Why Are Sheepadoodles Prone to Chronic Skin Infections?

Sheepadoodle dog running on lawn

It’s hard not to fall in love with a Sheepadoodle. They look like an Alice In Wonderland version of your favorite childhood stuffed animal. Sheepadoodles are also extraordinarily intelligent, overflowing with energy, and a wonderfully social breed, making them the star of every dog park. But as with all special breeds, Sheepadoodles do require some special care.

Sheepadoodle Chronic Skin Infections Explained

Today we’ll focus on chronic skin infections or chronic pyoderma. If your Sheepadoodle gets a skin infection once, maybe from a swim in a lake on your summer vacation, that’s an acute skin infection. Your veterinarian treats it, and everyone is happy again. If, however, an infection continues to reoccur or never entirely goes away, then you know your Sheepadoodle has a chronic skin infection. This is the more worrying type, and this is what we’ll be talking about in this post.

Chronic skin infections almost always have an underlying cause, most of which are hereditary. To fully understand which of these conditions your Sheepadoodle is at risk for, you have to look at both sides of their genetic makeup, as you never know exactly which Poodle genes, and which Old English Sheepdog genes, your Sheepadoodle has inherited.

Let’s start with the Doodle in your Sheepadoodle. Poodles are prone to dry skin because they have hair as opposed to fur. This is what makes them so wonderfully hypoallergenic, but it also means that their skin is more likely to crack. Any time there is a break in your dog‘s skin, which can be caused by pretty normal dog activities like rubbing, scratching, or chewing at an itch, this creates an opportunity for bacteria, yeast, or fungus to enter. Poodles also have a hereditary risk of developing hyperadrenocorticism (commonly known as Cushing’s disease or Cushing’s syndrome), sebaceous adenitis, and hypothyroidism, all of which may lead to a variety of chronic skin infections.

Old English Sheepdogs are also prone to hypothyroidism, which makes this a double concern. They are also more likely than other breeds to suffer from canine allergic dermatitis or atopic dermatitis, which can lead to secondary chronic skin infections.

Causes of Chronic Skin Infections in Sheepadoodles

Hypothyroidism

Since hypothyroidism is common to Poodles and Old English Sheepdogs, let’s talk about this first. The thyroid gland is one of the most important glands in your dog‘s body. It regulates their metabolic rate, which in turn affects all the other organs. If your Sheepadoodle has hypothyroidism, it means their thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone, and so the metabolism slows down.

Signs that your Sheepadoodle may have hypothyroidism include weight gain, lethargy, and a lack of desire to exercise. You may also spot clues in their coat and skin. Look for dry, dull hair and an unusual amount of shedding.

All of this will lead to your Sheepadoodle having less healthy skin and an increased chance of infection. If you see these symptoms along with a chronic skin infection, there’s a good chance hypothyroidism is to blame. Hypothyroidism isn’t curable, but fortunately, it is easily diagnosed and very treatable. Ask your veterinarian to give your Sheepadoodle a total thyroxine test, which is a measure of the main thyroid hormone in his blood. If hypothyroidism is diagnosed, your veterinarian will prescribe a thyroid replacement hormone. This comes in a simple pill (stock up on their favorite pill treats!). You may then rest assured that, with this medication and annual thyroxine tests to ensure proper dosage, your Sheepadoodle can go back to living a long, healthy life. And hopefully, that pesky skin infection goes away to boot.

sheepadoodle laying in front of white background

Cushing’s Disease

Hyperadrenocorticism, or Cushing’s disease, is more common in Poodles than most other breeds. Like hypothyroidism, it is a gland condition, and like hypothyroidism, it can lead to chronic skin infections. Cushing’s disease occurs mainly in middle-aged and older dogs. It happens when your Sheepadoodle’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. Cortisol is essentially a natural steroid. It also helps to regulate body weight, tissue structure, and skin condition. But if your Sheepadoodle has too much cortisol in its system, this can weaken their immune system, leaving them vulnerable to chronic skin infections.

So if your Sheepadoodle is entering their mature years and you notice them drinking more water and starting to get an out-of-control appetite, as well as developing a potbelly and losing their hair, it’s time for a visit to the vet. The vet will do some simple diagnostic tests to determine if they have Cushing’s disease, and then you can talk about treatment.

Cushing’s is usually a lifelong condition, but most often, it can be managed with medications. You will have to be prepared for quite a few visits to the vet, as your Sheepadoodle will need frequent blood tests and checkups after starting treatment, to maintain the correct dose of medication. The good news is that with the proper care, your Sheepadoodle should be able to live a normal, happy life, and all that scratching and itching will go away.

