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a patch of atopic dermatitis on a dog

A crusty scab (atopic dermatitis)

The essentials

  • Scabs have many causes — A dog’s crusty scabs can be caused by a skin allergy, while others may be the symptom of a more serious illness.
  • Calluses are different — It’s a good idea to know the different types of skin ailments and conditions.
  • Treatment varies — In many cases treatment is simple, but it depends on what’s causing your dog’s crusty scabs.

A dog’s crusty scabs can be unsightly for many dog owners and painful for dogs, regardless of breed or disposition. More than that, hunting for scabs and calluses is a chore, along with figuring out what caused them and how to treat them.

The good news is a crusty scab isn’t normally a cause for major concern. But, there are a few reasons your dog might be experiencing skin irritation or excessive scabbing, such as atopic dermatitis , food allergies, scratching trauma, or other skin conditions. To help you learn more about your dog’s crusty scabs, we’ve put together a quick guide on what they are, how to treat them, and how to prevent them.

What is a dog elbow callus and how is it treated?

Calluses, which are different from scabs, develop when your dog continually hits their elbows. This rough, thick skin is designed to protect the elbow bone and prevent damage or injury. Elbow calluses are a normal, natural result of irritation, but you still want to work to treat and prevent an elbow callus whenever possible. Scabs, on the other hand, have other causes and treatments.

How to treat crusty scabs and other skin problems

As you will have noticed, there are many reasons why your pet is suffering from crusty scabs, which means treating crusty scabs isn’t as easy as putting on cream or bathing your dog. To properly treat the crusty scabs, you need to find and treat the cause of the crusty scabs.

The best way to do this is by checking with a vet and carrying out any of the necessary tests to ensure your pet isn’t suffering from an underlying condition that may be causing crusty scabs. Some of the main treatments that can be used on crusty scabs target conditions like allergies, irritation, skin imbalances, and fleas.

🚨 If your pet suffers from a hormonal, immune, or more serious condition, see a vet and get medication.

Skin balms can help heal your dog’s skin and reduce discomfort

Applying a skin balm or salve on your dog’s dry paws, cracked skin, or scabs can help reduce inflammation and soothe your dog’s need to bite or itch. Our favorite paw creams for dogs can soothe crusty scabs as well as elbow calluses. Supplying plenty of soft surfaces — indoors and out — and moisturizing balms can help get rid of small-but-tough calluses.

How to prevent dog crusty scabs

To prevent crusty scabs, you need to attack the root cause of the irritation. We’ve already honed in on the fact that the best way to do this is to visit your veterinarian. You and your vet may need to use a process of elimination to see what treatments your dog responds to and use that information to decipher what may be causing their crusty scabs.

But, you can try to prevent crusty scabs with some at-home remedies, too.

  • Healthy diet. Often, diet deficiencies can create problems for a dog’s skin and coat, causing dry, scratchy skin. Ensuring that your pup has a high-quality, balanced diet by feeding them dog food full of vitamins and minerals can be the first step in protecting your pet from crusty scabs.
  • Fish oil/skin and coat supplements. Sometimes a good diet isn’t enough. If your pet isn’t responding to dietary changes, you may want to try supplements that will boost their nutrition. Small amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are good for your pooch’s skin and coat.

👉 Explore our favorite doggie supplements and vitamins.

  • Frequent brushing. Brushing will help to cleanse your dog’s coat and remove dead skin and flaky patches which can cause irritation. Crusty scabs that are caused as a result of a buildup of dirt can be treated easily with regular brushing. Make sure you have a durable grooming kit on hand with various brushes and gloves.
  • Regular bathing. Similarly, if your dog is suffering from crusty scabs due to allergies, bacteria, or buildup of sebum, then frequent bathing can be great for their coat. Be sure not to use any harsh chemicals on their skin as this can irritate them. It is also important to not bathe your dog too much so you don’t dry out their skin’s natural oils. Most groomers recommend a maximum of once per week.

Preventing calluses on your doggie’s pointy elbows

Some breeds such as the mastiff, Great Dane, Rottweiler, or Labrador retriever are prone to elbow calluses. They can also pop up more frequently for dogs with arthritis. A less common cause of an elbow callus is ingrown hair. The hair becomes trapped within the skin, and the skin may begin to grow hard and scaly over the hair. To prevent calluses, including severe varieties that might require surgical intervention, consider these tips:

Try an elevated dog bed — Elevated or raised dog beds are designed to protect your dog’s joints. They provide comfort and support, plus they’re easy to clean and hard to chew up. Elevated dog beds are also a great option for pups that love cool tile floors because they don’t trap heat beneath the dog.

Try a cooling mat in the summertime — Your dog probably seeks out cold tile floors or shaded patio and sidewalks to lie on when the temperatures are high. But the prolonged contact between their joints and hard surfaces can lead to calluses. Cooling mats are an easy-to-clean bed alternative that offers some cushion and support while also keeping your dog’s body at a comfortable temperature.

