Do you remember the first time you locked eyes with your dog? You knew they were your new best friend immediately. Naturally, we all want long, healthy lives for our beloved puppy pals. Unfortunately, there are countless diseases, infections, and conditions canines can encounter. Most of which, affect the internal systems. However, one of the leading reasons people bring their dogs to the vet is skin infections. Chief amongst them: pyoderma. With any ailment, early detection is the key to the shortest possible road to recovery. Fortunately, unlike other internal issues, skin infections like pyoderma are pretty easy to spot early on. In this article, we are going to go over everything you need to know about pyoderma in dogs.

What is Pyoderma in Dogs?

Pyoderma is a bacterial infection of the skin. The number one reason people bring their pets to the vet, pyoderma is an incredibly common condition amongst cats and dogs. Interestingly enough, there is a population of "good" bacteria that always exists on healthy canine skin. However, certain triggers or environmental factors may cause this population to reach unhealthy levels, leading to infection.

Pyoderma can affect all breeds of dogs. However, there are a few breeds that are physically or genetically more susceptible to contracting Pyoderma. For example, American cocker spaniels, pit bulls, and pit bull mixes. Furthermore, breeds with skin folds like French bulldogs, Boston terriers, bulldogs, and shar-peis.

Types of Pyoderma

dog scratching itself

There are three levels of canine pyoderma. Simply put, the levels of pyoderma correspond to the depth of the skin affected. They are:

Surface pyoderma 

- As the name suggests, this level does means unsavory bacteria has not broken past the top layer of skin

Superficial pyoderma

- This level affects the hair follicles and the superficial epidermal layer of the skin, just under the surface. This is the most common type of pyoderma.

Deep pyoderma

- This level affects the root of the hair follicle, and it the hardest to get rid of.

Causes of Pyoderma in Dogs

Before you can know how best to treat pyoderma, it is important to know what caused it. As previously mentioned, pyoderma is the result of an overpopulation of dermal (skin) bacteria. This response is a result of a number of factors such as:

  • Autoimmune disease

  • Breakage or damage of the skin (lacerations, scratches, bug bites, mange, chemical irritation, tumors)

  • Allergies (food, environment, etc)

  • Weakened immune system as a result of medication, cancer, viral disease, liver disease, thyroid disease, or age (puppies and older dogs, for example)

  • Warm and moist environments

Any of the above causes break down the skin's natural defense system. In turn, bacteria have the opportunity to multiply to unhealthy levels. Furthermore, when this defense system is down, other organisms can take residence on your dog's skin. Translation: your dog can contract a yeast or fungal infection in addition to their current bacterial infection.

Symptoms of Pyoderma

With a variety of skin infections affecting canines, it is important to know the distinguishing symptoms of pyoderma. While many skin infections have similar symptoms (redness, itching, etc) pyoderma is uniquely characterized by pus-filled blisters. Referred to as pustules, these blisters resemble the pimples of your own adolescent years. In addition to pustules, there are a number of pyoderma symptoms to look out for. Such as:

  • Crusty, scaley, or flaky skin

  • Redness

  • Rash

  • Itching

  • Hair loss (likely from excessive scratching)

  • Oozing sores

  • Unpleasant smell

  • Sensitivity to touch

  • Swollen skin

man holding a stinky dog

If your dog is experiencing any of the above symptoms, a trip to the vet is likely in order. Fortunately, pyoderma is not contagious to other dogs or people.

Diagnosing Pyoderma in Dogs

If you suspect your dog has pyoderma, there are a number of tests your vet can run to prove your theory. Proper diagnosis is the key to crafting the most effective treatment plan.

Skin Scrape or Tape Prep

The proactive pet parent may be interested to know that you can gather skin samples for testing easily at home. Simply place a strip of tape (think scotch, not duct) gently against your dog's skin to collect infected cells. You can also lightly scrape the surface of the affected area and collect the sample in a small plastic bag. Skin scraping is a more effective method if you suspect mites are also at play.

If you are less than enthused about the idea of collecting infected skin samples, worry not, they can do it for you at the vet's office. Once the samples are collected, your trained veterinarian will examine the sample under a microscope. Bacteria, inflammatory cells, yeast, parasites, and other irregularities can be determined when tested correctly.

Bacterial or Fungal Culture

Determining whether an infection is bacterial or fungal can be tricky, but it is entirely necessary to determine the proper treatment. Fungal infections, like ringworm, can be tested from hair plucked from the infected area. Bacterial infections, like pyoderma, simply require a swab of infected skin cells. Many veterinarians will use the test results to decide what antibiotic is most appropriate for treatment.