Sebaceous Adenitis

Sebaceous adenitis is relatively uncommon, but as Poodles are among the four breeds most likely to be affected by it, we’ll touch upon it here. This disorder is (you guessed it!) also a gland issue and occurs most often in young to middle-aged dogs. Sebaceous adenitis happens when the immune system attacks the sebaceous glands in your Sheepadoodle’s skin. These glands help to keep the skin supple and the hair soft. The compromising of these glands leads to patches of hair loss that will form symmetrically on either side of the body. It also leads to a dull, brittle coat, white scales on the skin that won’t come off when you rub them, small matted clumps of hair all over the dog‘s body, and sometimes lesions that start on the head and go down the spine. This condition then leads to itching and eventually a chronic skin infection in the hair follicles.

The only way to diagnose sebaceous adenitis is with a skin biopsy. Treatments that your veterinarian may recommend include antibiotics for the chronic skin infection and possibly medications to help prevent the immune system from attacking the sebaceous glands. They may also recommend topical treatments to soothe your Sheepadoodle’s skin and help with the flakes and scales.

Of all the conditions talked about here, sebaceous adenitis is the most challenging. It requires lifelong management and may become progressive. If your Sheepadoodle is diagnosed with this condition, remember that with your vet’s help, you can significantly increase their comfort and quality of life.

Canine Allergic Dermatitis

Now let’s move on to the Old English Sheepdog in your Sheepadoodle. Canine atopic dermatitis is an inherited predisposition, and Old English Sheepdogs are among the six breeds most genetically vulnerable to it. This condition is also known as “hot spots” or atopic (atopy) dermatitis.

Dogs react to allergens through their skin (as opposed to the nasal passages, like us) as they have a higher proportion of mast cells there, which release histamines when encountering an allergen. This allergic reaction leads to poor coat texture, itching, chewing, hot spots, and in extreme cases, self-mutilation, all of which increase the risk of a chronic skin infection. You may also see patches of hair loss and red, irritated skin. The skin may also become thickened, dry, and crusty. The wax-producing glands of the ear also tend to overproduce in response to the allergy, which can give your Sheepadoodle a reoccurring ear infection.

Allergies in dogs tend to develop when they are between 1 and 3 years old. Because there is such an abundance of causes of allergic reactions in dogs, it may take some time to narrow down exactly what is bothering your Sheepadoodle. Your vet can perform various allergy tests, such as a blood test or a simple skin test, where multiple antigens are injected into a shaved part of your Sheepadoodle’s skin, to test for a reaction. Skin testing might require sedatives and so is usually done by a board-certified veterinary dermatologist.

sheepadoodle puppy laying in grass

Environmental Causes

If your vet determines that you are dealing with an environmental allergy, such as pollen, mold, or dust, the best thing is to reduce your Sheepadoodle’s exposure to the allergen. A dehumidifier, or activated charcoal put on the dirt of your house plants, can reduce the humidity in a room and so help prevent mold. An air purifier with a good HEPA filter can help with dust and pollen (it might make you feel better too!), and you might want to limit how much you have your windows open. When it comes to taking your Sheepadoodle out for a walk, avoid early mornings or afternoons (a great excuse to sleep in!), particularly in the spring, as this is when pollen counts are highest. You can also check a pollen forecast and limit your time outside when the pollen gets too severe.

Flea Allergies

You might discover that fleas are causing your Sheepadoodle’s allergy. Ironically, dogs that develop a flea allergy are usually those that have the least exposure to fleas. If your Sheepadoodle is allergic to flea bites, the reaction can last for up to a week, so you really have to be meticulous in your flea prevention techniques. Other than the usual flea medications, you might want to increase how often you vacuum and keep your Sheepadoodle’s bed extra clean; running it through the washing machine in hot water is a sure way to kill fleas. Lint brushing also helps, and you might want to consider treating the bed with a cedar spray or other essential oil that repels fleas.

Food Allergies

Even if your Sheepadoodle has always eaten the same food their whole life, you can’t rule out the chance of a food allergy, as these can develop at any point in a dog‘s life. If you or your veterinarian suspect a food allergy, you might want to consider changing your Sheepadoodle’s diet, since food allergies tend to develop with exposure. Wheat, dairy, and beef comprise 80% of food allergies in dogs and so should be avoided.

