Ingrown hairs are a prickly problem - literally!
Like a rocket on a launchpad, hairs are designed to shoot upwards out of the hair follicle. If something goes wrong and the hair goes sideways, this results in an ingrown hair.
While this doesn't sound like much of a problem, those that suffer from the condition know differently. That hair keeps growing, but is trapped beneath the skin. Now, a rocket exploding on the launchpad is going to sting, and so does an ingrown hair.
Let's say that your dog has raised red lumps between the toes. Could this be due to ingrown hairs?
Can Dogs Get Ingrown Hairs?
However, they also suffer from plenty of other skin conditions that mimic the appearance of ingrown hairs. Regardless of the cause, these bumps are often very itchy. If the dog chews the area, there's then a possibility of introducing infection. So although ingrown hairs sound straightforward, even so, it's best to get them checked by a vet.
Does My Dog Have Ingrown Hairs?
The signs to look for are:
Small, angry looking red lumps on the skin
Most commonly on the paws, between the toes
Can occur after clipping or grooming
Certain breeds, such as the Chinese Shar-Pei and Poodle, are prone to the problem.
However, red bumps are just a symptom and there can be other explanations, such as:
Acne: Pustular spots, most common on the chin and thin skin of the belly
Folliculitis: Infection around the hair shaft, most commonly on the trunk, which gives the coat a moth-eaten appearance
Mange: Demodex mites burrow deep into the skin and cause angry reddened skin
Interdigital cysts: These blister-like swellings can arise for no known reason or be caused by a foreign body such as a grass awn
Urticaria: Allergic skin disease that results in itchy raised patches on the skin
The vet will consider where the lumps are and how quickly they came up. It may be appropriate to burst a spot and smear the contents onto a microscope slide for analysis. To learn more, follow the links above for details of diagnosis and treatment.
How Do I Treat My Dog's Ingrown Hairs?
Poulticing the area with cotton wool soaked in warm salt water may help. This softens and warms the skin, making it easier for the hair to 'punch' it's way out. In addition, this can help unclog hair follicles that have become choked with debris, trapping the hair within.
It's important to stop the dog chewing the area, as this leads to infection. If a paw is affected, then try covering it with a thick sock (provided your dog isn't a sock eater!) or wearing the Elizabethan collar.
Once the vet is satisfied there is no foreign body causing the irritation, they may well prescribe antibiotics and regular washes of the area. Sometimes long courses are needed of 8 weeks or more, until the problem settles down.
How are Ingrown Hairs Similar in Dogs and Humans?
Be it a dog or human, ingrown hairs have many similarities:
Caused by clogged hair follicles
More common in those with curly hair
Often the result of shaving too close to the skin
Result in itchy red lumps
How are Ingrown Hairs Different in Dogs and Humans?
However, they also have their differences:
In dogs, the most common site is between the toes
The most common causes of the skin cysts in dogs are parasites or allergies
Ingrown hairs are more common in people than dogs
Daily shaving makes people prone to ingrown hairs, whereas dogs are only occasionally clipped
Fifi the Poodle returned from the groomer's, looking resplendent in her classic French clip. However, a few days later bumps started appearing on her thigh, where she had been clipped down to the skin.
To make matters worse, Fifi started chewing at the thigh and soon the area was looking very sore and inflamed. A trip to the vet later, and Fifi is more comfortable with a course of antibiotics and a soothing cream. The vet suspects the sheared hairs were growing back within the follicle, causing inflammation and irritation.
The vet advised scissor clipping Fifi in the future, rather than shaving her down to the skin. The owner followed this advice and the problem never recurred.