itchy dog

Content Reviewed by an Essentials PetCare Veterinarian

 Pyoderma (Skin Infection) in Dogs & Cats

 The Basics

  1. What: Pyoderma, or skin infection, commonly results from bacterial and/or yeast organisms causing an opportunistic infection due to the skin’s defense mechanisms being compromised.
  2. Why: Skin infections are often triggered by an underlying condition such as allergies, parasite infestation, endocrine diseases, or diseases that alter the immune system. Pets affected by pyoderma can experience discomfort and pain.
  3. When: Consult with a veterinarian as soon as you notice any sign of skin infection. The skin will not resolve on its own, and over-the-counter relief products alone will not cure most skin infections in dogs and cats.
  4. How: The doctor will perform diagnostic tests and determine the type of antimicrobial, topical medications, and/or other medications that are appropriate for the treatment of your pet’s skin condition.
  5. EPC affordable price: Skin Package for dogs and cats: $60.

What Is a Skin Infection?

Pyoderma, or skin infection, commonly results from bacterial and/or yeast organisms causing an opportunistic infection due to the skin’s defense mechanisms being compromised.

 How Pets Develop Skin Infection

Skin infection may be triggered by an underlying condition such as allergies (including food allergies, environmental allergies, and flea allergies), parasite infestation (fleas, ticks, or mites), endocrine diseases (such as hypothyroidism or hyperadrenocorticism), or disorders that weaken the immune system (such as lupus, feline leukemia virus, or feline immunodeficiency virus). In many  cases, skin infections tend to be recurring, as they are secondary to the underlying condition. The veterinarian’s goal is  to address both the underlying issue and the infection itself.

Moreover, any condition that causes itching can lead to self-trauma, which may generate a secondary pyoderma. Areas of the skin that hold moisture, like the ear canals and folds around the mouth, genitals, and toes, are prone to infection.

 Types of Pyoderma

Pyodermas are classified into three categories depending on which layer of the skin they are affecting. These three categories are surface pyodermas, superficial pyodermas, and deep pyodermas.

Examples of Surface Pyoderma

Hot spot – Hot spot is the common name given to a localized skin inflammation that is more properly called pyotraumatic dermatitis or acute moist dermatitis. This condition develops from self-inflicted skin trauma and commonly affects pets with thick or long coats. These infections can develop very quickly and require treatment to reduce the inflammation and triggers that contribute to the self-inflicted trauma.

Skin fold pyoderma – This type of infection develops where there is moisture trapping and/or skin friction, such as the arm pits, face wrinkles, toes, and vulvar folds. A few of the breeds prone to this type of skin infection are Basset Hounds, Boxers, French Bulldogs, Pekingese, Pugs, and Shar Peis.

Example of Superficial Pyoderma

Bacterial folliculitis – This type of skin infection is the most common type of canine skin infection. It is caused by a proliferation of the Staphylococcus pseudintermedius bacteria which is part of the normal bacterial flora on the surface of the skin. This bacteria normally is harmless. However, when a break in the skin barrier occurs, this bacteria invades it and quickly multiplies to cause an infection. The infection develops within the hair follicle and may cause inflammation in and around the hair follicle, itchy skin, and hair loss (alopecia). Short-haired dogs may be more susceptible to this condition.

Demodectic mangeThis type of skin infection is caused by mite infestation and has a genetic predisposition. This condition results from microscopic mites which feed on the hair follicles. These mites are commonly found in very small numbers in all dogs and are passed to them by their mother as they are nursing. However, they cause infection when they become overgrown in number. This occurs most commonly in puppies who experience physiological stress from weaning, or going into a new home, but it can also occur in adult dogs that have any type of immune-suppressive condition. The infected dog will lose hair in the affected areas. This condition can be itchy, especially when accompanied by a bacterial skin infection, but typically causes no signs other than hair loss most commonly occurring on the face, ears, and feet. Deep skin scrapings are performed, the samples are examined under a microscope to make the diagnosis, and mites are typically easily identified. This type of mange is not contagious and is easily treatable when diagnosed early.

Sarcoptic mange (scabies)This type of skin infection is also caused by a mite that burrows in the skin. However, in contrast to demodectic mange, sarcoptic mange is severely itchy and is highly contagious. It can even be passed to people. Although a true human scabies infection requires a human-specific mite, the canine mite can still cause an itchy, uncomfortable, and typically self-limiting rash for several days. Infected dogs typically have very red skin, especially in their arm pits and belly, along with patches of hair loss all over their body. Skin scrapes can be used to definitively diagnosis this condition, but it can be very difficult to recover mites on the scrape samples. Because of this, the doctor may treat based on a high-suspicion of infestation. This condition is typically  treated with some of the newer flea and tick prevention products available.