Biopsy and Blood Testing

If the above methods do not provide conclusive results, a slightly more invasive approach may be called for. A blood sample can shed light on any internal issues that may be fueling the dermal infection. For example, thyroid disease can cause residual skin issues. Moreover, your veterinarian may require a biopsy sample. This often requires your dog to be sedated, so they can surgically remove a small piece of skin for testing.

dog getting blood work done

Allergy Testing

As previously mentioned, allergies can be a cause of skin infections. If this is the case, determining what your dog is allergic to, and eradicating it, is a simple road to recovery. Fortunately, certain blood and skin tests can identify what allergens are adversely affecting your dog.

Other Common Skin Infections in Dogs

There are a number of different skin ailments that can affect canines. Dermal infections can be bacterial, fungal, or parasitic in nature. You may recall, having canine pyoderma can weaken the immune system and cause your dog to contract yet another infection. Whether stand-alone or on top of an existing infection, below are some other types of canine skin infections.

Staph Infection in Dogs

In the wide world of infections, a staph infection is arguably one of the most well-known. Especially common amongst humans, dogs can also contract staph infections. Like pyoderma, staph is a bacterial infection. Caused by an over-abundance of the bacteria staphylococcal dermatitis, staph can exist on the skin or in the upper respiratory system. Fortunately, staph infections are not contagious to humans or other dogs. However, in rare cases, the bacteria that causes the infection has been transmitted.  Symptoms of a staph infection include:

  • Lack of appetite

  • Painful skin abscesses

  • Dermal inflammation

  • Pus-filled lesions

  • Respiratory, ear, skin, or eye infections

  • Itching, licking or chewing uncontrollably

If you suspect your dog has a staph infection, consult your vet immediately. Staph infections are notoriously hard to get rid of and often come back after having cleared up.

Dog Yeast Infection

Like certain bacteria, it is completely healthy and normal for dogs to have a certain level of fungus on their bodies. Yeast is a prime example of a fungus. Like bacterial infections, yeast infections are triggered by changes in otherwise healthy dermal environments. A yeast infection is considered an "opportunistic infection" because it takes advantage of a weakened immune system. Fortunately, yeast infections are not contagious. While all dogs can get yeast infections, certain breeds are more commonly prone to contracting them. Susceptible breeds include:

  • Basset hounds

  • Cocker spaniels

  • Chihuahua

  • Poodles

  • Dachshunds

  • Terriers (specifically Maltese, West Highland, Silky, and Australian terriers)

  • Lhasa apsos

  • Shetland sheepdogs

dog licking its paw

The aforementioned breeds are simply genetically predisposed to yeast infections.

Symptoms of Canine Yeast Infections

Due to yeast infections fungal nature, they have a unique set of symptoms to look out for. Such as:

  • Skin color or texture changes


    - In early stages, the skin may turn bright pink or red. Later down the road, the skin may turn gray or black and feel tough and leathery.

  • Scaly or greasy skin


    - Crusty, flaky, dandruff-like skin is common in most skin infections, a yeast infection is no exception. Conversely, greasy or oily skin is not uncommon in dog's suffering from a yeast infection.

  • Rubbing and scratching


    - Rubbing against furniture, scooting across the floor, licking, and scratching are common ways dogs try and relieve the itchiness that comes with a yeast infection

  • Warmth and swelling


    - While itching and redness are first to appear when a yeast infection is present, warmth and swelling of the infected area are not too far behind.

  • Head shaking


    - Yeast infections most commonly affect the ears. This causes extreme discomfort and leads affected dogs to tilt or shake their heads excessively.

Parasitic Skin Issues

Fleas, ticks, and mites are no stranger to dogs. However, sometimes these uninvited guests can do more than bite. That is to say, parasites can cause skin infections in dogs. Specifically, they are responsible for parasitic dermatitis. Symptoms include:

  • Skin redness

  • Rashes

  • Itchy bumps

  • Hair loss

  • Excessive scratching or licking

  • Hives

  • Oozing or bleeding lesions

If you suspect parasitic dermatitis in your dog, consult your vet immediately. Your veterinarian will have to determine the specific parasite causing the infection. Once the villainous freeloader is determined, appropriate pest-control can be safely administered to treat the infection.

How to Treat Pyoderma

Once you and your vet have fully determined your dog has pyoderma, how can you treat it? Considering canine pyoderma is one of the most common issues brought to vet offices, there are countless ways to approach treatment.

Simplicef for Dogs

Available only by prescription, Simplicef is an oral antibiotic commonly used to treat bacterial infections. Simplicef is an FDA approved, once-daily pill that can be taken with or without food. Furthermore, Simplicef is a popular medicine because it can sometimes treat skin infections in just one dose. This rapid relief is more common amongst larger dogs.

