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Diagnosis of dog skin infections should be done by a vet.

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What is a dog skin infection?

By Dr Jo de Klerk, BVetMed (Hons) MScTAH MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

If your dog has a rash and is scratching itself lots, it could well have a skin infection and a trip to the vet will be neccesary.

Dog skin infections, also known as pyoderma, can present in several different ways. Not all skin infections look the same, and not all skin infections are treated the same either. Skin infections can be very sore or very itchy, depending on the severity.

Nevertheless, whatever level of severity the skin infection is, it isn’t pleasant and requires a trip to the vet.

What is pyoderma in dogs ?

Pyoderma is another name for a skin infection caused by bacteria, and is a common ailment for dogs. Pyoderma can vary in its appearance. It can be a generalised rash, with red spots that may or not have white heads on them, or it can be an oozing sore, also known as a hot-spot. Pyoderma is caused by bacteria. Bacteria are present on the skin of all dogs and normally they do not cause infections. However, if the skin barrier is compromised in any way, such as an allergy, trauma or poor immune system, the bacteria can then cause an infection.

What are the causes of dog skin infections?

Skin infections can be caused by bacteria, parasites, yeast or fungi. However, pyoderma is the condition of a bacterial infection. There are many different types of bacteria that cause pyoderma, and the most common is Staphylococcus.

Dog skin infections under the collar

Dogs can get skin infections in the region of the collar, which either present as rashes or hot-spots. It is usually caused by a dirty collar, which is common if your dog swims or enjoys muddy walks. Fabric collars are more prone to becoming dirty and should be regularly washed.

Symptoms of dog skin infections

The symptoms of a skin infection include a rash with red or white pimples, or an area of oozing, red, sore skin. It is uncomfortable and usually causes itching. As a result, your dog will probably lick or scratch at the area.

How do you tell if your dog has a skin infection?

It can sometimes be difficult to tell if your dog has a skin infection unless there is hair-loss or it is on an area of the body with little hair, such as the belly. The most obvious symptom is discomfort, and if your dog is scratching, then cutting or clipping away the fur in the area will enable a direct examination of the skin.

Smell of dog skin infections

Skin infections on dogs are, unfortunately, sometimes rather smelly, giving off a musty, ‘wet-dog’ smell to them.

Diagnosis of dog skin infections

Skin infections are diagnosed by a veterinarian with a direct clinical examination of the skin. Clipping away the hair will reveal either a rash or a sore, which may either be oozing or have red or white pimples. If there is discharge, a swab of this can be cultured to reveal what type of bacteria is causing the infection.

Treatment of dog skin infections

Treatment of a skin infection requires antibiotics and antiseptic shampoo. Oral antibiotics will tackle the infection from the inside. If the infection is severe, particularly if there are multiple hot-spots, a long course of antibiotics, potentially up to four weeks, may be required. Antibiotics should be carried on at least a week past resolution of the clinical signs. Antiseptic washes may aid in the resolution of the skin infection and also treat any concurrent yeast infections. These require a contact time of at least 10 minutes before they are washed off. Anti-inflammatories may also be required if your dog is uncomfortable.

A veterinarian will be able to determine the severity of the infection, and what treatment is required.

How do you treat bacterial skin infections in dogs?

Treatment of bacterial skin infections can vary depending on the severity of the infection. Treatment is aimed at killing the bacteria involved in the infection, as well as decreasing the level of discomfort. Bacterial skin infections must be treated by a veterinarian and are likely to require antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and topical treatments like shampoos, creams or ointments.

Creams for dog skin infections

There are many creams available that are marketed for treating skin infections, but the reality is that not all of them are safe. Popular ones usually contain tea tree essential oil, a natural antiseptic, which is toxic to dogs. Another common ingredient is zinc oxide, which helps treat inflammation, however is detrimental if licked off. Therefore, before applying a cream to a skin infection, you should seek veterinary advice.

Antibiotics for dog skin infections

Most skin infections will require antibiotics to treat them. Only a veterinarian can determine which antibiotics are needed, and it is a legal requirement that your dog must be seen for the issue before antibiotics are dispensed. Therefore, he or she cannot dispense them with a photo of the skin alone. If severe, antibiotics may be needed for three to four weeks, and should be given for a week past resolution of the skin infection.

What is the best antibiotic for dogs with skin infections?

There is no such thing as the ‘best antibiotic’ for a skin infection, as not all skin infections are caused by the same bacteria, and not all bacteria are susceptible to all antibiotics. The choice of antibiotic will be at the discretion and professional judgement of a veterinarian.

Shampoos for dog skin infections

Shampoos can aid in the healing of skin infections. Non-medicated shampoos can be used to soothe the skin, and medicated shampoos can be used as an antiseptic to speed up the elimination of the bacteria. Popular non-medicated shampoos often contain oatmeal, which has natural soothing properties. Some also contain tea tree oil, which should be avoided as it can be toxic to dogs. Medicated shampoos usually contain chlorhexidine, and will be available from your veterinarian. These should be left on for 10 minutes before rinsing off to ensure they are effective.

Before using any shampoo, you should discuss it with your veterinarian to ensure the product will not aggravate the infection.

How can I treat my dog's skin infection at home?

While there are excellent non-medicated shampoos that you can buy to help soothe your dog’s skin, a skin infection should never be treated at home without veterinary advice. Most skin infections require antibiotics to heal up, which can only be dispensed by a veterinarian.

If you think your dog has a skin infection, you should allow a veterinarian to examine him before attempting to treat it at home.

Home remedies for dog skin infections

There are many home remedies for dogs with skin infections, however not all of them are safe or effective. Tea tree oil is the most common home remedy, as it is a natural antiseptic. However, this is an essential oil that is potentially toxic to dogs. Another common home remedy is apple cider vinegar. This is a safer antiseptic, and can be mixed 50/50 with water to be sprayed onto the skin. However, it is not particularly powerful or effective.

Home remedies that have been proven to aid in the treatment of skin infections include oatmeal shampoo and omega oils. Neither of these treat the infection, as they do not have antiseptic properties, however they are both natural anti-inflammatories and therefore will improve your dog’s comfort. An improved comfort will lead to less self-trauma from licking and scratching, which will quicken healing.

Prevention of dog skin infections

Many skin infections suddenly appear without warning, and therefore preventing them can be tricky. However, if you know that your dog has become muddy on a walk or has swum in a lake, shower him off when you return to the house to reduce the bacterial load on his skin. Also, if your dog has allergies, he will be at a higher risk of skin infections. Getting the allergies under control with the help of a veterinarian is essential to improve the skin barrier. Finally, the skin defence can be improved by providing excellent nutrition and canine omega oil supplements.

Can dogs die from skin infections?

It is very uncommon for dogs to die of skin infections, however in extremely rare circumstances, it can lead to septicaemia (blood poisoning), which is life-threatening. For the majority of dogs, the condition is not life-threatening, however it does compromise the quality of life, as skin infections are very uncomfortable. These are all good reasons to ensure your dog is treated by a veterinarian swiftly for any skin infection.

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