Impetigo in Young Dogs

Skin conditions are common in dogs (and other animals and people) because bacteria naturally live on the skin.

First of All, What is Pyoderma?

  • Pyoderma refers to a pus-producing bacterial infection of the skin and is commonly classified based on the depth of infection.
  • Surface Pyoderma – surface inflammation without invasion. Usually is mild and only affects the top layer of skin where there is no hair;
  • Superficial Pyoderma – involving the epidermis and intact hair follicles. Superficial bacterial folliculitis can also affect areas of skin with hair and the folds of the skin;
  • Deep Pyoderma – able to get into the deeper layers of tissue through a break in the skin that may be caused by scratching.

Superficial Pyoderma

  • Impetigo ( nonfollicular, intraepidermal pustules involving the superficial layers of the dermis);
  • Superficial Folliculitis (affects the ostial portion of the hair follicle);
  • Superficial Spreading Pyoderma (centrifugally expanding inflammation with characteristic peripheral peeling epidermal collarettes; most commonly observed in Collies, Shelties, and their Crosses.

Is Your Dog at Risk for Impetigo?

Impetigo is commonly referred to as puppy impetigo because it is most commonly found in puppies. This infection typically appears on their baby soft bellies and other exposed skin spaces such as the armpit area and groin.

Due to puppies’ immature skin that has not yet fully developed, they are more susceptible to infections. The skin is constantly covered in bacteria, but a puppy is more likely to have an unhealthy bacterial imbalance, leading to an impetigo outbreak.

Puppy impetigo (pyoderma, juvenile pustular dermatitis) is an infection caused by bacteria such as staphylococcus, also called staph infection.

Staphylococcus bacteria are usually present and thought to be a main cause of puppy impetigo.

Other less common organism include: Other species of Staphylococcus, Methicillin-Resistance Staphylococcus sp., Streptococcus, Pseudomonas, Enterococcus, Corynebacterium, E. coli, Proteus.

Dogs with chronic or recurring bacterial pyoderma typically have an underlying condition that compromises the normal skin barrier or immune function.


  • Areas of acne or rash;
  • Small patches of inflamed skin;
  • Skin infections;
  • Pus filled blisters;
  • Crust and scales;
  • Scratching, licking, and biting areas of infection;
  • Hair loss;
  • Depression;
  • Weight loss;

Clinical signs

  • It almost always crops up where the skin is not protected by fur and the skin is exposed. These areas include the belly, the folds between the legs and body, and the groin. Depending on your dog’s build and coat, it may appear in more or less areas.
  • The infection starts as an itchy red rash that can occur on any area without hair on your puppy.
  • Lesions are pustules, papules, epidermal collarettes and crusts, which are seen in haired regions such as the axilla and inguinal region, and especially in the non-haired (glabrous) region of the ventral abdomen.
  • It typically affects puppies between three and six months old and occasionally older.

Canine impetigo is non-contagious, unlike impetigo in humans. 

Chicken Pox Is Not an Anthroponotic Disease! An anthroponotic disease is a contagious disease where a pathogen found in humans is transmitted to an animal species.

Differential diagnosis

A visit to the vet is essential, to differentiate from diseases with similar aspects, such as:

  • Demodicosis (also called demodectic mange or red mange, is caused by a sensitivity to and overpopulation of Demodex spp. as the host’s immune system is unable to keep the mites under control);
  • Superficial folliculitis (affects the upper part of the hair follicle and the skin directly next to the follicle);
  • Dermatophytosis (is an infection of the hair, skin, or nails caused by a dermatophyte, which is most commonly of the Trichophyton genus and less commonly of the Microsporum or Epidermophyton);
  • Allergy to mosquito bites, fleas and ticks;
  • Parasitis Skin Disease: Juvenile/Adult-Onset Demodicosis, Cheyletiella, Otodectes.
  • Early scabies;
  • Secondary Manifestation of Autoimmune DiseasePemphigus foliaceus (more likely as a differential diagnosis of bullous impetigo in old dogs), Discoid Lupus Erythematous, Erythema Multiforme, Dermatomyositis.
  • Endocrinopathies: Spontaneous/ Iatrogenic Hyperadrenocorticism, Hypothyroidism, Plush-Coated Alopecia.
  • Zinc-Response Dermatitis;
  • Superficial Necrolytic Dermatitis;
  • Food allergy;
  • Urine scalding;
  • Weakened endocrine system;
  • Compromised immune system.

Underlying factors may also include a viral infection such as Canine Distemper inadequate diet and lack of local hygiene (a dirty environment, for example, in poorly managed pet shops with overcrowding, puppies originating from puppy farms and those bred in poor conditions and imported from outside the UK).


Diagnosing your puppy will include a complete physical assessment, medical background, laboratory testing, and imaging. Your vet will want to know if your puppy has had any illnesses or injuries recently. Abnormal appetite or behavior will be noted as well.

  • History: absence of prior parasitic treatment, evidence of inadequate diet or a history of living in a known poor environment.
  • Physical examination: your vet will do a complete and thorough examination of your dog from head to tail, which will include a detailed check of the skin and coat. We have to look for interfollicular lesions that do not involve the follicles. Folliculitis will involve pustules from which a hair may be seen protruding.
  • Cytological examination: Pustule cytology is essential for a correct diagnosis. In microbial culture, the expected result is Staphylococcus, generally, and other microorganisms may occur concurrently. Pricking a pustule and smearing the contents, or by tape stripping of superficial lesions. Diff-Quik staining will demonstrate degenerate neutrophils and intracytoplasmic and extracellular cocci.

A bacterial and fungal culture, chemical panel, complete blood count, urinalysis, and blood glucose level can rule out infection or conditions such as mite infestation. If your vet suspects an underlying illness, x-rays may be needed for verification!

Treatment and prognosis

Treating your puppy for impetigo usually consists of shampoos, creams, and antibiotics. Treatment is usually resolved with topical medications, rarely progressing to systemic medications. The prognosis is always very good.

Shampooing with antibacterial shampoos containing Chlorhexidine (with or without miconazole) or Ethyl lactate should be undertaken three times a week.

Topical Antibiotic Ointment. Some of the topical creams or ointments that your vet may prescribe are mupirocin, neomycin, and polymyxin.

Antibiotics. Your veterinarian will probably prescribe a systemic antibiotic such as erythromycin, cephalexin, or clindamycin for 6-8 weeks. In some cases, it may take more than one round of antibiotics due to resistant bacteria.

Cephalosporins should be the first choice for the management of uncomplicated first-occurrence surface, superficial, and deep staphylococcal pyoderma.

Clinical management

A good response to topical therapy should be expected within two weeks.

In cases failing to respond in this particular time-frame, culture and sensitivity testing should be followed by three weeks of appropriate antibacterial therapy. This is rarely necessary and should be considered only if topical therapy is ineffective.

Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions exactly and call if you have any questions or concerns about the healing of the skin.


  • A pet’s environment should also be kept clean and disinfected, just like a human’s.
  • Periodical vaccinations and parasite control are important as well.
  • There are currently anti-flea collars, drops, sprays, and others that can help you with this.
  • Regularly checking your pup for signs of fleas and ticks is important to avoid future possible skin problems.

Proper nutrition is like-wise essential to give your dog healthy skin.

  • For dogs with food allergies, you can feed them venison, duck, or pork. Avoid chicken or beef-flavored dog food.
  • Fish oil and other dietary supplement are also advisable for healthy skin, hair, and overall wellness.


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