Simplicef Side Effects

Like all prescription medicines, Simplicef has the risk of side effects and warnings. First of all, dogs with a history of seizures should not take Simplicef. Common side effects of Simplicef include diarrhea, nausea, or yeast infections. Furthermore, many dogs have been known to have allergic reactions when taking Simplicef. Signs of an allergic reaction include:

  • Hives

  • Swelling of the tongue, face, or lips

  • Shortness of breath

  • Rash

  • Faintness

  • Unusual bleeding or bruising

An allergic reaction to medication is very serious and requires immediate medical attention.

Clavamox for Dogs

A broad spectrum antibiotic, Clavamox is another prescription-strength drug used to fend off bacterial infections. Pet owners can choose between Clavamox pills or oral drops. Furthermore, Clavamox is penicillin based, so dogs with a history of allergies should take caution.

It is important to note Clavamox is only used for bacterial infections and is not effective against fungal or viral infections. Considering pyoderma is often accompanied by other infections, this means your dog would likely need another prescription on top of that. Mixing medicines will typically amplify side effects.

Side Effects of Clavamox

As per usual, it is absolutely essential to thoroughly discuss the administration of any new medications with your veterinarian first. Be sure to keep a thorough record of your dogs medical and drug history. This will dramatically reduce your dog's risk of possible drug-induced side effects. In the case of Clavamox, side effects include:

  • Upset stomach (vomiting and diarrhea)

  • Sudden weight loss

  • Lack of appetite

  • Changes in respiratory or heart rate

If your dog experiences any of these side effects after taking Clavamox, stop use immediately and talk to your veterinarian.

Holistic Treatments for Pyoderma

Here at Honest Paws, we believe a holistic approach to pet wellness is the key to a long, healthy, and happy life for your beloved dog. Luckily, we live in a flourishing renaissance of homeopathic medicine.

Research is constantly surfacing revealing the merits of holistic treatments. While originally focused on humans, researchers are now exploring the many merits of natural treatment options for canine health, such as the use of natural supplements to reduce inflammation for dogs.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Why fill your dog's system up with drugs when you can use natural antibacterials like apple cider vinegar? Not only does apple cider vinegar help you burn stubborn tummy fat before bikini season, but it can also treat your dogs infected skin. Better yet, you will see results in as little as three or four days. The bikini bod my take a little longer, but hey, at least your dog will have healthy skin!

Simply mix a 50/50 water to apple cider vinegar solution and dab the mixture on affected areas with a clean cloth or cotton ball. It is imperative that you do not "double dip" your cotton ball in the solution after it has touched infected skin. Translation: you may need to add cotton balls to your shopping list because you are going to need quite a few

bottle of apple cider vinegar

Coconut Oil + Vaseline

A so-called "wonder cream" in human health and beauty, coconut oil can prove especially helpful if your dog has pyoderma. Dermal infections cause the skin to dry out, itch and crack. Coconut oil is a natural moisturizer with antibacterial qualities.

Generously apply coconut oil to the infected area. Allow the oil to sit for five minutes, and then seal the affected areas with Vaseline. This method will lock in moisture and help relieve your dog's constant itchiness.

Healthy and Balanced Diet

As previously mentioned, an allergic reaction can trigger pyoderma in dogs. While there are a number of allergens that affect dogs, a food allergy is the most likely culprit. Did you know that your dog can suddenly develop an allergy to a food they have been eating for years? Therefore, it is helpful to switch up your dog's primary protein source every few months or so. However, switching food is a more delicate process than you might think. You must gradually phase out the old food, supplementing it accordingly with the new food.

Finding the appropriate dietary balance for your dog can be tricky. You have to perfectly regulate proteins, vitamins, minerals, water, and essential fatty acids. Dozens of health issues can simply be avoided with a healthy diet. Consult your veterinarian to determine the healthiest possible balance of nutrients for your unique dog.

Pyoderma in Dogs: In Summary

It is never easy to see your dog in pain, and with Pyoderma it is impossible not to see the toll it takes. With excruciating lesions, pustules, and irritated skin, any good pet parent would want to quickest possible relief for their ailing dog. While there are prescription oral antibiotics are available, one is often not enough to get the job done. This leaves owners stacking prescriptions and multiplying the risk of adverse reactions. Fortunately, there are a number of all-natural, holistic ways to cure your dog of skin troubles. No matter what path to wellness you chose, be sure to do so with the consent and careful advisement of your veterinarian.


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