Skin problems aren’t fun for anyone, including your dog. Luckily, pyoderma can be easily treated if you know what to look for!

By Vincent Finch-Brand
May 17, 2021
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Pyoderma, literally meaning "pus in the skin," often sounds and looks scarier than it is. A relatively common condition in dogs, pyoderma is characterized by skin infection and irritation and can have a huge variety of causes, most of which are suited to different treatments. Knowing what to look out for increases your chances of catching your pup's case of pyoderma early, leading to better health outcomes and easier treatment.  

What Causes Pyoderma?

Pyoderma can have a range of possible causes. Nikki Graham, DMV from Nottingham Animal Hospital in Hamilton, N.J. says it can be caused by:

The most common of these is bacterial infections in the skin, namely staph. Bacterial pyodermas can be simple, meaning they are triggered by a one-time event like fleas, or complex, meaning it is a recurring issue associated with an underlying disease. Both simple and complex pyodermas can be further categorized into either superficial or deep. Superficial pyoderma, also known as bacterial folliculitis, is a bacterial infection affecting hair follicles and the surface layer of the skin, known as the epidermis. Deep pyoderma, on the other hand, is less common and affects deeper layers of skin.

Certain breeds of dogs, such as pugs or shar-peis, are more prone to skin infection than others, usually due to deep skin folds that breed bacteria in a warm, moist environment. Any skin condition that increases the humidity of the surface of your dog's skin can increase the chances of developing pyoderma.

Pyoderma can also occur in broken skin, when blood flow to the skin has been impaired, or when a dog has a suppressed immune system due to disease or immunosuppressive medications.

In puppies, pyoderma usually presents in areas with thin hair like the groin and underarms. Skin irritation caused by fleas, ticks, yeast or fungal infections, hormonal imbalances, genetics, and more can all increase the risk of pyoderma for your dog. 

Is Pyoderma in Dogs Contagious?

Graham says that most of the time, pyoderma is not contagious. There are notable exceptions, like if your dog's case of pyoderma is caused by certain conditions, such as scabies, which is contagious to humans.

"There have been many cases of methicillin resistant staph infections (MRSA), which can be contagious to immunosuppressed people," adds Graham. Similarly, if your dog's pyoderma is caused by fleas or ticks, these can be passed on to other dogs, though the pyoderma itself isn't contagious. Because of the huge variety of causes of pyoderma, it is best to consult your veterinarian to determine how careful you and your other pets should be until your dog's case of pyoderma clears up.

Pug gets bath outdoors on patio
Credit: fongleon356 / Getty

Signs of Pyoderma in Dogs

The most common symptom of pyoderma is pustules on the skin that look similar to pimples in humans—red, raised bumps filled with white pus.

Graham notes some other common symptoms such as:

  • Scaling, flaking skin
  • Dandruff
  • Itchiness
  • Hair loss
  • Bad-smelling skin
  • Redness
  • Excessive licking of the skin

Especially in short-haired dogs, the coat may appear to be sticking up in some areas, similar to how hives look. Short-haired dogs may also appear to have a moth-eaten coat from patchy hair loss. Keep an eye out for these symptoms and ask your vet if you begin to notice any. Identifying pyoderma early will result in easier treatment and overall better health outcomes for your pup.

"Skin and eye problems are very common in dogs, especially this time of year, with all the pollen and allergens. Appropriate diagnosis by a veterinarian can help your pet and potentially prevent more serious problems in the future," Graham adds. 

How to Treat Pyoderma in Dogs and Puppies

Your dog's treatment plan for pyoderma will depend on the cause of their specific case. Usually, in otherwise healthy dogs, pyoderma resolves completely with the right course of antibiotics.

"A dog with a skin infection should see a veterinarian for appropriate diagnosis. Some dogs will need antibiotics, medications to help with itching, medicated shampoos and other topical treatments, flea preventatives, or other treatments," Graham says. "Your vet may need to do testing, such as skin cultures or looking at skin samples under a microscope. If severe, your dog may need to see a veterinary dermatologist for allergy testing and additional treatment."

Though the variety of possible causes and treatments for pyoderma can feel overwhelming on your own, your vet will be able to work with you to decide the best course of action moving forward to get your dog looking and feeling their best again.