The Pet Corner: Treating skin infections in pets

Pyoderma is the medical term used to describe bacterial skin infections in pets. Dermatitis and impetigo are also terms often used for this condition. Pyoderma is one of the most common skin problems seen in pets. The infection may be a primary condition, or it may be secondary to an underlying problem.

Often, allergies or thyroid conditions lead to a secondary skin infection.

It is not always enough to treat the skin infection without addressing the underlying cause.

The most common symptoms of pyoderma are hair loss, dry skin, scabs and itching. It is possible to see pustules which are like little tiny pimples.

More often than not, the pustules have already ruptured leaving the skin to look red, inflamed and flaky. The lesions are easier to detect on the areas of the pet’s body which aren’t covered with as much hair, such as their belly and their underside.

The big question from many pet’s owners is “How did my dog get a skin infection?”

Normal bacteria found on the skin causes most skin infections. The skin’s surface becomes damaged due to excessive moisture, excessive scratching, or some other irritant.

Most often, the pet suffers from allergies which makes their skin itch, subsequent scratching damages the skin and allows for bacteria to grow easier.

Staphylococcus is the most common bacteria found to cause pyoderma in dogs and cats. This bacterium is found on pets’ skin and in the environment.

It is an opportunistic bacterium, which means it only causes infection when the conditions are right for it to grow. Any abnormal or damaged skin becomes the right condition for the bacteria to cause infection.

Other factors which can damage the skin predisposing it to infection are fleas, ticks or a hormonal imbalance such as low thyroid.

Pyoderma can be diagnosed by your veterinarian when they examine your pet’s skin. The clinical signs and medical history are usually enough to determine the pet has a skin infection. However, some diagnostic tests may be necessary to decide on the primary underlying problem.

Skin scrapes may be performed to check for mange mites, and fungal cultures are performed to rule out fungal infections such as ringworm.

Blood tests may be recommended to determine if there is a hormonal problem such as thyroid or adrenal gland abnormality.

Again, allergies are one of the most common primary or underlying problems leading to skin infections. Other tests may be performed to determine your pet’s specific allergies.

Treatment of pyoderma consists mainly of using antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing the skin infection.

In severe cases where the infection does not seem to be responding, bacterial culture and sensitivity testing may be necessary to find the proper antibiotic for the particular bacteria.

Additional methods of treatment include topical sprays or ointments. Pets tend to lick off the medication causing it not to be effective.

Medicated shampoos containing peroxide and antibiotics can be helpful in fighting off a skin infection.

It is a time-consuming process since most medicated baths require leaving the shampoo lathered on the pet for 10 to 15 minutes each time you bathe them.

Severe infections may require two to three baths a week. Keeping your pet’s bedding clean and dry can also be helpful in maintaining healthy skin.

Some chronic or challenging cases of pyoderma may take several weeks of antibiotics and medicated baths to cure them. Some pets prone to skin infections may benefit from being on antibiotics routinely to help prevent severe infections.

Others may do well with regular medicated baths to prevent the pyoderma from reoccurring.

In the most challenging cases, there is a medication similar to a vaccine called Staph lysate which may be administered by injection to desensitize the pet to the bacterium Staphylococcus.

These injections typically take at least a month to see beneficial results.

If you have a pet that develops a skin condition, it could be pyoderma, and you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure your pet lives a long, healthy and happy life.

Dr. Jeff Castle is a veterinarian at Clark County Veterinary Clinic.