Ingrown hairs are a prickly problem - literally!
Like a rocket on a launch pad, hairs are designed to shoot train 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 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 now 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 straight forward, 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 Shah 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, and trapped 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 a cone of shame.
Once the vet is satisfied there is no foreign body causing the irritation, they may well prescribe antibiotic and regular washes of the area. Sometimes long course are needed of 8 weeks or more, until the problem settles down. If you have a specific question about treatment, follow one of the links above to ask our in-house vet.
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 on the curl 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.