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canine health problems
Husky puppy getting bath

The essentials

  • Puppies are vulnerable to different types of skin infections — Most infections, like impetigo, tend to affect puppies between 3 and 6 months of age, but older pups are occasionally impacted.
  • Impetigo isn’t contagious to other dogs — Impetigo in children does spread quickly, but that’s not the case for our canine buddies.
  • Impetigo can be treated with topical therapy and frequent medicated bathing — This skin infection in puppies can resolve spontaneously, especially if the cause is related to factors like an unclean environment that a pup is then removed from.

What is impetigo in puppies? 

Puppies’ immune systems aren’t fully developed, making them especially vulnerable to infections. Impetigo, or puppy pyoderma is a bacterial skin infection caused by Staphylococcus aureus that’s most common in young puppies between the ages of 3 and 6 months. It’s a type of superficial pyoderma that occurs when bacteria infect some of the uppermost layers of a dog’s skin. The condition tends to cause crusty pustules and papules. The lesions appear in the groin, abdomen, and any other areas where pups don’t have much fur.

Your puppy’s itchy skin will cause them mild discomfort. In severe cases, the infection can be painful.

Signs of impetigo in dogs  

The most notable clinical sign of impetigo is patchy hair loss, particularly on a pet’s stomach. Other signs of impetigo in pups include some the following:

  • Itchy, circular lesions
  • Dry patches of skin
  • Pus-filled, painful red bumps (that may look like pimples)
  • Lesions that look like hives (on certain breeds)
  • Secondary infections or health issues, like parasites or contact allergies

Impetigo versus ringworm

Impetigo can look similar to other types of skin infections, including mange, scabies, demodex (mites), and ringworm. Ringworm (dermatophytosis) is caused by fungi. It can affect a wide range of species and is highly contagious.

Since the general appearance of ringworm can look similar to the lesions caused by impetigo, your vet will rule out which skin infection your canine buddy has by conducting specific tests.

Ringworm can cause bald spots and red and crusty lesions. Other common symptoms include:

  • Circular or ring-shaped swelling
  • Bald patches in a dog’s coat
  • Scales and crusts
  • Patchy rashes with reddening or darkening of the skin
  • Itching, scratching, and licking

Common causes of impetigo in puppies 

Pet owners should be aware that a wide range of factors can cause impetigo. Below are a few of the most common causes:

  • Environment. Puppies that live in unsanitary conditions are at higher risk of developing impetigo. In addition, communal environments like doggie daycares and boarding centers can be breeding grounds for the types of bacteria that can cause skin infections.
  • Internal and external parasites and fungi. Fleas, ticks, yeast, or fungal skin infections can increase your dog’s risk of developing pyoderma. Bites from ticks and fleas can also cause open wounds, making dogs more vulnerable to a bacterial skin infection.
  • Exposure due to thin fur. Puppies don’t have as much fur as older dogs, leaving their skin more exposed. Any area on your puppy that has thin skin and little fur (like the groin or belly) is particularly prone to impetigo lesions.
  • Compromised immune system. Certain medications can suppress a dog’s immune system, making them more likely to develop a skin infection.

Impetigo isn't contagious to other dogs 

Puppy pyoderma isn’t contagious, so exposure to other dogs will not be an issue. Dogs can’t pass it to each other or people. Impetigo in humans, though, is highly infectious. It typically develops in young children, and children with eczema tend to be particularly predisposed.

👉 Impetigo is easily spread among humans and children, but dogs can’t pass the infection to each other or people. 

Diagnosis 

If you suspect your puppy might have impetigo, you’ll need to take them to a vet to ensure their infection gets treated right away. Before making a diagnosis, your dog’s vet will need to rule out other infections, such as ringworm, mange, and scabies.

An impetigo diagnosis can be made in a number of ways. According to our vet Dr. Dwight Alleyne, DVM, a dog’s health history and living conditions might indicate that this condition is present. If required, skin cytologies may also be performed. During this test, one of your pup’s lesions will be pricked with a needle that your vet will then examine under a microscope to determine what kind of cells it contains.

Based on how the skin lesions look at the physical exam, there are usually certain characteristics that point to impetigo.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne

DVM

Treatment

Treating impetigo is fairly straightforward. Vets typically prescribe a shampoo that contains the antiseptic chlorhexidine, which can clear up the infection in just a few weeks. Most puppies require this treatment three times a week for approximately two weeks. Oral or topical antibiotics may also be used, but your vet will determine a treatment plan based on the severity of your puppy’s infection.

Some infections can resolve spontaneously if the initial cause, such as a dirty environment, is corrected. If your dog doesn’t respond to treatment, your pet’s vet may also perform a biopsy and culture to determine if the bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, which can be possible with some skin infections.

Prevention of skin infections in puppies 

Talk to your vet about ​​any additional preventative measures you should take to help keep your new puppy healthy.

  • Vaccinations. Talk to your vet about both core and non-core vaccinations for your pup.
  • Internal and external parasite prevention. There are parasite prevention treatments available for puppies, some of which can be used on dogs as young as 4 weeks old. You can also speak with your vet about additional prevention methods.
  • Appropriate diet and nutrition. A regular feeding schedule and proper nutrition are essential when it comes to keeping your puppy healthy.
  • Routine baths. Puppies should be bathed frequently. Since moisture allows bacteria to thrive, you should also make sure to clean their bed, crate, and surroundings when they have an accident. To avoid recurrences, always keep your puppy in a clean and sanitary environment.

Frequently asked questions 

What does impetigo look like in puppies?

Impetigo can cause red and crusty lesions. The lesions most often appear on a puppy’s groin, abdomen, and other areas with thin or patchy fur.

What causes impetigo in dogs?

Puppies’ immune systems aren’t fully developed, making them especially vulnerable to bacterial skin infections like impetigo. In general, skin infections can be caused by a wide range of factors, some of which can be environmental. To protect your pup from infection, always keep your puppy in a safe and clean environment, use flea and tick treatments as soon as they are old enough, and bathe them frequently.

Does impetigo in puppies go away on its own?

Impetigo can resolve spontaneously if the initial cause, such as a dirty environment, is corrected, but you’ll need to visit your vet to ensure your dog gets the treatment they need.

How long does impetigo last in dogs?

Treating impetigo in puppies is fairly straightforward. Vets typically prescribe a shampoo that contains antiseptic chlorhexidine, which can clear up most cases of impetigo in a few weeks’ time. The medicated shampoo will likely need to be applied three times a week for about two weeks.

Is impetigo in puppies painful?

Impetigo causes itchy skin, which can be quite uncomfortable for dogs. Puppies with severe cases of impetigo can experience pain.

What other conditions can be mistaken for impetigo in dogs?

Many skin infections look similar to impetigo, including ringworm, mange, scabies, or demodex (mites). A contact allergy may also be mistaken for impetigo. To make an accurate diagnosis, your vet may first need to rule out other skin conditions that can look similar to puppy pyoderma.