Just like humans, dogs have thousands of microscopic bacteria and fungi living on their skin. These microorganisms are perfectly normal and are often necessary for optimal health. However, sometimes they can overgrow and cause problems like infections.
Skin infections are not uncommon in dogs, especially if they have an underlying health issue that causes skin irritation or imbalances. Although most infections are easily cleared up with supplements or medication, they can be quite painful for your pup. That’s why it’s so important to check your dog’s skin regularly for signs of infections and take action immediately.
Typical signs of skin infections
Skin infections can be caused by a variety of things, including different microorganisms like bacteria or fungi, but many infections show similar signs.
You may first notice an infection because of a change in your dog’s behavior. When your dog develops an infection on the skin, it may begin to scratch, lick or bite the area incessantly. Your dog may also show signs of pain or discomfort, especially when the infected area is touched.
When you notice these signs, you should take a closer look at your dog’s skin, searching for any of the following signs:
- Inflamed, red skin
- Flaking or crusted skin
- Hair loss
- Pustules, or pus-filled blisters
- Pus or blood
- Bad odor
Skin infections can affect one small area, multiple areas or all over your dog’s body. No matter where you notice these signs, you’ll want to visit your pet’s veterinarian to determine what the infection is and how to treat it.
How skin infections start
The most common skin infections in dogs are either caused by bacteria (causing a condition called pyoderma) or fungi and yeast. In order for skin infections to develop, the condition of the skin needs to be just right to allow bacteria or fungi to proliferate.
Often, skin infections develop as a secondary infection to another health issue, such as a scrape or wound. Allergic reactions and fleas can also cause infections. If something on your dog’s skin is bothering it, whether it’s a flea bite, allergic reaction, scrape or something else, it’s likely to bite and lick the area to soothe it. The moisture introduced there can cause bacteria or yeast to grow faster, resulting in an infection.
One particular type of fungal infection, ringworm, is caused by a fungus and can easily spread to other animals and people. Ringworm causes symptoms quite similar to bacterial infections but often displays lesions or hair loss in circular patterns.
Additionally, underlying health problems like endocrine disorders deplete the immune system and make it more likely for your dog to develop an infection. Keeping your dog’s immune system strong may help prevent infections.
Finally, it’s not uncommon for your dog to have both a bacterial and fungal infection in the same spot, so proper diagnosis and treatment plans will need to be discussed with your vet.
Treating skin infections
Because skin infections can be painful for dogs, and because you don’t know if the infection might spread to other animals or yourself, you should seek veterinary care immediately upon discovering the signs of an infection.
Your vet can test the infection to determine its cause and may prescribe medications to clear up the issue as quickly as possible. The first step will be to clean the area. Then, your vet may require the use of oral medications and/or topical ointments to clear up the infection. You may also need to wash your dog with a special shampoo during the healing process.
In some cases, skin infections will occur once and go away. Other infections may be recurring or chronic and will require specialized treatments.
The main way to help your dog avoid getting skin infections is to be vigilant about caring for your dog’s skin. This includes proper grooming and regular baths to clean its skin of impurities. Baths are also helpful if your dog has allergies because they can sooth itchiness and help stop your dog from licking and scratching its skin.
If you notice your dog scratching or biting at its skin, investigate the issue and contact your vet. There’s most likely an underlying issue, such as allergies or fleas, that needs to be addressed. When the underlying cause of infections is resolved, infections are much less likely.
Check on your dog’s skin and fur regularly to make sure it is not showing signs of infection and seek veterinary care if symptoms appear. With close attention and fast action, your dog’s skin will be clear and healthy in no time.