Pyoderma in dogs

Written by Dr Andrew Miller MRCVSDr Andrew Miller MRCVS is an expert veterinary working in the field for over 10 years after graduating from Bristol University. Andy fact checks and writes for Pure Pet Food while also working as a full time veterinarian. Pure Pet FoodPure Pet Food are the experts in healthy dog food and healthy dogs featured in media outlets such as BBC, Good Housekeeping and The Telegraph. Working with high profile veterinary professionals and nutritionists, Pure Pet Food are changing dog food for the better. - Our editorial process

Many dogs are excitable balls of energy, racing and chasing around, playing with other dogs and all in all just having a good time. However, these moments of madness can sometimes get a little ruff, and your pooch could be met with a cut or a graze.

Any wound to the skin can be prone to infection, just like human skin, and pyoderma is an itchy, uncomfortable bacterial skin infection that can occur through these wounds.

Pyoderma is a really common skin condition, and it looks like an inflamed rash on your dog’s skin. It’s sore, itchy and incredibly irritating for your pup, but with the right treatment it can be sorted out in no time. Plenty of pooches will probably encounter pyoderma at some point in their lives.

What is pyoderma in dogs?

The name and the appearance of pyoderma probably makes it sound a lot more severe and frightening than it actually is. Realistically, pyoderma is a common, mild bacterial infection that causes skin lesions (an abnormal change in the skin) which appear as bumpy, red pustules. Essentially, it can look almost identical to when humans get little pimples and spots.

Pyoderma is literally defined as ‘pus on the skin’ as it appears as tiny, red spots that hold pus in the centre. Skin crusting and hair loss are other big tell-tale signs of pyoderma, with some dogs acquiring quite patchy fur where the hair is sporadically sparse. This creates a moth-eaten appearance.

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There are a few ways in which to categorise this skin condition - superficial, deep and puppy pyoderma.

Superficial pyoderma

Superficial pyoderma occurs much more frequently, and it impacts the hair follicles and the top layer of the skin, which is also called the epidermis.

Deep pyoderma

Deep pyoderma is rarer than superficial, but its name is pretty self-explanatory, meaning that it affects deeper levels of your pooch’s skin.

These deeper levels are called the dermis, situated right below the epidermis. Usually, deep pyoderma occurs as a result of superficial pyoderma that has not been controlled suitably.

This form of pyoderma is a lot harder to treat than superficial, partly because it impacts further than the surface layer. Also, it can cause furunculosis which happens when the hair follicle becomes infected, possibly leading to an abscess forming.

Puppy pyoderma

Our little puppies have very sensitive skin and an underdeveloped immune system, meaning they’re prone to infections. Nothing causes puppy pyoderma other than the simple fact that they’re a puppy.

Puppy pyoderma is essentially the same as normal pyoderma, occurring when the normally safe bacteria on your pup’s skin becomes abnormal. It usually manifests on areas that are sparse with hair, such as the tummy and armpits.

Although those barely hairy bellies are incredibly cute, keep an eye out for any skin infections. Mostly, these cases will clear up on their own.

What causes pyoderma in dogs?

Pyoderma most generally occurs as a secondary factor of other conditions, for instance, injury, parasitic infestations, allergies, hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease.

When the normal conditions of your dog’s skin are disturbed, such as through a humid climate, a wound, bite or whenever else the immune system becomes compromised, the risk of bacterial infection increases dramatically.

For example, if your pooch has encountered a flea bite, they’re likely to be biting and scratching at the area to soothe the itchiness. As a result, your dog’s normal, healthy skin bacteria is disrupted even more and allows abnormal bacteria and yeast to develop. The presence of yeast and bacteria on the skin is perfectly normal, but too much is when pyoderma occurs, worsened by your dogs incessant scratching.

Superficial pyoderma is almost always due to some kind of skin abnormality, secondary to allergic dermatitis, and develops in abrasions on the skin’s surface as a result of scratching.

What are the signs and symptoms of pyoderma in dogs?

