What Is Folliculitis in Dogs?

dog sticking its head out the car window

We’ve all been there – we notice our dog scratching and licking at an area. Somehow, they’re trying to simultaneously soothe and itch it to get much-needed relief. Unfortunately for them, itchy skin doesn’t work that way! You may notice redness, irritation, and hair loss as you stop them. Maybe the area smells a little sour, and you know something’s up. They’ve had skin problems before, but never anything like this. After a quick trip to the vet, you get the answer you’ve been waiting for – folliculitis – but what exactly does that mean?

Folliculitis in dogs is an inflammation of your dog’s hair follicles. When your dog scratches, the hair follicle can break off, allowing bacteria to get in there and cause an infection. This can happen all over the body, but folliculitis in dogs typically presents itself on the groin, abdomen, and armpits. This may sound familiar to you. If you’ve ever had an ingrown hair or razor burn, you’ve experienced something similar, and in fact, you can think of folliculitis as just that, but instead of one ingrown hair, it’s a lot of them all localized in the same area. If that sounds uncomfortable to you, that’s because it is, so you want to make sure to get your dog treatment ASAP.

Folliculitis in dogs is incredibly common, and most dogs will face this issue at least once in their life. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to treat with proper medical care, including topical solutions, oral medication, medicated baths, and more. You can even try some natural home remedies, but you’ll want to consult with a vet to ensure it doesn’t interfere with existing medication. Most cases of folliculitis in dogs will resolve themselves after a few weeks of treatment, though some, more stubborn cases, can take months to go away if at all.

Folliculitis in dogs can be a stand-alone issue or indicate a more significant problem, so here’s everything you need to know about this disease. Now, you’ll understand what to look for and how to treat it if you suspect your dog is suffering from folliculitis. You may not be able to prevent it entirely, but you can be ready the next time your dog comes down with a case of this skin condition.

dog laying on a blue floor

What is Folliculitis in Dogs?

Folliculitis in dogs is a common skin condition caused by bacterial, viral, or fungal infections. It can also be a symptom of other serious diseases, including Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism. If you suspect your dog has folliculitis, look for redness, irritation, hair loss, bumps on the skin, puss, dark spots, and more. This skin infection presents differently in different dogs, so it can be hard to diagnose without proper testing.

You’ll often find bacterial folliculitis in dogs because of skin allergies or external parasites like fleas, ticks, mites, and flies. It’s easy to treat with the help of a veterinarian, but just because they’re feeling relief doesn’t mean the work is over. You’ll want to understand what’s causing it so you can treat the underlying cause lest you consistently find reoccurrences in your dog.

If folliculitis sounds familiar, it’s like an advanced case of ingrown hairs. Ingrown hairs occur when the hair grows in the wrong direction, curling under the skin. These areas may become inflamed, infected, and irritated. These bumps, when left untreated, can cause cysts. If your dog gets ingrown hairs often, vets may diagnose them with canine folliculitis. The hair follicles get irritated, often with a bacterial infection, and your dog is in pain. But what’s causing it, and how can you help?

dog running through a grass field

What Causes Folliculitis in Dogs?

If you had to boil down what causes folliculitis in one word, it would have to be irritation. Your dog’s hair follicles have gotten irritated by some bacterial, viral, or fungal infections, fleas, ticks, mites, trauma to the area, thyroid disease, and more. Food and environmental allergies can also cause folliculitis in dogs. If your dog has other health conditions, folliculitis can be a symptom of the primary disease. Understanding what is causing it can make your dog more comfortable over time with proper treatment.

The most common cause of folliculitis in dogs is callus dermatitis, a constant skin irritation that often forms calluses on your dog’s skin. These calluses are usually on your dog’s feet, but they can also occur on their elbows, hocks, and chest. The second most common reason for folliculitis in dogs is fleas, mites, ticks, and flies. These insects can carry bacteria, leaving it behind once they burrow in the skin. Even if your dog’s taking flea and tick medicine, it may not prevent them from causing this skin infection.