Impetigo – Canine impetigo is caused by the Staphylococci bacteria. It mostly affects puppies and young dogs. Bullous impetigo is caused by the same bacteria, but the bacterial imbalance is triggered by an underlying disease.

Mucocutaneous pyoderma – This type of skin infection occurs at the junction of the skin and mucous membranes and is typically caused by an immune-mediated condition. Lesions can be found on the pet’s nose, eyelids, lips, peri-oral skin, prepuce, anus, and vulva. Biopsies are necessary to diagnose these conditions. Steroids and other immune-suppressive drugs are used for treatment.

Deep Pyoderma

Deep pyodermas are serious skin infections affecting the deep tissues of the skin. They include:

Abscesses – Skin lesions affecting the dermal layers of the skin typically caused by bite wounds.

Bacterial pododermatitis – Inflammation of the skin on the paws.

Callus pyoderma – Deep skin infection at the location of a pressure-point callus. This is commonly seen on the elbows of large breed dogs.

Chin acne – This infection is caused by inflammation of hair follicles around the snout and mouth.

Deep fungal infections – Chronic subcutaneous infections caused by fungal organisms. These infections often cause draining lesions in the skin and can be accompanied by fungal infection in other body systems, such as the lungs or intestinal tract.

Lick granulomas – Also known as acral lick dermatitis, these lesions result from the dog or cat’s obsessive licking of the skin. Lick granulomas can be very frustrating to treat because of the behavioral component of the condition in addition to the skin infection.

Symptoms of Skin Infection in Dogs and Cats

The symptoms associated with skin infection vary by the type of infection present.

Symptoms of superficial pyoderma Common signs of these infections include papules or pustules that resemble pimples in humans. The papules are raised, red bumps that progress to pustules when they become filled with purulent material. These lesions can then progress to circular crusts. The affected skin will be overall dry and flaky. Hair loss and itching are common.

Symptoms of bacterial pyodermaScaling skin, solid bumps on the skin or nodules within the deeper layers of the skin, open sores, fur loss, and crusts.

Pets suffering from pyoderma can experience discomfort and pain. Seek a veterinarian as soon as you notice any of these common signs of skin infection. The longer the skin infection goes untreated, the more serious it will become. The skin will typically not clear on its own without proper treatment.

Essential Tip: Call your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of the symptoms above. Essentials PetCare offers a Skin Package including a doctor’s exam, relevant diagnostics, treatment recommendations, and a portable prescription for medication if necessary, for only $60.

Diagnosing Skin Infection in Your Pet

The veterinarian will perform a focused exam of your pet’s skin. The doctor will ask you for information about your pet’s medical history to eliminate underlying conditions that may be causing the skin infection. The diagnosis may require:

  • Skin cytology to check for bacteria and/or yeast
  • Skin scrapings to look for mites
  • Fur combing to identify fleas and/or ticks
  • Thyroid hormone testing
  • Bacterial and fungal culture
  • Biopsy of infected tissue
  • Complete blood count

Treating Skin Infection in Cats and Dogs

In general, pyoderma is treated with topical and oral medications. The treatment usually varies between 3 to 12 weeks, depending on the case. There are many antibiotics used for healing skin infections, but they are not all effective for every type of infection. The veterinarian will run tests to ensure that the proper type of antibiotic is selected.

If the antibiotic medication is stopped before the pet is completely healed, the infection may flare up again and the bacteria may become more resistant to treatment. This is why it is important to administer all the required medication, even if the pet already looks and acts completely normal. Generally, treatment is continued for one-week past resolution for superficial pyodermas and two weeks past resolution for deep pyodermas.

Topical medication, like ointments, sprays, or medicated shampoos, may be indicated by themselves or as part of a more complex treatment plan according to the severity of your pet’s condition. The doctor may also prescribe a hygiene routine that must be followed for the effectiveness of the treatment. You must also follow the doctor’s instructions regarding grooming, especially if your cat or dog is long-haired.

Be mindful that while regular pet shampoos will cleanse the skin and coat, they are not effective in clearing skin infections. You may need a medicated shampoo prescribed by the doctor. When using medicated shampoo, the general recommendation is to lather the pet then wait for at least 10 minutes before rinsing. Shampooing is generally repeated initially 2-3 times weekly, then tapered as needed as the skin improves. Make sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions and share any concerns you may have in the course of your pet’s treatment.

Steroids may be necessary if the pet is diagnosed with specific underlying conditions such as moderate to severe allergic inflammation of the skin. Commonly pets may suffer from both inflammation of the skin caused by an allergy, and infection of the skin caused by an opportunistic pathogen. Pets may receive a prescription for multiple medications such as steroids to treat the inflammation and oral/topical antimicrobials to treat the secondary infection that may accompany allergies.


The visit to treat skin infection in your pet at Essentials PetCare takes 15 minutes on average. Visit today. We are conveniently located at Walmart.

Prices subject to change. See current prices: