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common canine health problems

How to treat your dog’s crusty scabs, according to vets

Discovered crusty scabs on your pet? Here’s everything you need to know

Updated September 9, 2020

Created By

Laura Stupple,
a patch of atopic dermatitis on a dog

a crusty scab (atopic dermatitis)

If you’re giving your dog an affectionate stroke and cuddle and stumble across a crusty scab, it may worry you or send you into a panic.

The good news is that normally a crusty scab isn’t any cause for major concern. But, there are a few reasons that your dog might be experiencing these symptoms. 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.

How to treat crusty scabs and other skin problems

As you will have noticed, there are so many reasons why your pet may be suffering from crusty scabs. This means that treating crusty scabs isn’t as easy as just putting on cream or bathing your dog because 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 that 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 aim to target the issues of allergies, irritation, skin imbalances, and fleas.

🚨 If your pet is suffering from a hormonal, immune, or more serious condition, you will need to 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. Here are a few of our favorite paw and skin balms.

How to prevent crusty scabs

First of all, 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 dog’s skin and coats, causing dry scratchy skin which they lick and itch. 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 just 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 coats.

👉 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 build-up of dirt can be treated easily with regular brushing.

Frequent bathing. Similarly, if your dog is suffering from crusty scabs due to allergies, bacteria, or build-up 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 cause irritation. It is also important to not bathe your dog too much so you don’t dry out their skin and natural oils. Most groomers recommend a maximum of once per week.

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 such as itchiness, runny nose, and rashes caused by allergies. The great news is that dogs can have Benadryl at one to two mg per pound of your dog’s body weight. Just make sure to only give regular Benadryl, and NOT Benadryl-D. The ‘D’ means it contains a decongestant, and this 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 in easily digestible chunks.

Parasites

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

Mites/Mange. Ever heard of mange in dogs? This disorder is caused by mites, which nestle into your dog’s hair and skin and live off of their skin. There are two types of mites that are most common. Scabies mites (causing contagious sarcoptic mange) are rarer and can cause irritating and itching, whereas demodex mites (causing demodectic mange) are less scratchy and live within your dog’s hair follicles.

close-up on scabies

a close-up of sarcoptic mange, also called scabies

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 it. This, in turn, creates dry, sensitive spots that scab over. Although you may not be able to see any fleas on your pet, they are one of the most common external parasites on dogs and can’t always be seen by the naked eye. On top of this, 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 just use your fingers to pinch the head of the tick and gently, yet firmly pull the tick out. Hemostats or something similar also work to grab at the base of the head right up against the dog’s skin, squeeze, and pull the tick out. With either method, you must be sure to take the head of the tick out of your pet otherwise they can remain in their body and cause infection.

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

Allergies

You may be surprised to learn that just like humans, dogs can have allergies to almost anything. In fact, 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. In fact, it is very common for a dog to have an allergic reaction to inhaling or even brushing against excessive amounts of pollen. We all know how dogs love to run free and occasionally dive into a bunch of flowers or bushes that contain high levels of pollen, and this could be causing skin irritation and even dermatitis which causes crusty scabs.

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. The best way to discover what is irritating your pet is to eliminate the potential environmental allergens one by one and see how your dog’s skin reacts.

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.

Infections are a worrisome cause of crusty scabs

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, it is crucial that you 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

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 in order 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 build-up 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 build up. 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, these scabs might appear patchy and obvious; if you have a longhaired dog, 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/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 hot spots, 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 (and who doesn’t?!) you’ll probably find their crusty scabs or any other skin issues pretty quickly if they have them. 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 to push the hair back and give them a gentle rub to reveal the parts of their skin that may be suffering.