Interdigital cysts are another reason your dog may develop folliculitis. These are welts, sores, or hairless bumps between their toes. Skin-fold pyoderma is when bacterial infections occur between your dog’s skin folds. These appear on the surface or in the deep folds, and they can also be known as superficial pyoderma.

Hot spots go by many names – pyotraumatic folliculitis or acute moist dermatitis – but these self-inflicted wounds are painful for pups no matter what you call them. In their attempt to relieve their pain, they cause more damage, including hair loss and infection, developing folliculitis. Constant licking can also lead to acral lick granuloma. The more your dog licks, the more granulomas will appear, leading to folliculitis in dogs.

It’s a vicious cycle, and other conditions that may lead to folliculitis in dogs include:

  • Immune system disorders
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Canine acne
  • Bacterial skin infection
  • Fungal infection, including ringworm, blastomycosis, and more

Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if your dog is susceptible to folliculitis. It’s a skin irritation that touches dogs of all ages and breeds. However, some dogs, including boxers, golden retrievers, and terriers, are more prone to skin allergies, and because of it, they may be more likely to get folliculitis.

Learning about folliculitis before your dog gets it can help you bring them relief quicker. The treatment for folliculitis in dogs varies based on the type, so your vet will need to run tests before deciding on a course of action. It could be oral antibiotics, medicated baths, or topical therapy. If your dog has something else wrong, they may need to take additional treatments or run further tests.

dog standing in a wheat field

What Are the Signs of Folliculitis in Dogs?

Our dogs itch for many reasons, but if you notice persistent attention to a specific area, you may want to take a closer look. If your dog is immunocompromised, they may be more likely to develop folliculitis as a secondary condition. While folliculitis can occur anywhere on your dog’s body, the most commonly affected areas on your dog’s skin are the abdomen, groin, and armpits.

Signs of folliculitis in dogs can include redness and swelling in a localized area. If they have severe folliculitis, they may have irritation all over their body. Your dog could have pustules (bumps filled with pus) or papules (raised red spots), which often look like acne. Staphylococcus pseudintermedius causes bacterial folliculitis. As tempting as it may be, resist the urge to pop these pimples. You don’t want to spread the infection to other irritated places on their body.

Watch out if your dog’s constantly scratching this area or any other behaviors that are out of the ordinary for them. Some skin may be tender to the touch and feature raw spots. Your dog may feel pain in the affected area and wince or cry as they scratch to find relief. There may even be scabs and abrasions that hint at trauma to the affected area. Monitor the site to ensure it’s not spreading.

Another sign of folliculitis in dogs is hair loss or alopecia. You may notice circular lesions on their bodies called epidermal collarettes in these spots. These typically have scaly, peeling edges that are crusty and flaky. Look out for any hyperpigmentation or dark spots on the skin because of chronic inflammation and irritation over time.

It’s easier to see the irritation on short-haired dogs as their tufts of fur raise, especially if there are papules and pustules. This skin disease is harder to see on dogs with longer hair, so it’s best to examine areas if you notice them fussing. Folliculitis in dogs presents differently from dog to dog, so it may look more pronounced or subtle in others.

dog sitting on the ground with a leash in its mouth

How Can You Diagnose and Treat Folliculitis in Dogs?

Unfortunately, you can’t diagnose folliculitis in dogs without a trip to the vet, though you can share what you suspect based on the symptoms. Often, your vet can diagnose folliculitis in dogs on sight, but that’s only half the battle. Next, they need to determine precisely what’s causing it so they can come up with a treatment plan.

Your vet may need to collect a sample to view under a microscope. They could scrape the skin to check for mites and other parasites. Your vet can run blood work and take urine samples to see if there are any anomalies in their organ function or blood cell counts. They can take fungal and bacterial cultures to see if there is an infection. Your vet can also take skin samples to biopsy, though that often requires surgery and detailed external analysis, so they may want to rule out other options first.

Once your vet has identified the cause behind the folliculitis, they can develop a treatment plan. This often includes a combination of medication and topical therapy to help ease any discomfort and reduce inflammation. Some vets may even suggest that you wash them with a medicated shampoo to help treat the issue and prevent reoccurrences, though take care not to bathe them too often lest you strip their skin and fur of their natural oils and cause more irritation.