Get an elbow brace for your dog — An elbow brace can help protect elbow calluses and hygromas for dogs. The brace wraps comfortably around your dog’s body and sits snugly over the callus or hygroma with a non-irritating fabric. With this product, your dog can still move and play freely while allowing the spot to heal.

Other at-home crusty scab remedies

If a vet has determined your dog is suffering from crusty scabs due to a less serious underlying condition, simple at-home treatments can help:

  • Benadryl. Benadryl is a great way to reduce allergy symptoms like itchiness, runny nose, and rashes. The great news is that dogs can have Benadryl at one to two mg per pound of body weight. Only give regular Benadryl, and NOT Benadryl-D. The ‘D’ means it contains a decongestant, which is toxic to dogs.
  • Anti-fungal shampoos. Anti-fungal shampoos are great for relieving your pet from fungal infections which can cause them to lick and scratch their skin.
  • Flea prevention. If you’re looking to stop flea infestation and ensure that your pet is protected against fleas and mites, the simple solution is a flea collar. Other options are oral flea remedies and topical flea preventatives. Here’s a list of our favorite flea medications in every category—none of them have the active ingredient fipronil, and that’s a good thing!


The causes of crusty scabs: Mange, allergies, infections, and more

There are so many reasons that dogs may get crusty scabs, so we’ve broken them down into easily digestible chunks.


Parasites are a common cause of crusty scabs on dogs and refer to tiny insects that feed off your dog. They can’t always be seen and don’t cause clear symptoms. Be aware that many different types of parasites can cause crusty scabs on dogs.

  • Mites/mange. Ever heard of mange in dogs? This disorder is caused by mites, which nestle into your dog’s hair and skin. Two types of mites are most common. Scabies mites (causing contagious sarcoptic mange) are rarer and can cause irritation and itching, whereas demodex mites (causing demodectic mange) are less scratchy and live within your dog’s hair follicles.
Dog with mange
  • Fleas. We’ve all heard of fleas on dogs, but did you know that they can cause crusty scabs? Fleas cause your dog to have itchy skin which leads them to scratch and lick. This, in turn, creates dry, sensitive spots that scab over.

👉 Studies have found that 50% of fleas carry bacterial disease, and if that gets into an open wound on your pet it can cause a bacterial infection.

  • Ticks. Ticks are another possible cause of crusty scabs on your dog because they nestle into your pet’s skin and feed off their blood. This can make your dog’s skin irritated and cause them to scratch and create crusty scabs on their body. If this sounds like your dog, you can remove ticks yourself with a device known as a tick twister. You can also use your fingers to pinch the head of the tick and gently, yet firmly pull the tick out. With either method, you must be sure to take the head of the tick out of your pet, otherwise, it can remain in their body and cause infection.

👉 Read our guide to treating bug bites on dogs the natural way.


You may be surprised to learn that just like humans, dogs can be allergic to almost anything. It’s estimated that 10% of dogs get allergies. Allergic dermatitis is often a leading cause of crusty scabs and skin problems in dogs. Below are some of the top allergies to look out for.

  • Pollen. Just like humans, dogs suffer from pollen allergies, too. It is common for a dog to have an allergic reaction to inhaling or even brushing against excessive amounts of pollen—like when they run free and occasionally dive into a bunch of flowers or bushes.
  • Environment. Pollen is one of the main irritants, but many different things within a dog’s environment can cause crusty scabs and skin irritation. Anything from fertilizer to shampoo can be the culprit of crusty scabs on your dog.
  • Food. Food allergies can affect your pup in a variety of ways. Skin irritation is one of them. If your dog seems to have a rash or crusty scabs appearing on their body, this could be a sign that something they’re eating isn’t agreeing with them.

👉 Ask your vet if your pup could benefit from a supplement to treat seasonal allergies, like Zesty Paws Aller-Immune Bites.


One of the leading causes of crusty scabs can also be skin infections or skin diseases. If you think your pet is suffering from an infection, you must take them to the vet immediately. Many infections can be treated easily with antibiotics, however if they go on, they can cause bigger issues for your pet.

The three main kinds of infections to look out for are:

  • Bacterial infection. This will likely present as bumps on the skin. One of the most common is bacterial folliculitis when the inflammation of hair follicles becomes inflamed.
  • Fungal infection (ringworm). Look out for scabs, red and irritated skin, scaly skin, and hair loss.
  • Yeast infection. Excessive amounts of yeast can build up in warm or moist areas and cause itchy dry skin and discolored patches.

Other, more serious reasons your pup may have crusty scabs

It is always important to consult with your veterinarian whenever you notice something out of the ordinary. While crusty scabs are usually no cause for concern, they can occasionally signal that something more serious is going on.

