It can happen out of nowhere; you and your dog are going about life, both happily minding your business, when BAM! All of a sudden, itchy crusting lesions show up on your dog’s skin.

Pyoderma is a common condition in dogs, and also occurs less commonly in cats. It’s a fancy medical term for a bacterial infection of the skin.

Superficial and deep pyoderma

The most common kind of pyoderma is superficial pyoderma. As the name implies, it occurs in the outermost layers of the skin. Round, crusty lesions and small pustules are commonly seen with this condition, and you may notice hair loss. Itching usually occurs but can be variable.

Deep pyoderma occurs in deeper layers of skin. It can be the result of untreated superficial pyoderma or it can arise on its own. It is much less common than superficial pyoderma but much more serious. Pustules and papules join to form larger lesions that ooze blood and pus. Generalized painful thickening of the skin can result from cellulitis, or severe inflammation of the skin.

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Your veterinarian can diagnose pyoderma by taking a sample from the skin, either using a cotton swab or a piece of Scotch tape. This sample can be transferred to a slide, where it can be stained and examined microscopically. The presence of increased amounts of bacteria will indicate pyoderma.

In the case of deep or recurrent pyodermas, your vet will likely want to perform a test called a culture and sensitivity. This will allow him or her to determine not only what kind of bacteria is to blame, but also what antibiotic will most effectively treat your pet.

Once diagnosed, your pet will be started on oral antibiotics. It is important to finish the entire course of antibiotics, even if your pet’s condition looks completely resolved before the medication is gone. Failure to properly treat your pet’s condition is a good way to ensure recurrence. Medicated shampoos are often prescribed to help treat the infection and to soothe irritated skin.


Pyodermas can occur with no underlying cause, but the majority of cases are secondary to an underlying cause. While it’s unlikely that a “one and done” case of pyoderma is anything to worry about, if your pet is subject to recurring cases of pyoderma, it may be due to one of these causes:

  • Parasites
  • Allergies, including flea allergies, food allergies and atopy
  • Metabolic or endocrine diseases
  • Neoplasia
  • Immunodeficiency

Very rarely, mild cases of superficial pyoderma can resolve on their own, but to be on the safe side, you should have your pet checked out anyway. Never ignore skin lesions, as they only become more complicated to treat the longer they go on.

Dec 17, 2013
Pet Health

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