  • Red rashes consisting of inflamed, raised bumps with pus forming in the centre

  • Dry, flaky skin

  • Circular crusting around the rash

  • Excessive itching and scratching

  • Biting or licking affected area

  • Hair loss (may have a moth-eaten appearance)

  • Patches of hair sticking up (mostly in short-haired dogs) because the inflamed rash causes the hair follicles to stand upright. This looks similar to hives.

Where is pyoderma in dogs likely to appear?

Areas where the skin is warm and moist is where pyoderma most commonly arises, due to the increased amount of microbial activity in hot areas which makes them more susceptible to infection. These areas include facial folds, neck folds, armpits and in between the toes.

Alongside this, areas that are exposed to pressure such as the elbows can be at an increased risk to pyoderma.

Are some dog breeds more prone to pyoderma?

Breeds such as PugsFrench Bulldogs, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers and Shar-peis are all susceptible as they’re all brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds.

Brachycephalic breeds have short, squished, flat muzzles that create several deep skin folds. These crevices become warm and humid, breeding bacteria within them,making these breeds susceptible to infection.

Cocker Spaniels are also quite prone to getting pyoderma in their mouth.

Similar to the brachycephalic breeds, Cocker Spaniels actually have an excessive amount of skin folds around their lips. This generates a lot of saliva and creates a hot, humid environment, essentially making the mouth a breeding ground for bacteria.

How is pyoderma in dogs diagnosed?

Pyoderma is usually a very visible condition, making it pretty simple to diagnose.

The diagnosis of pyoderma is centred mostly around the vet recognising the signs of the condition. Providing your vet with a detailed history of your dog’s health and wellbeing alongside a thorough timeline from when you noticed the first sign of the rash to now, will help with diagnosing the condition.

However, the underlying cause of the skin condition must be found to go ahead with any treatment.

Upon viewing the symptoms, your vet will use the technique of skin scraping to produce a sample of your dog’s skin. These samples will then be placed under a microscope for examination in a process called cutaneous cytology.

As a result, the vet will be able to spot possible parasite infestations and infections that would otherwise not be spotted by us. A fungal test might even be carried out to eliminate the prospect of ringworm too.

Excessive bacteria can even be seen through the microscope which your vet may want to examine further. If so, your vet will take a culture of the skin sample to pinpoint exactly what type of bacteria is lurking in your dog’s skin. A culture is where the vet places the skin sample in a fluid that will promote the bacteria to grow. As a result, the type of bacteria will be much easier to identify.

In the event that your vet suspects your dog is suffering from a hormonal (endocrine) condition, such as Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism, blood tests may be completed to confirm this. Identifying the underlying condition will be essential. Once the other condition is addressed, treatment can begin to revert your dog’s skin back to normal.

Allergies could be at the root of the condition, which will require allergy tests to be conducted to verify which allergen is triggering pyoderma.

At first, it might feel overwhelming that pyoderma can be caused because of so many different things. However, diagnosis will involve a process to find out what has caused pyoderma and then you can subsequently find out the best way to treat it.

How is pyoderma in dogs treated?

The treatment plan for your pooch’s pyoderma will all depend on their specific case.

Resolving the condition starts with curing the bacterial infection and figuring out the underlying issue that has spurred the onset of pyoderma. Once the initial issue that’s sparked it has been detected, it’s usually not that difficult to get the skin condition solved.

If the vet hasn’t discovered any underlying issues, and your dog is otherwise healthy, antibiotics is the most likely route for treating pyoderma. Antibiotics are typically very effective, resolving the issue quickly.

The condition may seem to have cleared up after merely a week on the antibiotics, but it’s incredibly important that you continue the course for the typical 3-4 weeks that they’ve been supplied for. If your pooch stops taking the medication prematurely, the bacteria might still be lurking on your pup’s skin, ready to multiply and spark the issue once again. In chronic cases of pyoderma, it might be necessary for your vet to conduct an antibiotic sensitivity test to ensure the correct course of antibiotics has been provided.