You might also want to consider a hypoallergenic dog food, as these tend to include less typical proteins, like venison, egg, and duck, as well as less common kinds of fish. They also contain better carbohydrates like potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin. If the store-bought hypoallergenic dog foods aren’t cutting it, or if you simply want to be adventurous, you might want to think about cooking for your Sheepadoodle. You’ll want to consult with your veterinarian first to ensure you don’t miss any essential vitamins and nutrients and to make sure your Sheepadoodle will have a balanced diet. Once you get the go-ahead from your vet, you may find that making homemade meals for your Sheepadoodle not only dramatically improves their health, but that it is tremendously satisfying as well. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy cooking for their best friend? And once your Sheepadoodle catches on to what you are doing, they will love watching every stage of the preparation.

Another thing to consider is a so-called “hydrolyzed protein diet,” in which the protein undergoes a special process to reduce it to tiny fragments. The concept is that once the protein is small enough, your Sheepadoodle’s immune system won’t recognize it, and so it won’t be able to trigger a reaction.

You might also want to try some essential fatty supplements, like Omega-3 or Omega-6. These will improve the overall quality of your Sheepadoodle’s skin. They also have the added benefit of being both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative, which will generally improve your Sheepadoodle’s health.

close up of sheepadoodle in front of blue wall

How Do I Know if My Sheepadoodle Has a Chronic Skin Infection?

Now that we’ve talked about how underlying causes lead to chronic skin infections, let’s go over general signs that your Sheepadoodle is suffering from chronic pyoderma. To catch skin infections early, you always want to keep a close eye on your Sheepadoodle’s behavior and react quickly to anything out of the ordinary. Excessive scratching, licking, itching, and chewing are all signs of a chronic skin infection. Also, watch your Sheepadoodle’s belly for signs of belly rash or red, itchy, inflamed skin. If there is an infection, the skin may appear moist, flaky, or crusty, or may develop into so-called elephant skin, where the skin may become thickened or even scaly. In more advanced cases, you might find pus-filled lesions on the skin or patchy fur with bits of peeling skin. Another sure giveaway is the smell. If your Sheepadoodle has a musty odor and hasn’t just come in out of the rain, you are probably dealing with some kind of chronic skin infection.

One more thing to look out for are the afore-mentioned hot spots, or surface pyoderma. These are most common during the summer months. They tend to appear suddenly and spread rapidly, so you’ll have to act quickly if you see them on your Sheepadoodle. They often resemble an insect bite at first but then worsen quickly and multiply. Once more developed, they become painful, oozing sores, resembling a pimple or a boil, accompanied by a bad smell.

How To Care for and Treat Your Sheepadoodle with a Chronic Skin Infection

Now let’s talk about some general care for Sheepadoodles suffering from all of the types of chronic skin infections discussed here. While good grooming is important for all dogs, it’s especially important for a dog prone to chronic skin infections. Daily brushing will remove dander and dandruff and keep foreign objects out of their fur. You’ll also want to bathe your Sheepadoodle once a week. A mild shampoo can work wonders for removing allergens and bacteria on the skin. As many of the conditions discussed here can cause dry skin, and since your Sheepadoodle might have inherited the Poodle-dry-skin gene to boot, you might want to consider a natural topical treatment to rehydrate the skin. Vitamin E oil is a great choice, as it’s not only a moisturizer but also a powerful antioxidant. Coconut oil, olive oil, and aloe can also work wonders. You’ll want to massage these into the skin very thoroughly, but this shouldn’t be a problem, as it’s something both you and your Sheepadoodle are sure to enjoy.

We already talked about hypoallergenic diets, but even if your Sheepadoodle’s allergy isn’t food-related, a good diet is still essential for the health of their skin, and the healthier the skin, the less the likelihood of chronic skin infections. You’ll want to avoid poor-quality commercial dog foods and look for dog food with limited ingredients, lots of essential fatty acids, and a good amount of vitamins and minerals. Supplements may also be helpful for your Sheepadoodle, but always discuss these first with your vet.

How To Help Your Sheepadoodle Live a Fulfilling Life with its Predisposition for Chronic Skin Infections

The key to overcoming your Sheepadoodle’s chronic skin infection is to identify the underlying cause. This will take time and patience. But no matter what the cause, whether it’s Cushing’s, hypothyroidism, or allergy-related, there are always plenty of options for making your best friend feel better again. And of course, lots of love and snuggles on the couch may be the most potent medicine of all.

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