvement, and the underlying cause. Superficial ulcers typically heal within 10 to 14 days with appropriate treatment, while deeper ulcers may require several weeks.

Some dogs may benefit from alternative wound therapy options such as cold laser therapy, light therapy, or cold hydrotherapy, which can enhance blood supply and facilitate healing. Discuss with your veterinarian to determine the most suitable approach for managing your dog’s skin ulcers.


Preventing skin ulcers in dogs primarily involves early detection and management of underlying causes.

To facilitate early detection, maintain good skin and coat hygiene by brushing your dog daily and carefully inspecting their body for any abnormalities.

For regular maintenance, bathe your dog monthly and ensure there’s no feces or urine accumulation around their genitals.

Administer regular parasite prevention and supervise your dog to prevent roaming in potentially unsafe areas.

If you observe any changes in your dog’s skin or notice any licking or chewing behaviors, promptly contact your veterinarian to schedule a checkup. Early intervention can help prevent the development of skin ulcers and ensure your dog’s overall well-being.

Skin Ulcers in Dogs FAQs

Are skin ulcers painful for dogs?

Skin ulcers typically cause pain when touched by dogs.

Is it possible to drain a skin ulcer/lesion in dogs?

Attempting to drain your dog’s skin ulcer or lesion at home is not recommended. If drainage is necessary, it should only be performed under the guidance of a veterinarian. Pet parents may inadvertently introduce bacteria into non-infected wounds or exacerbate already infected lesions.

What does a skin ulcer resemble?

A skin ulcer presents as a red, crater-like indentation in the skin, often moist and exuding fluid. Dogs may have singular or multiple ulcers on their skin.

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