Sensitive skin isn’t just uncomfortable for your dog. It can lead to other problems, like infection.
Frequent scratching, licking, chewing or rubbing of itchy areas not only damages irritated skin, it also puts your dog at risk for secondary bacterial and yeast infections. Both types of skin infections lead to unsightly skin and coat problems if left untreated, and can make your four-legged friend miserable.
The problem with skin infections is that you can’t always tell what’s causing the problem simply by looking at your dog’s skin and coat. But you know something’s not right because you’re seeing more dandruff than normal, your dog is driving themselves (and you) crazy from constant scratching, and they have a different musty smell. Or maybe you’ve found an area of pimples on your dog’s belly along with redness and circles of flaky skin. While your veterinarian will have their suspicions regarding a yeast versus bacterial infection, they’ll still want to take a close look at your canine companion’s skin and examine skin debris using a microscope to help guide their treatment recommendations.
Bacterial and yeast skin infections are common in dogs and often occur as a result of another health issue. Read on to learn more about these bothersome skin issues.
Yeast infection of the skin (Malassezia dermatitis)
Responsible for the majority of canine yeast infections, Malassezia pachydermatis is a naturally occurring yeast that’s found in small numbers on dogs’ skin and in their ears. This yeast is opportunistic, multiplying and causing infections when dogs have oily skin as a result of allergies, hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland), bacterial skin infection or other disease affecting the skin’s oil glands — or a weakened immune system.
Yeast infections cause itchy, crusty and smelly skin. Skin may become darkly pigmented and thickened, often being described as “elephant skin.” Although yeast prefers the moist warm places on your dog’s body, such as the neck, armpits, groin, ears and between their toes, it can spread all over the body. Yeast infections also cause your dog to frantically lick, chew, bite, scratch and rub, further traumatizing damaged skin.
Compared to bacterial skin infections, yeast infections tend to cause more skin greasiness, redness, thickening and smelliness. But the only way to tell if a skin infection is due to bacteria, yeast or both is to look at skin debris using a microscope and a dye specific for diagnosing yeast and bacterial infections. This is important because it guides your veterinarian’s treatment plan. Antibiotics that work well in treating bacterial infections aren’t effective against yeast.
Bacterial skin infection (pyoderma)
Pyoderma, the medical term for bacterial skin infection, is an uncomfortable, potentially painful, condition caused by bacteria that are normally found on your dog’s skin. Staphylococcus pseudintermedius, one of those common skin bacteria, is usually the primary culprit.
Allergies are the most common underlying health issue that compromise the skin barrier or immune system and predispose dogs to bacterial skin infections. Liver disease, kidney disease, cancer and endocrine diseases such as Cushing’s disease (overproduction of cortisol) and hypothyroidism also increase a dog’s susceptibility to bacterial skin infections. Any conditions in which the skin is excessively moist can set the stage for pyoderma. Dogs also have a higher risk of developing bacterial skin infections when they have yeast skin infections.
The classic lesion seen in canine bacterial skin infections is a circular sore, usually with a center bald spot and ringed with reddened, flaky or crusty skin. Bacterial infections also cause patches of dry, flaky skin; oozing, crusty skin; and hair loss. You may find small, pimple-like bumps on your dog’s skin or pus-filled hair follicles. Like yeast infections, pyoderma can make your dog’s skin itchy and irritated, causing them to scratch, lick or chew excessively at their skin.
Skin infection treatment varies
Treatment of your canine companion’s skin infection will depend not only on its cause — yeast or bacteria — but also on its severity.
Mild yeast infections are often treated with topical products such as medicated shampoos or ointments (for small areas). More severe yeast infection cases may require an oral antifungal medication in addition to topical treatment.
Most bacterial skin infections are treated with a combination of oral antibiotics and topical products, such as medicated shampoos, antiseptic sprays or wipes, and antibacterial creams or ointments (for very small areas).
In addition to treating the skin infection, your veterinarian will recommend treating or managing the underlying health issue that enabled infection in the first place. If your dog has allergies, they may need a special food. If a disease such as Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism is present, your veterinarian will prescribe an appropriate medication to manage that condition. If there’s a concurrent bacterial skin infection, an antibiotic may be necessary.
Although most skin infections are not emergencies, an accurate diagnosis and early treatment are two keys to successful skin health management. See your veterinarian if your dog is licking, chewing or scratching excessively, or if you notice changes in your dog’s skin and coat.