Many consider folliculitis to be the most common canine skin condition, and it can cause your dog a lot of irritation and discomfort. If you’ve noticed that your pooch’s usual luscious locks are looking a bit patchy and moth-eaten, alongside being dotted with raised red bumps and pimples, it might mean that they’re suffering from folliculitis.
The condition happens when a normally healthy hair follicle is disturbed and altered in some way, so it begins to swell and become sore, leading to lots of itchiness and discomfort for your dog.
We’re here to tell you all about folliculitis in dogs, what it is, why it might have happened, how to spot it and how to stop it. Keep reading for everything you need to know about folliculitis in dogs.
A hair follicle is the structure located in the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin), which works to fasten the hair into the skin, and when this becomes irritated and inflamed, folliculitis occurs. Often, the skin condition is provoked when the healthy bacteria that always surrounds the hair follicle overgrows and compromises the follicle, triggering the inflammation.
However, it’s not only the reproduction and severe accumulation of bacteria that causes the skin condition, folliculitis can also be caused by underlying illnesses, trauma to the skin or other skin conditions.
As we know, cases of folliculitis are most commonly reported to be caused by a bacterial infection, and this is usually thanks to a bacteria called Staphylococcus, however other bacterium can be at the root of the problem.
Canine acne, usually found in adolescent pooches and is very similar to human acne
Pyoderma, which is another common canine skin condition
Interdigital cysts, which are cysts located in between the toes
Hot spots (pyotraumatic folliculitis), these are self-inflicted as a result of trying to relieve pain
Acral lick granuloma, which occurs when your dog obsessively licks a minor skin lesion
External parasites such as fleas, ticks and mites
Fungal infections such as ringworm
Allergies which can be food allergies or environmental allergies
Hypothyroidism, which is an endocrine (hormonal) disorder
Cushing’s disease, another hormonal disorder
Various immune system disorders
Essentially, folliculitis can flare up if the hair follicle becomes irritated, damaged, or infected for any reason.
Signs of folliculitis can occur anywhere where your dog has hair follicles, and for most dogs, that’s their entire body! However, you’ll typically notice the symptoms of the skin condition in and around your pet’s armpits, groin and abdomen, as these are locations that are often slightly warmer and rub against the skin when your dog moves, creating irritation.
The symptoms of folliculitis can vary, and they’ll differ depending on the cause of the condition and how severe it is, but the main symptoms to look out for include:
Pustules or pimples
Hair loss (patchy or moth-eaten appearance)
Papules (reddish swellings)
Hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin)
Epidermal collarettes (circular areas of hair loss, with crusting or scaling)
Pain around the affected areas
If you’ve got a short-haired dog, you might notice that random clumps of hair are starting to stick up and their coat is looking a little dishevelled and crazy. This is one of the first warning signs for many skin conditions for short-haired dogs. Underneath those crazy tufts of hair, you might notice soreness, pustules and papules. Dogs with white or extremely light-coloured fur may display swelled, reddish-brown areas within their fur.
Dogs with long, silky coats manage to hide the symptoms of folliculitis much easier as their glossy coats cover up most signs of damage. It might be hard to spot that there’s a problem at first because the changes are so subtle, however, if you feel like there has been any sort of change in the condition of your dog’s coat, whether it’s the coarseness, the glossiness, the dryness or even a difference in how much they’re shedding, book your pooch in for a vet check-up.
Folliculitis can impact any dog of any age or breed, so it’s always good to be aware of the condition and its common symptoms in case your canine ever encounters it. Although the skin condition itself doesn’t have a tendency to crop up in specific breeds, some of the underlying conditions and issues that lead to folliculitis are more prevalent in certain breeds.
Another example is that breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Dobermans, Labradors and Dachshunds are mutually agreed by vets to be more susceptible to hypothyroidism, which is a condition that can spark a case of folliculitis in dogs.
