Folliculitis is a common skin problem in dogs and humans alike. Here's what to know when it comes to treating your canine's case.

One of the best parts of being a dog owner is enjoying our cuddly canine's soft fur. But just like in humans, our furry friends can be susceptible to a number of hair and skin issues. These can include anything from dandruff, allergies, skin tags or the reason we're all here: folliculitis in dogs.

What Is Folliculitis?

If folliculitis sounds familiar, it's probably because you've experienced it yourself once or twice in your human life. Folliculitis is just a fancy term that refers to the inflammation of a hair follicle, usually caused by bacteria. Humans often experience folliculitis if they're prone to acne or recently shaved, especially around the armpits. Damaged hair follicles make it easy for bacteria to seep in and cause inflammation. Dogs are susceptible to the same type of inflammation, too, less so because they're regularly shaving their pits and more so because of dog-specific ailments.

dog sitting in grass scratching their back
Credit: Mary Swift / Adobe Stock

What Causes Folliculitis in Dogs?

Rusty Muse, DVM, who serves as the Medical Director of the Animal Dermatology Group, says that clinically, there are three main causes of folliculitis in dogs.

  1. Bacterial organisms*
  2. Fungal organisms, like ringworm
  3. Mites, which are tiny bugs that can cause irritation on your dog's skin. They belong to the same class as spiders but are nearly microscopic in size.

*It's important to note that certain levels of bacterial organisms normally cohabitate on a dog's skin without issue, like staph, for instance. It's when these organisms mingle with underlying health conditions like allergies or similar topical infections that problems like folliculitis can arise.

Signs and Symptoms of Folliculitis in Dogs

Since dogs have more hair on more parts of their bodies than humans, it can be harder to spot folliculitis. But Muse has some insider knowledge on where to look.

"Folliculitis tends to be on the areas where there's sparse hair: the abdomen, inner thighs, you know, the areas that are relatively easy to see," he says. "But yes, it can be difficult to spot."

What are you looking for exactly, anyway? Keep your eye out for:

  • Papules (red, raised areas of swelling on the skin)
  • Crusts or scabs around skin lesions
  • Unusual odor, as bacteria may make the affected area smell
  • Itching and repetitive scratching
  • Hair loss
  • Pain to the touch

When you notice any of these symptoms, take your dog to your vet. Although it's typically easy for vets to diagnose folliculitis by just looking at the affected area, it's likely they will perform secondary tests to determine the cause of folliculitis.

What Does Folliculitis in Dogs Mean?

Folliculitis isn't a stand-alone condition. If your dog has folliculitis, it's virtually guaranteed that there's an underlying issue at play, whether it be allergies, mites, or something else, like a yeast infection or immune disease. Hence the need for further testing. After confirming folliculitis, your vet might perform or order:

  • Skin cytology impression smear to detect bacteria, fungi, or mites
  • Skin scrape to identify mites
  • Fungal culture to identify fungi such as ringworm
  • Allergy testing

Once the cause of folliculitis is discovered, then proper treatment can be recommended.

How to Treat Folliculitis in Dogs

Oral Prescriptions

If a bacterial infection is causing your dog's case of folliculitis, then oral antibiotics may be prescribed by your veterinarian. Depending on your dog's pain level, they may also recommend that your dog takes an oral pain killer as well until the discomfort lessens.

Topical Treatments

Muse is a big proponent of topical treatments in his line of work. There are many antibacterial and antifungal shampoos that can help flush out your dog's skin infection. And outside of bath time, your veterinarian may prescribe a topical cream to help soothe the inflammation as well.

Can Folliculitis be Prevented?

Most cases of folliculitis cannot be outright prevented due to their ties to underlying conditions. Some dog breeds are predisposed to skin conditions due to allergies. However, you can mitigate additional risks by taking the following advice into account.

Folliculitis on its own is a relatively mild condition, but it may be a warning sign for something more serious. Keep an eye on your pet to make sure they're not suffering in silence!