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How to Best Prepare for Pyoderma in Your Dog

A beagle bites and scratches itself while lying in a grass field

Dogs can develop some of the same skin conditions that humans can develop. Some skin conditions happen more frequently than others, and many can present with similar clinical signs. Pyoderma is one of the most common skin disorders, and it can affect dogs of all ages.

What Is Pyoderma?

Pyoderma is a type of bacterial skin infection. The termpyo- refers to pus or purulent debris that develops within the skin, or in this case, inside of the round pustules that develop on the skin. These look exactly like the pimples or “whiteheads” that humans can develop on their skin.

Pustules can develop almost anywhere on your dog’s body. They are sometimes hidden by their hair coats, but it is easier to see them in areas with little to no fur like the lower belly and groin areas. This is especially common for puppies who developjuvenile pyoderma.

Pyoderma can occur for a number of reasons. Bacteria normally exist at low levels on your dog’s skin. If he itches and scratches due to something like an insect bite or inflammation due to allergies, the skin breaks, and bacteria have a way to enter the body. This results in the immune system sending white blood cells to that area to fight infection, and these white blood cells are what makeup pus.

Pyoderma can also occur when there is chronic exposure to moisture, like when a dog’s coat is often damp from frequent swimming. This infection can also occur when blood flow is restricted to one area. Puppies are more likely to develop pyoderma because their immune systems are not as strong as they will be when a puppy is fully-grown.

Pustules are the most common clinical sign. You may notice redness in a certain area of the body, and excessive flaking or crusts may also be evident. Dogs can also lose patches of fur in certain areas, making their coat look patchy or moth-eaten. All of this can result in more itchiness, and scratching and licking will keep the infection going.

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How To Treat Pyoderma

The most effective pyoderma therapy is the kind of treatment that addresses the underlying cause. For example, allergies must be addressed in order to prevent pyoderma from reoccurring. If there are any external parasites like fleas or mites, these should be treated as well.

Testing is often necessary to rule out an underlying cause. Skin impression testing is affordable and simple. It involves pressing a microscope slide onto the skin and then looking at that slide under the microscope. Bacteria, yeast, inflammatory cells, etc can be seen in most cases. To look for skin mites likeDemodex, your vet might recommend a skin scrape. This is when a small blade is used to literally scrape the skin until there is minor bleeding. Deep scrapes are necessary to rule out Demodex because the mites live deep within the hair follicles. Allergy testing is also available through reference laboratories. For chronic sufferers, culture and sensitivity testing are necessary to look for the right antibiotic treatment.

Since pyoderma results from a bacterial infection, it is often necessary to use antibiotics for treatment. Oral antibiotics like amoxicillin and cephalexin are among the most common that are prescribed, and topical antibiotics are also utilized. They come in many forms like sprays, wipes, ointments, and leave-on conditioners. Medicated shampoos with chlorhexidine, benzoyl peroxide, or sulfur can also help to treat pyoderma, and they can help to gently lift and remove dead skin cells for best results.

Pets with Demodex require additional therapy. For patients with generalized Demodex (hair loss all over the body), oral ivermectin is necessary. This is given in very small doses because of its potential side effects. In recent years, studies have shown that the isoxazoline drug class can help with Demodex treatment. Flea and tick preventatives like Bravecto, Nexgard, Simparica, and Credelio fall into this drug class, and these are safe and easy to use.

If allergies are suspected, it is important to address your dog’s itchiness to help “break the cycle” that would otherwise keep the pyoderma going. Antihistamines can help with pets who have mild itchiness, and steroid is prescribed for pets with intense itching and irritation. Long term use of steroids can have many side effects. Anecdotal evidence suggests that CBD oil may provide some itch relief, and the recent creation of medications like Apoquel and Cytopoint have proven to be safe and effective for many dogs with chronic skin allergies.

Keep in mind that dogs with severe pyoderma or chronic skin issues cannot be fixed in just a manner of a few days. Some take weeks or even months of treatment, and this often requires the use of many products and not just one.

Follow-up trips to your veterinarian are extremely important. If something isn’t working, your vet can prescribe something different. If things are going well, your vet will tell you how long to continue treatment. Never stop antibiotics early unless directed by your vet. An unfinished regimen of antibiotics can lead to bacterial resistance.

Pyoderma is one of many skin conditions that result from a bacterial infection and can cause itchiness and discomfort. It is necessary to look for an underlying cause in order to effectively treat pyoderma, and there are many different products that your veterinarian can recommend to help your pup. The sooner you address it, the sooner your furry friend can find some relief!

Meet The Author 

Dr. Erica Irish DVM


Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine.

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