  • Immune disorder. Immune disorders can cause a dog’s skin to be unable to fight off bacteria and infection, which can lead to crusty scabs. Another reason that immune disorders cause crusty scabs is that a dog’s immune system is trying to fight itself because it is on high alert and working overtime.

👉 Dog owners: If you think your pet may have an immune disorder, the best thing to do is to take them to the vet to be tested.

  • Hormonal imbalance. Varying hormones can adjust the balance of oils in your dog’s skin, which can lead to irritation and dry spots. Anything from inherited abnormalities to developed hormone changes can cause crusty scabs which your dog may lick, scratch, and therefore, make worse.
  • Nutritional issue. A dog’s skin needs proper nutrients to be balanced and healthy. If vitamins and minerals are lacking from their diet then you may find that they have dry skin which can get crusty.
  • Seborrheic Dermatitis. This kind of dermatitis is caused when a dog’s skin produces too much sebum, and the oils become unbalanced on the skin. Sebum causes a buildup of dirt (similar to dandruff), and if dogs are not regularly washed, this will cause flaky irritated skin.
  • Malassezia Pachydermatis. This kind of dermatitis is caused by yeast buildup. This usually occurs near the ear canals and areas where mucus is present like the nose and the mouth.

What are crusty scabs and what do they look like?

Crusty scabs can come in many shapes and sizes, however, they usually look like bumps, blisters, or scabs that have a flaky or dry appearance. If you have a short-haired dog, like a Labrador retriever, these scabs might appear patchy and obvious; if you have a long-haired dog, like a shih tzu, they may only appear when you push back the hair to reveal the skin. Similar to humans, dogs get dry skin or sores that turn into crusty scabs, becoming itchy, bothersome, or painful.

Where on a dog’s body do crusty scabs most commonly occur?

Crusty scabs can appear in most areas of a dog’s body, but the back and neck areas are the most common zones for scabs to appear. The creases of your pup’s skin can also cause irritation leading to crusty scabs, and the most common areas for this kind of scab are the belly and upper legs.

Are crusty scabs more likely to appear in specific breeds, ages, or sizes?

While crusty scabs can appear on any dog, there are some breeds, ages, and sizes that will find it harder to recover from crusty scabs. Crusty scabs have all kinds of causes, so they can’t be attributed to a specific type of dog, but if you have a pet that has long floppy ears, excess skin, or extra weight, you may find that their scabs take longer to heal. Likewise, an older dog may find it harder to recover from crusty scabs because they’re less hydrated and have coarser skin from old age.

What other symptoms might appear alongside crusty scabs?

Itching, redness, soreness, and sometimes even bleeding can all accompany crusty scabs. If your dog is suffering from an underlying condition that is causing the scabs, such as a hormonal imbalance or fungal infection, then you will likely notice that this can affect how they behave, their energy levels, and their appetite, too. You may also notice bald spots, insect bites, or flea bites on your dog.

👉 Crusty scabs can be hotspots, but not in all cases.

Crusty scabs that appear on dogs are sometimes referred to as hotspots, and they are certainly a type of crusty scab or skin lesion on canines—but not the only kind. Hotspots are usually localized areas of red, inflamed, and infected skin. They can be extremely itchy for most dogs, but some dogs won’t itch at all. They usually ooze puss, so they often have a horrible odor as well. Crusty scabs are different in that they won’t commonly cause skin breakage, scratching, and oozing in the same way.

How to find crusty scabs on your pet

If you like to regularly stroke your pet (who doesn’t?!), you’ll probably find any crusty scabs or other skin issues pretty quickly. Often, the scabbed area will appear rougher and crustier, and you may find that your dog becomes sensitive when you touch the area. If you want to scan your dog’s body for crusty scabs, all you will need to do is push the hair back and give them a gentle rub to reveal the parts of their skin that may be suffering.

Frequently asked questions

Can I put Neosporin on my dog’s scabs?

Neosporin is formulated for humans, not for dogs. While it may not incur dangerous side effects when administered in small amounts, it’s best to avoid using the product on dogs in general. Instead, use a balm or wax specifically made for dogs. You should also see a vet to treat the underlying cause of scabs, which could be things like fleas, allergies, or infections.

Can I put Vaseline on my dog’s scabs?

Vaseline is safe to put on your dog’s scabs, but it may not help much. It might feel soothing, but it could overdry your dog’s scab. Instead, use a balm or salve specifically formulated for dogs.

Do ticks leave scabs on dogs?

Ticks can nest into dogs’ skin and feed off their blood. This makes dogs scratch, leaving their skin irritated with scabs. However, it is possible to remove ticks from your dog’s skin, just make sure to take the head out, otherwise, it could later cause infection.

How long does it take for a dog scab to heal?

This depends on the severity of the scab and what’s causing it. In many cases, scabs on dogs can heal between 3 and 14 days. However, infected scabs can take longer, and scabs can reoccur. Healing scabs may mean treating the underlying scab cause, which could be things like allergies, irritation, skin imbalances, and fleas.