The challenge of diagnosis is not accurately diagnosing folliculitis, the challenge lies in identifying what caused folliculitis in the first place. Your vet is likely to diagnose folliculitis based on just a visual examination, the inflamed patches of skin surrounded by pimples is more than enough to give the vet an accurate diagnosis.
An extensive set of diagnostic skin tests will need to be performed to detect what triggered the follicle infection initially, such as:
A sample of skin cells will be taken to be evaluated under a microscope, which is a process called skin scraping, used to determine the presence of mites or fungal infections.
Full body examination for other external parasites such as ticks and fleas.
A skin cytology, which involves collecting skin cells and searching for yeast and bacterium with a microscopic evaluation.
Using a skin biopsy to get a skin sample to then conduct a histopathology (examining the tissue) for problems.
Bacterial and fungal cultures, which are done by taking a sample of hair or skin and isolating it so the bacteria/fungus grows so it’s large enough for the vet to get an accurate diagnosis.
A blacklight (also called a UV light or Wood’s lamp) is used to detect ringworm, as some strains of the fungi will glow under the light.
Various tests for endocrine disorders like Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism.
It might be a lengthy process to finally reach the correct diagnosis of what has caused your dog to encounter folliculitis, and therefore it might take quite a long time for your dog’s problem to be fully resolved.
This is why it’s so important to be aware of the signs of folliculitis so you can get the initial problem treated promptly, especially if the condition was caused by something that can cause serious detriment to your dog’s health.
As we know, folliculitis can be caused by many different external factors and underlying problems, so the treatment plan for the skin problem will all depend on what caused the skin problem in the first place. Some of the common triggers for folliculitis, such as a bacterial infection, a fungal infection, a parasite-induced problem or an endocrine disorder all will have different methods to tackle the problem.
In most cases of bacterial folliculitis, the vet will recommend using a combination of different treatments to fully eradicate the skin condition alongside managing and treating the underlying problem.
This typically includes topical treatments such as medicated shampoos, creams, ointments and sprays to ease inflammation, itchiness and minimise discomfort, alongside a relatively lengthy course of oral antibiotics to completely combat the bacterial infection. Other medications and treatments may be required to get rid of whatever problem caused the skin condition in the first place.
Similar to bacterial folliculitis, if the condition caused by a fungal infection, it’ll generally be treated using either topical medications such as ointments or medicated shampoos. These will both have antifungal medications in them to directly treat the problem.
Oral medication can also be provided, which is a tablet that works to enter your dog’s bloodstream and flush out the infection from the inside out.
External parasites such as ticks, fleas and mites can all cause folliculitis, so to treat the skin problem, those pesky parasites need to be gone first. Parasite preventatives can be given frequently to ward off all kinds of parasites, such as fleas and ticks, so your pooch has constant protection.
Medicated shampoos, oral medications and tick removal will be the appropriate methods of eradicating these pests for good if they’ve already infected your pet. Getting rid of parasites is the only way of getting rid of parasite-induced folliculitis.
Treatment methods will vary depending on what kind of endocrine (hormonal) disorder your dog is struggling with. Most of the time, your dog will require daily medication to manage the disorder which should hopefully manage the folliculitis as a result.
In some cases, you can prevent folliculitis, but in most cases you can’t. For example, if your dog is experiencing folliculitis from an allergy, whether they’re allergic to food, fleas or even grass, figuring out the allergy and trying to limit your dog’s exposure to the allergen is the best way to prevent a subsequent case of folliculitis due to all the scratching and irritation from the allergy.
However, if your dog is experiencing folliculitis due to something like Cushing’s disease, there’s not really any way of preventing your dog from developing it, unless you identify the underlying disease quickly and treat it before it turns into folliculitis.
The main thing to do as a pet parent is to know the signs and symptoms of the skin disorder so that you can identify a problem and get your pooch the treatment they need quickly to prevent further problems.
Folliculitis is extremely common and luckily, it’s nothing to lose sleep over. However, it can make your dog feel incredibly itchy, irritated and uncomfortable, so getting it treated as quick as you can is fundamental.
Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS
Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.