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What is Pyoderma?

Pyoderma is a bacterial infection that is caused by an overabundance of an ordinary bacterial resident, usually Staphylococcus intermedius, which results in scaled, itchy skin, frequently incorporating pustules and ulcers. It is a relatively common condition in dogs, particularly in warm, moist environments or when the immune system becomes compromised in some way. Antibiotics are usually effective in eliminating this disease, although reoccurrence is common if any or all underlying conditions are not thoroughly addressed. 

Pyoderma is a relatively common skin disorder characterized by scaly, itchy skin that frequently develops pustules and ulcers. This uncomfortable disorder is caused by an overabundance of certain varieties of bacteria on the animal’s skin.

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Symptoms of Pyoderma in Dogs

Pyoderma is a relatively common disorder in dogs and can occur at any age. Symptoms are similar to many other skin disorders and those most common are:

  • Blood or pus on skin
  • Crusting
  • Foul odor from skin
  • Hair loss
  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Redness
  • Scaling
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Swelling
  • Ulcerated skin
  • Yellow papules


In many cases, pyoderma occurs as a single incident, but for some dogs, it can become a chronic issue. Certain conditions, such as diseases that compromise the immune system or allergies, may contribute to the pyoderma becoming chronic. Environmental influences, such as a hot, humid climate, may also increase the chances of a case of pyoderma becoming chronic, particularly with dogs that have wrinkles or folds in their skin. Most often pyoderma is superficial, meaning that it only affects the upper layers of the skin, however, it can also attack deeper layers of the skin, making it more challenging to treat. Puppies may also develop temporary cases of pyoderma due to their underdeveloped immune system. Puppy pyoderma, also sometimes referred to as puppy strangles, is generally concentrated in sparsely furred areas, such as the face, groin, belly, or armpits of the animal.

Causes of Pyoderma in Dogs

Pyoderma is most often caused by the Staphylococcus intermedius bacteria, a common resident on the skin and hair of most dogs, although other bacteria are occasionally to blame. In certain circumstances, these normal bacteria can over colonize on the animal’s skin and cause an infection that leads to itching, skin discoloration, and in some cases, open wounds from scratching. Conditions are most conducive to the formation of this disorder can include:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Autoimmune disorder
  • Immunosuppression
  • Physical damage to the skin
  • Warm, moist environments

Diagnosis of Pyoderma in Dogs

Your visit to the veterinarian will most likely start with a full physical examination, with particular attention being paid to the areas that are showing the symptoms, and a thorough history of your canine’s health and a timeline of symptoms can be extremely beneficial to an accurate diagnosis. The symptoms of pyoderma will typically prompt your veterinarian to collect skin samples during the general physical, usually, through a technique know as skin scraping.

These samples are used in a microscopic evaluation of the skin cells, called cutaneous cytology, which is utilized to see infestations and infections that may not be visible to the naked eye. An overabundance of bacteria may be detected microscopically, at which point a culture of the sample will be taken to determine what type of bacteria they are. Routine tests, such as a complete blood count, a biochemistry profile, and a urinalysis, may help to identify any underlying conditions that will need to be addressed before the skin condition can be fully restored.

Treatment of Pyoderma in Dogs

The areas around the infection will be shaved in order to get a better idea of the damage, as well as to allow better absorption of topical medications, typically followed by a full body cleansing with an antibacterial shampoo formulated with medications for dogs such as Benzoyl peroxide or chlorhexidine, which must remain on the skin for at least ten minutes before rinsing for full effectiveness. Your veterinarian will also instruct you regarding continuing bathing routines that are required to clear the infection.

Typically, antibiotic baths are repeated two to three times a week for the first two weeks or so, and then reduced to once or twice a week until the infection has been resolved. Oral antibiotics will also be prescribed for several weeks to ensure that the infection is fully under control, and should be continued until at least a week after any pustules or clinical lesions are resolved. It is crucial that any underlying conditions, like Cushing’s disease, allergies that affect the skin, or hormonal imbalances, also be addressed while treating the pyoderma itself, or the condition will reoccur.

Recovery of Pyoderma in Dogs

During the recovery period, it is best to have a comfortable and quiet space available for your companion to recuperate with plenty of access to food and water if they need it. Following the instructions that are given regarding oral and topical medication and adhering closely to bathing requirements will be required to eradicate the infection. Typically, rehabilitation measures will need to be continued even after the symptoms are no longer apparent as pyoderma can easily rematerialize treatment is not continued. Overall, the prognosis for pyoderma without any underlying conditions is excellent, however, disorders such as allergies and immunocompromising diseases may increase the recovery time.