Though less common than other skin complaints (like itchy or dry skin), I treat dogs with sores or ulcers at least weekly in my clinic. Finding a skin ulcer or sore on your dog is unsettling to say the least. These red and ‘angry’ looking lesions can cause dogs a lot of discomfort and owners often recognize that they need prompt treatment by veterinarians. Many dogs will start licking or chewing at the sores and will be quite unsettled. In this article, I will present the most common types of skin ulcers and sores (with pictures) and describe the most effective treatments.
What is a skin ulcer? What is a skin sore?
Canine skin ulcers are defects in the skin that affect the deeper layers so tend to heal quite slowly. A sore would be a more superficial lesion, only affecting the top layer of skin. A skin sore would be expected to heal much quicker, as long as there are no complications such as infections or persistent licking.
What skin ulcers and sores look like on dogs
When a dog has an ulcer or sore, the top layer of skin is missing, so we can see the tissue underneath. This will generally be red and shiny, and can look quite moist.
Four types of skin ulcers and sores on dogs (with pictures)
Sores and ulcers can have a range of causes and some of the more common would include:
1. Skin sores caused by bandages and dressings
Sadly, I see these sores commonly when an owner has bandaged their dog at home but the bandage was not changed often enough, was put on too tightly or became wet and was not changed. See example image here. Owners may notice that the bandage is getting moist and starting to smell. When the bandage is removed, some skin may slough away and we will see sores and ulcers.
The vet will clean the lesions and prescribe medication such as topical antibiotics and anti inflammatory. medicine The lesions may well then be left open to heal.
An owner should seek treatment for bandage sores as soon as they are noticed, as they can worsen quickly and in the most severe cases could even lead to digit or limb amputation.
2. Lacerations and cuts
When the top layer of skin is cut into, a dog can have a sore for some time after, as the skin heals. These sores can become infected, particularly if the dog licks or chews at the area.
Any cut or laceration should be checked and cleaned by a vet. The vet will be removing any debris, and checking for any foreign bodies under the skin, such as glass. Many dogs will be given a course of antibiotics and some lesions will be bandaged. Larger sores and lacerations would be sutured or stapled closed.
3. Pressure sores
We generally see pressure sores on bony prominences such as the elbows and ankles. They are seen more in large breed or over weight dogs who are older so have less fat and muscle covering their skeleton.
These sores can occur alongside thickened skin, hygromas (a build up of fluid) and infections.
Any visible sore should be cleaned with saline or dilute Hibiscrub and we should ensure the dog is not chewing or licking at it. A vet visit is needed not only to treat the affected skin but also to look into why the dog has pressure sores and what can be done. This may include medication to improve the dog’s mobility, the use of an orthopedic bed and/or a weight loss plan.
4. Lick granulomas
When a Dog licks excessively at their skin, this can lead to the skin being broken down and an ulcer or sore forming. Over time, this skin can thicken to form a granuloma. Causes for the dog’s excessive grooming can include allergies, boredom or stress.
The breeds I see more lick granulomas in include those prone to behavioral issues such as the Border Collie and Australian Shepherd.
The mainstay of treatment is to stop the licking, which can include the use of a buster collar and addressing the underlying behavioral issues.
We can keep the skin clean with salt water and prevent infections by using products such as Leucillin sprays. I find these sprays particularly effective when the lesions are still small and superficial.
A vet check is wise as dogs often benefit from local creams that contain steroids as well as antibiotics.
5. Other conditions causing skin ulcers in dogs
As well as the more common causes of ulcers and sores as discussed above, there are other considerations. These would include:
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- Immune mediated disorders such as DLE and Pemphigus
- Cellulitis (a bacterial skin infection)
- Fungal skin infections
- Thermal or chemical burns
- Congenital skin disorders
- Cancers which ulcerate
- Nutritional disorders such as zinc deficiency
- Snake bites
What to do to help your dog with skin ulcers and sores
As briefly mentioned above, keeping the area clean is important, not only to help in the treatment of any minor infections that are present but also to prevent skin infections. When the top layer of skin is missing, the skin is quite ineffective at preventing infection.
We need to ensure the dog cannot chew or lick at their skin, which introduces infection and delays healing. This may mean the use of a buster collar and, where appropriate, bandages. I find fabric and inflatable buster collars are more tolerated than plastic ones.
Owners should try and address the underlying cause where possible, which can mean treating for parasites, the use of a padded bed or providing more exercise so the dog is not getting bored.
Diagnosis of dog skin ulcers and sores
Sores and ulcers are visible, so are not easily missed by owners, even if in ‘awkward’ spots like the groin or armpits.
The top layer of skin is no longer present and there can be ooze and light bleeding.
Owners will likely find their dog is showing interest in the area, and frequently trying to get at it.
When to visit your vet
Any ulcers or sores that are unexplained, causing discomfort or are infected require vet attention. Similarly, if the skin lesions are large, a vet should take a look.
For many dogs, they do require prescription medicine as part of their therapy; including antibiotics, anti inflammatory medicine, pain relief and medicated washes.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Can dog ulcers and sores heal on their own?
Smaller sores and ulcers can potentially heal, yes. The skin heals beautifully as long as we have the right conditions for healing and there is no active infection. Younger dogs tend to heal quicker.
Are certain dog breeds more prone to developing ulcers and sores?
Larger and senior dogs are more prone to pressure sores.
Very active breeds including the Collie and German Shepherds are more prone to lick granulomas, as they are generally the ones who develop boredom when under stimulated.
How long does it typically take for dog ulcers and sores to heal?
Healing time varies and depends on the depth as well as the width of the lesion. When we have not addressed the underlying issue, the dog is licking at their sore or there is an infection, healing time will be longer.