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What is Contagious Ecthyma?

Contagious ecthyma, also known as sore mouth, has very distinct symptoms.  In cases of infection, development of scabby sores on the patient’s mouth, eyes, nose, ears, or lips occurs.  This condition is caused by a virus that survives for a considerable length of time in the environment and in old lesion scabs.  If your dog contracts this virus, the best thing you can do for him is to offer him supportive care.  The lesions typically scab over and heal without scarring in several weeks, and at this point your dog should return to his previous behavior and health.

Contagious ecthyma can be found most commonly in sheep, goats, alpacas, and camels.  However, your dog, and even you, can get it by coming into contact with an infected animal.  If you think your dog is suffering from this virus, contact your veterinarian.

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Symptoms of Contagious Ecthyma in Dogs

Symptoms of contagious ecthyma may vary in each pet.  Symptoms may include:

  • Bumps and sores on the lips
  • Sores or scabs in the mouth
  • Lesions and sores on the feet
  • Irritation and sores on the nose
  • Blisters on the ears
  • Sores on the eyelids
  • Papules and blisters


Contagious ecthyma is also known as orf, contagious pustular dermatitis, scabby mouth, and sore mouth.  This disease is most commonly found in sheep and goats as well as alpacas, camels, and other ruminants.  If your dog contracts this illness, it is either because he ate or chewed on an infected carcass or made contact with an infected animal.

Causes of Contagious Ecthyma in Dogs

Contagious ecthyma is caused by a parapoxvirus found worldwide.  It is most commonly seen in late summer, fall, and winter.  In North America, it is most commonly found in the Western states such as Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, and California.  

Your dog can contract contagious ecthyma by coming into direct contact with an infected animal.  The virus can be found in the skin lesions and scabs of the infected animal.  If your dog makes direct contact with a lesion, he is likely to contract the virus.  The virus can also be spread by inanimate objects such as shoes, clothing, brushes, halters, etc.  This virus is extremely hardy and can survive in the environment quite well for extended periods of time.  This makes an outbreak hard to control and why many animals of the same herd contract it at the same time.

Diagnosis of Contagious Ecthyma in Dogs

In most cases, symptoms of contagious ecthyma typically develop 2 to 3 days after initial contact with the infected object.  Signs begin as small raised papules, sores, and blisters found on the nose, ears, lips, and eyelids.  

If you notice these bumps developing on your dog and take him to the veterinarian, she will first begin by collecting a history from you.  When symptoms are in the small red bump phase, it can be difficult to identify what exactly they are from.  These bumps can be caused by an allergy, either internally or externally, can be caused by excessive exposure to heat, can be caused by something he touched, and many other sources.  If you explain to the veterinarian the environment your dog has been in the last few days, or mention possible exposure to animals who may carry the virus, it will help her to identify the source.  Also, if you do have other animals on your property that are sick, be sure to mention it.  It may or may not be a part of daily life for you to interact with other animals, but it may be the key to a proper diagnosis for your dog.

The veterinarian may want to take a skin scraping to rule out other possible causes of the papules.  Skin bacteria or parasites can also cause these symptoms.  By collecting a skin scraping, she will be able to take a look at it under the microscope to check for a cause other than the virus.

Treatment of Contagious Ecthyma in Dogs

The cause of contagious ecthyma is a virus.  This means nothing can be given to help it leave your dog’s system quicker.  However, your dog’s veterinarian may send you home with some antibacterial medications to ensure a secondary bacterial infection of the skin does not develop.

In some cases, the sores can be so painful it will cause the dog to not eat or drink.  If this happens, your dog will need to be put on fluid therapy to avoid dehydration.  He will also need to be enticed to eat so that he does not lose weight, lose his strength, and to keep his immune system strong.  To get him to eat, the veterinarian may administer an appetite stimulant, may need to force feed him small amounts, or in the most severe cases, place a feeding tube. Other therapies will be in response to symptoms your dog develops.  Supportive therapies will be administered as the veterinarian sees fit.

Recovery of Contagious Ecthyma in Dogs

If your dog contracts contagious ecthyma, you should confine away him from other animals in or around the house so he does not accidentally infect another pet.  Humans can also get this illness, so be sure to wash your hands often and wear personal protective equipment, such as disposable gloves, when you interact with your dog.  

In most cases, the lesions will scab over and heal without scarring in 2 to 6 weeks.  While this is occurring, you will need to ensure your dog continues to eat and drink a healthy amount.  If you think your dog has this sickness, take him to the veterinarian immediately. This will allow a proper diagnosis to be made and treatment started to keep him healthy and strong as he fights the virus.