Skin infections can be common in dogs. This is in part due to the plethora of bacteria that normally lives on your dog's skin. Impetigo, sometimes called puppy pyoderma, is a type of skin infection most commonly seen in young or adolescent dogs.
What is Impetigo (Puppy Pyoderma)?
Pyoderma is the clinical term for any type of skin infection. It literally means pus in the skin. Impetigo is most often caused by an overgrowth of Staphylococcus bacteria but it can be caused by other bacterial strains as well. It is often seen in puppies that have been housed in unhygienic areas but that doesn't mean all puppies with impetigo live in a neglectful home. Again, it's a skin infection brought on by bacteria normally already living on your dog's skin. Impetigo isn't a contagious condition, as it is in people, so you don't have to worry about your dog catching it from another dog (or you catching it from your dog).
What are the Symptoms of Impetigo?
A dog with impetigo may have any combination of pustules (small, pus-filled bumps), papules (small, red, raised bumps), and epidermal collarettes (circular lesions with crusting around the edges). You may also notice your dog scratching the affected areas of the skin. Your dog may also start to exhibit hair loss. The areas most likely to be affected include your dog's abdomen and chin. If your dog's impetigo has progressed to a more severe case, they may also seem depressed, laying around the house more and possibly not eating as well.
What are the Causes of Impetigo?
The actual cause of impetigo is not well understood, but if your dog has a compromised immune system, endocrine system, or any skin damage they may be at a higher risk of getting it. Other factors that may increase your dog's risk are flea infestation, a food allergy, insect bites, mange, or ringworm. Thyroid disease or other hormonal imbalances may also increase your dog's risk of getting impetigo.
Some breeds may be predisposed to impetigo. This can include bully breeds such as Staffordshire Bull Terries, Bulldogs, and Boxers but can also include Shar-Peis. In some cases your dog's impetigo may persist from adolescence into adulthood.
How is Impetigo Diagnosed?
Your vet will run diagnostics based on your dog's clinical symptoms as well as their clinical history. Skin cytologies will let your vet know of any bacterial, fungal, or mite infestations. Blood tests will show if your dog has low thyroid levels. The best way to diagnose a food allergy is to undergo a diet trial. This involves feeding your dog a hydrolyzed prescription diet only for 8-12 weeks. No other foods, snacks, or treats can be given during this time.
How is Impetigo Treated?
Impetigo is an easily treated, fairly benign condition in dogs. In fact, some cases may even resolve on their own without treatment. If your dog's impetigo does require treatment, impetigo is most commonly treated with a course of antibiotics. This can be topical if less severe or systemic (oral) if more severe. Usually your dog only needs to be on these antibiotics for a few weeks but more severe cases may require longer treatment. If your dog has any sensitivities or allergies to certain antibiotics, let your vet know. Your vet may also prescribe a shampoo you can use to help clear up your dog's lesions. Impetigo is not life-threatening and usually remains localized, rarely spreading and rarely leading to deeper skin infections.
Since the true cause of impetigo isn't fully known, preventing it can be tricky. You can't really prevent hormonal imbalances or issues with your dog's immune system. You can ensure they live in a clean environment free of any fleas, urine, or fecal material. Clean their bedding and toys frequently, using dye and fragrance free detergent for machine washable toys and mild dish soap for those toys that can't go in a washing machine. Keeping them up-to-date on their flea prevention is also key. There are an abundance of flea preventions on the market, both available at pet supply stores and at your vet's office. Not all flea preventions are the same, though. Your veterinarian can tell you which ones are good products and which ones to steer clear of.
Impetigo can be a nuisance to your growing puppy, but most cases are mild and most dogs do grow out of flare ups. If you have any questions about your dog's impetigo, speak to your veterinarian.