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United Kingdom

Skin infections in Dogs

Labradoodle in studio


Bacterial skin infections are frequently seen in dogs and are a common reason to take your dog to see your vet. Many skin diseases can look similar, often presenting with itchiness (pruritus) so your vet may advise conducting some simple tests to help diagnose the problem.


Skin Infections in Dogs
Taking a skin scrape

Taking a skin scrape.

Preparing a skin scrape to view the cells under a microscope

Preparing a skin scrape to view the cells under a microscope


The skin is the largest organ in the body and forms an important barrier protecting against a hostile external environment. This includes heat/cold, water/dryness, chemical toxins, mechanical damage, sunlight and a host of would-be invaders such as bacteria, fungi, yeasts, mites, insects and viruses.


Skin Infections in Dogs

Demodex mite

Demodex mite

Cytology picture showing bacteria from a dog’s skin

Cytology picture showing bacteria from a dog’s skin


Bacterial skin infection (pyoderma)

Bacterial skin infections in dogs are usually secondary to underlying skin allergies, hormonal (endocrine) disorders, or other internal disease. There are a number of bacteria that are normal inhabitants of your dog’s skin, which are called commensal bacteria. These bacteria can cause a secondary bacterial infection (also known as a pyoderma) if there is a break or defect in the skin which can lead them to multiply.

Pyoderma may be localised (small areas) or more generalised (larger areas).The superficial layers of skin are the most commonly affected. However, sometimes the deep layers of skin become involved, trapping infection, these deep pyodermas are usually more serious, possibly making your dog generally unwell, sometimes with a fever and usually take a lot longer to treat, often weeks and sometimes several months.


Diagnosis of a bacterial skin infection can usually be made by your veterinary surgeon after examining your dog to visualise the characteristic changes in the skin and taking samples for microscopic examination to identify the type of organism involved. Cultures from samples of pus can identify the bacteria involved and help to choose the best antibiotic for treatment.

Treatment may include some of the following:

  • Specific treatment of the primary or underlying skin disease

  • Treatment of the secondary bacterial infection. Antibiotics to treat the infection and medication may also be prescribed to reduce the inflammation and pruritus (itch).

  • Support of damaged skin/hair. Various shampoos and diets can help to promote a healthy skin and coat.

  • Drainage of an abscess together with antibiotic treatment.

  • Specific treatment for any fungal skin infections.

  • Treatments for skin parasites will also be necessary if parasites have been identified and ensuring effective flea control is up to date, to avoid flea bites flaring up the skin.

  • Other specific treatments (eg immuno modulation or immuno therapy)

Your veterinary surgeon will select the treatment/s appropriate to each individual case. Long-standing cases will need treatment for many weeks, sometimes months of antibiotic treatment may be necessary for long-standing or deep infections. It is very important that antibiotics are given exactly at the frequency and interval prescribed and that no doses are missed. A common reason for treatment failure is an owner missing doses or not completing the full course of antibiotics. The course should be completed even if your pet’s skin already looks a lot better. Alternative longer acting treatments are available and your veterinary surgeon will decide upon the best treatment regime. It is important not to cut short any period of treatment that your veterinary surgeon prescribes.



Photos with kind permission from Anita Patel





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