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Pyoderma in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Remedies

Donna partners with Dr. Cathy Alinovi, a retired veterinarian, to create informative pet health articles.

From diagnosis to treatment, read on to learn all about canine pyoderma.

From diagnosis to treatment, read on to learn all about canine pyoderma.

Pyroderma in Dogs Treatment

In today’s interview session, Dr. Cathy defines canine pyoderma for us, and then offers her recommendations on how owners can best help their pets that are affected with it. For more expert advice from Dr. Cathy, read her interview on canine inflammatory bowel disease or her recommendations for managing canine arthritis.

Scratching can be a warning sign of health problems.

Scratching can be a warning sign of health problems.

Canine Pyoderma vs. German Shepherd Pyoderma

Donna Cosmato (DC): Is there any difference between canine pyoderma and German Shepherd pyoderma?

Dr. Cathy Alinovi: (Dr. Cathy): Canine pyoderma is a skin infection in which bacteria normally found on the surface of canine skin, commonly Staphylococcus intermedius, results in infection.

Typically, pyoderma is the result of underlying causes such as allergies, mites or fleas, or endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism. German Shepherds and German Shepherd crosses can develop a particular recurrent pyoderma of unknown cause, which is characterized by ulcerative erosive lesions that can be very severe and very painful.

Types of Pyoderma

DC: How many types of pyoderma are there?

Dr. Cathy: Pyodermas are classified by location in terms of whether they are within the layers of the skin as a surface, superficial or deep infection.

Surface pyoderma occurs in areas of skin folds where moisture and warmth provide the perfect environment for bacteria and yeasts to flourish or where a hot spot has developed due to self-trauma.

Deep pyodermas invade further below the surface of the skin and result in the inflammation of surrounding deep tissues. Deep pyoderma presents as bloody, crusty, red and painful lesions as well as abscesses, chin acne, or lick granulomas from the constant itch.

DC: Which type is the most severe?

Dr. Cathy: Deep pyodermas are the most severe because the infection has spread to the deeper tissues, which increases the risk for whole-body infection. Treatment and resolution of clinical signs take significantly more time, is more painful for the dog, and more expensive for the owner.


DC: What causes it?

Dr. Cathy: Typically, dog pyodermas are caused by flea allergy dermatitis, food allergy, hay fever-type allergy, skin parasites, or systemic disease such as hypothyroidism.

German Shepherd pyoderma is chronic but currently, the exact cause is debatable. In affected German Shepherds, the bacteria Staphylococcus intermedius is commonly isolated, most likely due to a decrease in immune cells. While the exact cause is unknown, an imbalance in the immune system has been demonstrated in affected dogs as compared to healthy German Shepherds. There may be a possible connection to anal furunculosis or panniculitis since these diseases are often found in conjunction with German Shepherd pyoderma.

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German shepherds can be predisposed for developing pyoderma.

German shepherds can be predisposed for developing pyoderma.


DC: What are the best ways to protect a dog from contracting it?

Dr. Cathy: Anything that works to strengthen the immune system helps. For example, healthy, meat-based nutritious food, flea preventative, proper hygiene, and good genetics are a great start to prevent pyodermas.

Breeds With a Higher Risk of Pyoderma

DC: Are there canine populations that are at higher risk?

Dr. Cathy: Those with a poorly developed immune system are at a higher risk as are dogs with many skin folds, but practically any dog can develop pyoderma given the right set of circumstances. Commonly, puppies, dogs from puppy mills and shelter situations (where stress weakens the immune system,) and dogs on chronic steroid medication (steroids weaken the immune system) can develop pyoderma. In addition, dogs with poor hygiene are at higher risk of pyoderma.

German Shepherds are at higher risk for pyoderma than some other breeds.

German Shepherds are at higher risk for pyoderma than some other breeds.


DC: What symptoms are manifested?

Dr. Cathy: Pyoderma affects dogs of any age. Puppy pyoderma obviously affects puppies—it is common to see it manifest when they are weaned and/or move to their new home—and can be related to the stress of the change. Typically, the puppy parent will see little bumps on the belly, but they can also be observed anywhere on the body. The bumps will look like little pimples. Unlike German Shepherd pyoderma, puppy pyoderma is usually not itchy.

