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dog scratching folliculitis

The essentials 

  • Folliculitis is inflammation of a dog’s hair follicles — It’s a bacterial infection that affects the upper layers of a dog’s skin.
  • It can be painful for your pup — If you notice red, raised bumps on your dog’s skin, you should get them to the vet.
  • Folliculitis has a variety of causes, from bacteria to allergies — It’s important for the vet to diagnose the cause of your dog’s folliculitis.
  • These bumps are preventable — Supplements and hygiene reduce the likelihood of skin infections.

Does your dog have what looks like acne or a rash on their skin? It may be folliculitis. Folliculitis is inflammation in a dog’s hair follicles due to infection. This infection of the hair follicles can be caused by yeast, bacteria, and mites.

Bacterial folliculitis (otherwise known as pyoderma) is the most common type of folliculitis. These skin infections occur in areas where moisture gets trapped in folds of skin, usually around a dog’s armpits, groin, or abdomen. It can be painful for your pup so it’s important to act on it right away.

👉 Bacterial folliculitis (pyoderma) usually appears as red bumps on the skin which are sometimes filled with pus. 

Deep pyoderma in a dog

Deep pyoderma in a dog

The signs of folliculitis

If your dog has folliculitis their skin probably display one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Swelling and redness
  • Itching
  • Pustules, pimples, or papules if due to bacterial infection
  • Hair loss
  • Hyperpigmentation or dark spots due to yeast infection
  • Draining tracts
  • Pain to the touch

What causes these little red bumps?

While folliculitis is most commonly caused by bacteria, there are a variety of other underlying causes:

  • Bacterial pyoderma. This is the most common bacterial cause of folliculitis. It’s an infection on the surface (or near the surface) of a dog’s skin. Pyoderma can also infect other areas of your pup, like their lips. 
  • Demodicosis (Mange). These are little mites that live deep in the hair follicles, causing inflammation.
  • Yeast infection or ringworm. These fungal infections found in wet environments can cause infection to a dog’s skin
  • Canine acne. Acne causes clogging to your dog’s pores and follicles. Mild causes of acne usually resolve on their own but if the acne is severe, your vet can prescribe an oral or topical antibiotic.
  • External parasites. Fleas, ticks, mange mites, ear mites, flies can all cause irritation and eventual folliculitis.
  • Allergies. Allergies to certain foods, grass, pollens, and flea bites can cause your dog’s skin to flare up and their hair follicles to become infected. If you notice your dog is scratching or licking excessively, their folliculitis could be due to allergies.
  • Hypothyroidism. Hormonal imbalances cause a weakened immune system leading to itchiness and irritation of a dog’s skin.
  • Hot spots. Hot spots are usually caused by your dog’s excessive scratching or licking of their skin when they’re in pain. It can cause the hair and skin to break down, trapping bacteria and causing irritation in the hair follicles.  
  • Cushing’s disease. This is another hormonal disorder that causes overall immune system weakness and skin irritation for your pup

Are some dogs more prone to folliculitis?

Dogs of all ages can get folliculitis, however, some get it more often than others. Dogs that have food allergies, environmental allergies, or hypothyroidism are more prone to recurring infections in their hair follicles. Dogs with more wrinkles and folds on their skin, like American bulldogs and Shar peis, are also more prone to folliculitis.

Head to the vet for diagnosis

Before treating your dog’s folliculitis at home, you should consult your vet for diagnosis. Usually a vet can tell just by looking at the affected area if your dog has folliculitis. However, they’ll likely also compose one of the following tests to figure out what exactly is causing your dog’s folliculitis:

  • Skin scrape. Your vet will use a scalpel to scrape the skin to check for skin mites.
  • Fungal culture. Cultures analyze whether your dog has a ringworm.
  • Skin cytology. Your vet will use clear tape and apply it to the infected area. The tape is then examined under a microscope to check for bacteria or yeast.
  • Bacterial culture. This is a more advanced and expensive test, but your vet might resort to it if they suspect a resistant bacterial folliculitis.

Common ways to treat folliculitis

Once your vet helps determine what’s causing your dog’s folliculitis, they’ll prescribe the right treatment method. Treatment depends greatly on the kind of diagnosis your vet gives:

  • Antibiotics. Topical medication and ointments can heal your dog’s skin inflammation. If a bacterial skin infection is causing the folliculitis, your dog will likely need to take an oral antibiotic.
  • Shampoos. There are a range of antibacterial and antifungal shampoos. Some shampoos also contain elements that flush out the infection in a dog’s hair follicles.
  • Holistic remedies. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements help protect the skin barrier minimizing the risks of infection.

How to reduce your pup’s risk of getting folliculitis

There are a couple of changes you can make in your dog’s daily routine to help prevent folliculitis:

Stay up to date on flea and tick prevention — Treat your dog for fleas, ticks, mites, and anything that could potentially infect their skin.

👉 This is especially important for dogs that spend lots of time outdoors.

An omega-3 fatty supplement — Our vet recommends the omega-3 supplement from Nordic Naturals because it’s made with high-quality fish oil. We also love Natural Dog Company’s Salmon Oil because it’s so easy to mix into your pup’s food!

Practice good doggie hygiene You should shampoo your dog regularly to keep their skin clean. Here are our 5 favorite dog shampoos that won’t irritate your dog’s skin.

Management of endocrine dysfunction — If your dog’s folliculitis is due to hypothyroidism, follow your vet’s instructions. Skin infections are less likely to occur when you manage your dog’s hypothyroidism.

The most important thing to do when you notice any skin irritation on your dog is to get them to the vet. The earlier the diagnosis, the quicker your dog’s recovery will be.

Frequently asked questions

Can humans get folliculitis from dogs?

No, generally folliculitis isn’t contagious to humans or other dogs. However, if your dog’s folliculitis is due to infections such as ringworm or scabies, these are contagious to humans and other animals.

How much does folliculitis treatment cost?

Depending on what causes your dog’s folliculitis, treatment costs can vary. Sometimes your dog will need oral and topical therapies for several weeks which incurs a cost. Early diagnosis is essential to minimizing costs associated with your dog’s folliculitis.