When the pyoderma is reoccurring, it’s most likely that it’s because your dog is suffering from another untreated condition, like Cushing’s disease. It’s crucial that these conditions are addressed simultaneously to treating pyoderma, otherwise it’ll only reoccur again and again.

In the case that it could be parasites triggering the onset of pyoderma, your vet will recommend parasite treatment to eradicate any infestations.

Frequent bathing is highly recommended to clear the infection, typically with a medicated shampoo that’ll work to soothe the skin and ease the dreaded itching. Keeping your dog’s grooming routine maintained is also a crucial in getting rid of the condition.

Professional grooming is advised to keep your pooch’s coat trim, as excess hair can grasp onto any unwanted debris and bacteria and worsen pyoderma. Not only will this help resolve the condition, but it’ll keep your hound looking handsome!

Can pyoderma in dogs be prevented?

Nobody wants their dog to experience discomfort, and although there is no black and white method of preventing pyoderma, there are definitely measures you can take to help.

As stated, brachycephalic dogs tend to have an abundance of deep skin folds that can become a breeding ground for all the bothersome bacteria. The best thing you can do is clean these skin folds on a regular basis using a damp, clean cloth to remove any residue residing in these crevices. If your squashy-faced pup experiences pyoderma regularly, this tip is crucial in preventing another case.

Maintaining flea treatment is a great way of warding off those pesky parasites that trigger your dog to relentlessly itch and scratch themselves. Therefore, this should prevent future flare ups of parasite related pyoderma.

If you know your pup suffers from allergies, trying to manage them is great for preventing pyoderma. However, this is extremely tricky as allergens are usually things your dog will experience in everyday life. For example, if you know your pooch suffers from a food allergy, changing up their food will work wonders for their reoccurring pyoderma.

Finding the right food for your pup is a hard task, even trickier if your dog has allergies. Pure can make this easier. Fill in your dog’s details, including all their allergies, and we’ll create tailored recipes perfect for your pooch. This means your dog can still enjoy tasty, nutritious food without having to worry about a flare up.

Even if your dog doesn’t have an allergy, they just have sensitive skin prone to various conditions, the right nutrition can work wonders too. Without the right nutrition, your dog’s body will naturally push the little nutrients they do have towards helping the vital organs, meaning the quality of your dog’s skin and coat will deteriorate. Natural, nourishing ingredients are key to keeping the pyoderma at bay and easing your dog’s dry, flaky and itchy skin. Omega 3 fatty acids are also fundamental ingredients in all of Pure’s recipes, which provide several skincare benefits, primarily soothing inflamed, sore skin.

If you notice any signs of pyoderma, seek guidance from your vet to figure out the best treatment to keep your pooch happy and healthy.

Is pyoderma contagious?

In most cases, you don’t have to worry about pyoderma being passed on to you or any other dogs. Parasites such as fleas can be at the root of your dog’s pyoderma, which can easily be passed onto other dogs. However, pyoderma itself can’t be transmitted to you or other dogs, it’s only really parasites that are contagious which can subsequently cause pyoderma.

Due to the several different causes of the condition, you must determine the cause and figure out with your vet how cautious you and your other pets must be around the infected pup until the pyoderma resolves.

The possible causes of pyoderma and all of the different treatment options may feel overwhelming at first, but your vet will be able to clear everything up for you.


Typically, pyoderma will be resolved effectively with the correct treatment plan and your hound will live happily without that incessant, irritating itch. If the problem occurs frequently, you must seek more guidance from your vet.

Chronic cases of pyoderma are almost always due to an unrelated condition triggering it, so this must be addressed otherwise pyoderma will be persistent and keep happening.

Most cases of pyoderma resolve with oral antibiotics and/or topical therapy such as routine bathing with medicated shampoos. Chronic or recurrent cases may require additional testing to determine if there is an underlying condition contributing to the bacterial skin infection.

Overall, the prognosis for uncomplicated pyoderma in the majority of cases is good to excellent.