The population of German Shepherds most likely to be affected is middle-aged dogs, and the condition manifests as lesions beginning on the outside of the thighs or on the back near their hips. The skin sores are often very red and ulcerated and exhibit varying degrees of yucky discharge. The sores are typically painful and often itchy with areas of hair loss and increased pigment observed.


DC: How is canine pyoderma diagnosed?

Dr. Cathy: Uncomplicated cases of pyoderma, like puppy pyoderma, are diagnosed by the presenting signs, which look like puppy belly zits. More complicated cases or cases that do not improve with standard antibiotic treatments take more diagnostics.

These may include but are not limited to skin scraping, cytology (looking at the scraping under the microscope), biopsy (surgically taking a larger piece of skin), histopathology (sending the biopsy tissue to the lab), and culture for bacterial and fungal infection. Testing for sensitivity determines what antibiotic is the right one.

Other methods of diagnosis include ruling out contributing causes such as starting flea prevention, performing a food trial to rule out food allergies, and testing for allergies via blood tests or skin scrapings.

Transmission to Humans

DC: Is it transmitted from dogs to humans?

Dr. Cathy: Usually, pyoderma is not transmissible to humans. However, because it is normally due to the overgrowth of bacteria, immune-compromised humans are at greater risk of contamination. Good hygiene for both the dog and the human greatly reduces the risk of bacterial transmission.

Veterinary Treatment

DC: How is it treated?

Dr. Cathy: The most common treatment consists of oral antibiotics. German Shepherd dog pyoderma is also treated with antibacterial shampoos as well as long-acting steroids to suppress the itch. In some recurrent cases, the goal is to strengthen the immune system and a special vaccine, called staphage lysate, can be made to stimulate the immune system.

Home Remedies

DC: Are there any natural remedies?

Dr. Cathy: Natural remedies can target the infection while strengthening the immune system or treating the underlying cause.

Some methods that directly target the infection and can cure superficial pyoderma are essential oils, colloidal silver, and topical products like Noni cream or an herbal salve.

  • Essential oils: Some oils have shown to have antibacterial properties include lavender, tea tree, lemon, and other citrus oils. Silver has been used since the Civil war to treat infections, and using colloidal silver just makes it cleaner. In addition, there is evidence that colloidal silver boosters the local immune system. Noni fruit has antibacterial and antifungal properties, thus it is another great topical product for superficial pyoderma.
  • Omega Fatty Acids: Natural methods to strengthen the immune system include oils that are rich in omega fatty acids and nutrients that balance the immune system. Immune balancing nutrients include (but are not limited to) vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin C, folate, zinc, and superoxide dismutase. A few immune-modulating herbs include Skullcap, Echinacea, Goldenseal, Astragalus, Isatis, and Schisandra.
  • Other Oils: While it depends on which anti-inflammatory pathway needs the boost to determine the best oil, fish oils are a modern favorite. However, nut oils, evening primrose oil, black currant seed oil, and borage oil all bolster the immune system. There are even immune-modulating glandulars—like thymus and spleen—that enable the immune system to fight off a superficial pyoderma.
  • Nutrition: Finally, natural methods to treat the underlying cause, in my opinion, start with nutrition. When you nourish the intestines with the best ingredients, then the GALT (the gut-associated lymphatic tissue) is happy. The GALT is the immune system that lines the intestinal tract, and it comprises 60-70 percent of the body’s immune system. When we take care of the gut, we take care of the body.

Side Effects of Treatment

DC: Are there any known side effects or negative reactions to the treatment methods?

Dr. Cathy: Often dogs are treated with a long lasting steroid injection, and then owners are advised to wait and see how long it takes before the itchy skin returns after the shot has worn off. However, although a quick improvement is often seen with steroids, which pleases the owners, these drugs are not a feasible option for long-term treatment.

With pets, the side effects of long-term steroid use present more of a problem than a cure. Typically, steroid use can result in mood changes, increased thirst and/or appetite, thus weight gain and a need to go outside more often.

DC: What can owners do to relieve inflammation and itching?

