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What is Foreign Body in the Skin?

Depending on the area where the foreign body has worked its way into your dog’s skin, your dog could experience eye problems, urinary tract infections, ear infections, lameness or skin infections. Abscesses can also occur as your dog’s body tries to protect itself against the foreign body that has invaded it. 

Foreign body in the skin in dogs is actually a common occurrence. Many people are under the misassumption that because of a dog’s lush coat, they are protected from small sticks, thorns, brambles, plant awns or other foreign materials. These types of things can work their way into your dog’s skin, many times between the toes, in the ears, sheath of the penis, the vulva, folds of skin or the eyes. Foreign bodies can lead to hot spots when they tangle into your dog’s coat and cause your dog to chew at the mat, creating moist dermatitis or hot spots.

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Symptoms of Foreign Body in the Skin in Dogs

Your dog may not exhibit symptoms of a foreign body in their skin until an infection has actually set in. The foreign body acts as an irritant to your dog but unless they are showing obvious signs of discomfort or pain, it may go unnoticed. If you do see your dog acting strangely or exhibiting any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately for an appointment. 

  • Clawing at their ears or eyes
  • Constant licking of the genitals
  • Hair matting
  • Hot spots
  • Lameness
  • Constant licking of a particular foot
  • Chewing between the toes
  • Irritability
  • Abscess
  • Discharge from the vulva or penis
  • Foul odor from the hair or skin
  • Fever
  • Lethargy

Causes of Foreign Body in the Skin in Dogs

Dogs like to play outside and they will inevitably get into bushes and brambles. Sometimes their coat will become tangled around a foreign body and they will pull free, bringing the foreign body with them in their coat. This can then cause irritation if not promptly untangled and properly groomed. As the foreign body causes irritation, your dog will begin to lick and chew at their coat to try and dislodge the foreign body. This will cause moist dermatitis or a hot spot to occur. 

If your dog steps on a stick or thorn that lodges into their paw pad or between their toes, they will chew or lick at the foreign body until the area is infected, causing pain and lameness. Foreign bodies that invade your dog’s genitals will cause urinary tract infections as well as irritated skin of the vulva or sheath of the penis.

Diagnosis of Foreign Body in the Skin in Dogs

Your veterinarian will begin the appointment by taking down your dog’s medical history, especially if this is a new veterinarian who is not familiar with your dog. They will then do a full physical examination of your dog, paying close attention to the affected area. If your dog is unwilling to allow a thorough physical examination of the affected area, your veterinarian may need to do a mild sedation or general anesthesia to fully assess the area and find the foreign body that is causing the problem. 

A scraping of the area will need to be taken to determine if there is an underlying skin infection that will need to be dealt with. A biopsy may also need to be taken if there is a mass or abscess to confirm that a foreign body is present and not a cancerous growth. 

If your dog’s eye is affected, your veterinarian may refer you to a specialized canine ophthalmologist for diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment of Foreign Body in the Skin in Dogs

Your veterinarian will discuss treatment options with you. In cases where moist dermatitis or hot spots have occurred, your veterinarian will clip the mats that are in your dog’s coat to expose the underlying skin. The affected area will be thoroughly cleaned and then treated with a topical antibiotic cream as well as oral antibiotics. 

Foreign bodies that have embedded into your dog’s skin, either between their toes, in their ears, in their genitals or even in their mouth, will need to be removed. Often, this will require surgery to ensure that all of the foreign material is removed from your dog’s skin. Post-surgical care will be required.

The affected area will need to be flushed with a sterile solution. Once the area has been flushed, your veterinarian will assess the severity of the wound that has occurred. Topical antibiotic cream, oral antibiotics and NSAIDS may be prescribed.

Recovery of Foreign Body in the Skin in Dogs

Be sure to follow up with your veterinarian for post-surgical care to ensure that your dog is healing properly. If you have questions regarding your dog’s care or medications, you will need to contact your veterinarian. 

Prevention is the best way to keep your dog safe and out of the veterinarian’s office. When they come in from playing, do a cursory exam of your dog. This will include running your hands over the trunk of their body, checking their ears and eyes, feet and genitals. If you notice matting in their coat, take the time to groom them and remove any sticks or debris that might have become tangled. Taking a few extra minutes to check your dog over could help you spot a foreign body and take action before an infection can start.