If your dog’s folliculitis is bacterial, they’ll likely need an oral antibiotic, while fungal folliculitis requires antifungal medications. Unfortunately, in some cases, folliculitis in dogs can be a secondary disease, a side effect of a more severe illness. If this is the case, you’ll need to treat both the cause and the symptom to provide your dog comfort. Some dogs may require ongoing maintenance medicine and treatment for their folliculitis.

Most folliculitis in dogs clears up after a few weeks of treatment, though if it’s part of a chronic condition, they may face flare-ups for the rest of their lives. While uncomfortable, it is manageable. Folliculitis is not fatal in dogs.

It is vital to complete your dog’s entire treatment course. If they are prescribed an oral antibiotic for two weeks, give them the whole two weeks. If you are supposed to give them medicated baths and use topical treatments, use as directed. Failure to follow your vet’s instructions can cause the infection to return. They may become resistant to the treatment, so be sure to knock it out thoroughly the first time it happens to make your dog more comfortable.

You can try home remedies to treat this skin problem, like chamomile. It’s a natural painkiller, and if you apply it to impacted skin, it can bring your dog relief. It’s important to consult with a vet before treating your dog at home, especially if your vet has already recommended a course of action. You don’t want anything to interfere with your dog’s healing unintentionally.

white dog laying on a grass lawn

How to Prevent Folliculitis in Dogs?

Unfortunately, there’s no real way to fully prevent folliculitis in dogs, especially if it’s a symptom of another, more serious disease. All you can do is follow treatment guidelines to help keep your dog as comfortable as possible. These areas will fade in time, as long as they don’t continue to irritate it by licking or scratching.

Itchy skin happens, but select preventative measures may be helpful, depending on the underlying cause. For example, if your dog has allergies, you can avoid foods that could cause flare-ups. Staying up to date on your dog’s flea and tick medicine can reduce the risk of developing folliculitis based on external parasites, especially if they spend a lot of time outdoors. Brush them down to check for fleas and ticks when they come in. While the medicine will kill them, you can prevent initial irritation before they burrow in the skin.

Your vet may also recommend that you add an omega-3 fatty supplement, or fish oil, to their diet. Give it in pill format, or mix it with your dog’s food to improve skin health and shiny coats. It also promotes healthy hearts and joints and is often used to treat many different inflammatory conditions. This wonder supplement may not be able to cure your dog of folliculitis, but it can help prevent it before it starts.

Managing folliculitis in dogs is about understanding what causes it and doing your best to avoid it. Try to make your dog as comfortable as possible by removing any food or environmental allergies. Make sure they are up to date on their medicines and shots. Bathe and brush them regularly to promote good hygiene. Taking good care of your dog is a great first step in preventing folliculitis in dogs, and taking action as soon as you notice something is wrong can keep them comfortable.

If you have any questions, always consult with your vet. They can give you even more advice on handling folliculitis in dogs. It may be common, but it’s still difficult for many dogs to manage without treatment.

dog running through the grass

The Final Say on Folliculitis in Dogs

Folliculitis in dogs is common, but that doesn’t make it easier when your dog is in pain. The good news is that it’s not contagious, so you can snuggle with your dog on the road to recovery – just make sure to avoid hitting any of the painful areas. While there are home remedies, it’s best to get an official diagnosis and treatment from your vet for the best relief.

While common, folliculitis in dogs is often an indication of a more serious condition, so you want to rule out health conditions like hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease. Your dog can have an outbreak for any reason, so it’s important to understand why they’re sick and how you can prevent it in the future. As hard as it may be, try to keep them from licking and scratching the area. Any attention can irritate the skin more and cause it to spread.

Folliculitis in dogs is often easy to treat, especially if it’s due to allergies, poor hygiene, or trauma. Usually, a course of antibiotics will do the trick, so don’t delay in bringing your dog in to see a vet. Folliculitis isn’t life-threatening, but it is uncomfortable for your dog’s health.

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