Dr. Cathy: Some simple steps include ensuring proper flea/tick preventative is used, washing laundry in gentle detergent without perfume or dyes, feeding a healthy balanced diet, and bathing in soothing aloe or oatmeal shampoos with lukewarm water. An over-the-counter product such as Vetericyn can help with some of the irritation, as can many of the alternative therapies mentioned above.


DC: What is the prognosis for a dog with canine pyoderma?

Dr. Cathy: It depends on the underlying cause, but if the cause can be determined and fixed, then the prognosis is great. Even if the cause cannot be determined, but the pyoderma can be controlled then the prognosis is good. However, in cases where the cause is not determined and the pyoderma goes untreated, the prognosis is guarded due to the risk of whole body infection and stress.

Skin Infections and Your Dog

Other Important Information

DC: What have I forgotten to ask you that my readers might want to know?

Dr. Cathy: German Shepherd pyoderma is a poorly understood disease that is often diagnosed by ruling out all other options (exclusion), just as canine pyoderma can become a diagnosis of exclusion. As we have discussed before, patience and attention to what causes the changes will help in making things better.

About Dr. Cathy Alinovi

These answers were provided via telephone interview with Dr. Cathy Alinovi, Hoofstock Vet, on 02/19/2012. She is a retired holistic veterinarian, educator and author who believes good nutrition, regular checkups, and appropriate holistic and traditional treatments as necessary are the keys to good pet health.

She served a diverse clientele including but not limited to horses, dogs, cats and even the occasional llama. In addition to providing all the traditional treatment methods for her clients, Dr. Cathy is trained in methodologies such as:

  • Veterinary spinal manipulation
  • Acupuncture
  • Applied kinesiology
  • Herbal, laser, aroma and food therapies
  • Equine and oriental massage

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2012 Donna Cosmato

Has Your Dog Ever Had Canine Pyoderma? Share Your Experiences

Toni Ferro on December 31, 2019:

My dog has recently been diagnosed with deep pyoderma. I dont know what to do as my vet told me to see a dermo vet. I nave spent thousands of dollars on him since i got him from a shelter 8 months ago. The biopsy said he had Folliculitis,furunculosis and deep pyogranulomatous dermatitis.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on March 19, 2012:

Thank you for reading and commenting, KoffeeKlatch Girls! It is amazing to discover all the health issues our little furry friends can have, isn't it?

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on March 16, 2012:

What an amazing job you did with this hub. I actually clicked on to read it because I had no idea what pyoderma was. I certainly know now. Up and amazing.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on March 15, 2012:

You're welcome, Eddy! I hope your daughter can benefit from the information presented here. Blessings for a wonderful day:)

Eiddwen from Wales on March 14, 2012:

Thanks for sharing this one Donna which I am passing to my daughter.

Take care and have a wonderful day.


Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on March 07, 2012:

Thank you (as always) for your wonderfully encouraging comments and support, Ricky! I'm glad you enjoyed this article on an important dog health topic.

Richard Ricky Hale from West Virginia on March 05, 2012:

Voted up, useful, and interesting Donna. Very good source of info. You did a great job writing it and with the layout. I am sure this will be beneficial for many. Vets and dog meds have came a long way. There are a lot of things that can now be done with advancements in technology. Pretty amazing. Donna, very good article my friend.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on February 21, 2012:

You're welcome, Mary!

Mary Hyatt from Florida on February 21, 2012:

Thanks, Donna. I'll go to her site.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on February 21, 2012:

Hi mary615, Dr. Cathy is a strong proponent of a natural foods diet for pets. I recently bought her book Dinner Pawsible and started our cat, who has food allergies, on the homemade foods. We've been impressed by how quickly her itching stopped and all the scabbed over spots healed up. If you visit Dr. Cathy's website (follow the link in the reference section), you'll find lots of tips there and on the site for the book. I hope this is helpful:)

Mary Hyatt from Florida on February 20, 2012:

I have a Miniature Schnauzer who is terribly allergic to flea bites. She will scratch herself till she has a "hot spot". I have to be careful that she not get any fleas on her. While your article mentions a healthy diet, I'd like to know what is considered to be a healthy diet for a dog??

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