Pyoderma in Dogs: What You Need to Know

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Has your dog been scratching themselves? Does their skin look red? Do they have pimples or an odour to their skin? They could have a condition known as pyoderma, a common skin condition that affects dogs of all shapes, sizes and ages. If you're concerned that pyoderma could be wreaking havoc on your dog's skin, read on to learn more about common causes and treatments.

What Is Pyoderma in Dogs?

Pyoderma is a bacterial infection, which can be superficial or deep, that affects hair follicles and the surrounding skin. If you break it down, "pyo" means pus, and "derma" means skin. Pyoderma in dogs usually has an underlying cause, such as:

  • A foreign body, like grass seed, getting under the skin
  • A trauma or bite wound
  • An allergy or hypersensitivity to fleas, food or environmental factors
  • Mites
  • A hormonal disorder, like Cushing's syndrome or hypothyroidism
  • An autoimmune disorder
  • Administration of immune-suppressing drugs, like steroids or chemotherapy
  • Poor nutrition

Dog scratching while sitting outdoors.

What Are the Signs of Pyoderma in Dogs?

Pyoderma can present in a variety of ways. It can be limited to one area, or it may cover your dog's skin. Some areas of the body, such as skin folds, chins, lips, vulvar folds and the skin in between the toes are more likely to be affected. Sometimes pyoderma is extremely itchy, such as in cases of flea allergy dermatitis; other times, it doesn't seem to make a dog itchy at all. Signs of pyoderma to look out for include:

  • Red bumps
  • Pustules
  • Flaking skin
  • Hair loss
  • Skin discolouration
  • Excessive shedding
  • Redness

Puppies can get a special kind of pyoderma called puppy pyoderma. Your dog may have puppy pyoderma if you see red bumps on the armpits, groin and/or abdomen. These red bumps can scab over and scale. Puppy pyoderma can make your dog slightly itchy, but pups with puppy pyoderma are usually otherwise in good health.

What Is the Treatment of Pyoderma in Dogs?

Pyoderma is usually caused by Staphylococcus bacteria (or Staph). Unless your dog has a drug-resistant species, Staph infections are usually easily cleared up. Treatment of pyoderma is usually aimed at resolving the bacterial infection and addressing the underlying cause, if applicable. Pyoderma in dogs is directly treated with antimicrobial therapy — either oral antibiotics or topical antibacterial medication, shampoo or spray applied to the affected area. The use of antibiotics should be kept to a minimum, so please follow your vet's instructions for these antibiotics closely.

If your vet suspects pyoderma, then they will take a sample from the skin. They will put it under the microscope to look for bacteria and other organisms, such as mites, and may also send a sample to a specialised laboratory to determine the most effective antibiotic(s) to prescribe if necessary. They may also order a fungal culture or a black light test to rule out ringworm.

The greater challenge with pyoderma in dogs is determining the underlying cause of the infection, which you and your vet will need to work together to figure out. There may be some trial and error involved; your vet may ask to take some blood, skin or urine samples from your dog.

Does Nutrition Play a Role?

Golden Retriever laying down while eating out of a bowl

Nutrition and your dog's food plays a large role in skin health. For example, protein and amino acids are important for hair growth and fatty acids are key for coat quality and reducing water loss through the skin.  

Dogs with ingredient sensitivities or food allergies may be at risk for developing pyoderma after eating something that causes a reaction. If your vet suspects a food intolerance, they will need to treat the skin infection and then they may recommend feeding your dog a dietetic food to see if the skin problem abates.

If your dog doesn't have food allergies but has pyoderma secondary to other health concerns, like a hormonal disorder, then it might be a good idea to feed your dog a food that's specially formulated for dogs with sensitive skin. It's important to talk to your veterinarian about the ideal food to make sure your dog receives the best nutrition possible.

Pyoderma is a pain, but with the right knowledge and care, it can be resolved. If your dog develops pyoderma, especially more than once, understand that you're dealing with an underlying issue that needs resolution. If you notice any of the signs of the infection, call your vet so that you can work together to get your pup back to feeling like their best self.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Sarah Wooten

Dr. Sarah Wooten

Dr. Sarah Wooten graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. A member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists, Dr. Wooten divides her professional time between small animal practice in Greeley, Colorado, public speaking on associate issues, leadership, and client communication, and writing. She enjoys camping with her family, skiing, SCUBA, and participating in triathlons.


Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA

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