This article was updated on September 28th, 2023
Folliculitis, also known as superficial pyoderma, is a very common skin condition in dogs. In a typical week, my veterinary practice will see anywhere between five and 15 cases. Being able to recognize that your dog has folliculitis can be helpful in getting them needed treatment.
What is folliculitis?
With bacterial infections, there is usually inflammation of the hair follicle called folliculitis. Folliculitis (bacterial) can lead to the build-up of crusts (scabs form). There may be small bumps (papules), raised hairs (tufted papules) and hair loss. In time, the affected skin may become pigmented (hyperpigmented), thickened (lichenified) and sometimes malodorous.
The follicles become inflamed, and the surrounding skin becomes scaly. Dogs affected with folliculitis will often have lesions in areas where the fur is thinnest, and the overall coat quality may be dull and poor. Folliculitis is treated with antibiotics and antibacterial shampoos. The underlying reason for the infection will also need to be addressed to prevent a recurrence. When a fair follicle ruptures and there is a deeper infection, it is known as furunculosis.
What folliculitis looks like in dogs [with pictures]
Folliculitis in dogs is most commonly the result of a bacterial infection of the hair follicles. The most common bacteria involved with this condition are staphylococcal bacteria.
Folliculitis can be primary or secondary. If the condition is primary, then the issue is simply an overgrowth of bacteria, and their skin is otherwise healthy. There is no underlying condition causing the folliculitis. An appropriately selected antibiotic, whether topical or oral, will clear up the folliculitis in these cases.
The other type of folliculitis, secondary, results due to an underlying issue that is compromising the skin. The most common issue is allergies. Though these dogs may also require oral or topical antibiotics, treatment will not be successful without addressing the underlying condition.
Picture 1: Patchy hair loss in a dog as a result of folliculitis:
Picture 2: More patchy hair loss as a result of the disease:
Picture 3: Bulldog with allergic folliculitis
Picture 4: Here is a more severe case of widespread folliculitis in a dog:
Picture 5: Up close pictures of folliculitis in a dog:
Two pictures above: © Ian Brett Spiegel VMD, MHS, DACVD
What are the visual characteristics of folliculitis?
You will find below pictures representing typical visual characteristics of folliculitis in dogs, including: pustules, papules, redness, swelling, hair loss, itching, licking, scratching, or dark areas/pigmentation.
5. Hair loss.
6. Itching, licking or scratching.
7. Dark areas / pigmentation.
Read more with our article about dark spots on dog skin.
Is it folliculitis or is it something else?
Though folliculitis is quite common, the underlying reason for the dog to be affected varies widely. Allergies are the most common culprit. Fleas, mange parasites, fungal infections, as well as systemic diseases such as autoimmune disorders, endocrine issues, and trauma can all result in folliculitis.
5. Irritation or trauma
Steps you can take at home to help your dog now with folliculitis
Usually, folliculitis requires prescription medications, such as antibiotics, antiparasitics, and antifungals for treatment. Depending on the cause, these may be topical, systemic, or both. There are no effective home remedies for this condition, and an accurate diagnosis is essential for effective treatment.
After you make an appointment for your dog, you can try:
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
- soothing their skin while waiting with a bath using oatmeal shampoo and cool water.
- Keeping the dog indoors and cool may also help.
- You should remove any collars, clothing, or harnesses to eliminate irritation from those items.
- Scratching, licking, and biting the area should be gently discouraged. An Elizabethan collar may be needed.
When to call your veterinarian
If your dog’s skin is red, irritated, swollen, has pustules or papules, or is itchy, it is time to make an appointment with the veterinarian.
Veterinary treatment, costs & recovery
Treatment of folliculitis in dogs depends on the cause. Simple, primary folliculitis may just require some form of antibiotics, either topical or systemic. However, most cases of folliculitis in dogs result from an underlying issue. Both the folliculitis and the underlying condition must be addressed. The first step is an accurate diagnosis which your veterinarian will obtain via a thorough review of your dog’s history and environment, a complete physical exam, skin tests such as scrapings, tape preps, and biopsies, and other testing to determine underlying causes. Depending on the needed diagnostics and treatments, taking care of folliculitis in dogs will vary widely when it comes to cost.
How to prevent folliculitis
The most critical step to preventing folliculitis in the future is to address the underlying cause. For many dogs, this cause is allergies. Just as in humans, allergies cannot be cured, but can be managed. Environmental and food triggers can be mitigated, and there is a myriad of allergy control medications. Other causes, such as endocrine disease, will need to be closely controlled as well, typically through medication.
Frequently asked questions
Is folliculitis contagious from dog to dog?
In most cases, no. However, some exceptions exist, including fungal disease, parasites such as fleas, and sarcoptic mange.
Is folliculitis in dogs contagious to humans?
Again, in most cases, no. However, some fungal agents, fleas, and sarcoptic mange are all zoonotic, meaning they can transfer between people and animals.
Can food allergies cause folliculitis in dogs?
Yes, a food allergy may result in folliculitis in dogs. You should speak to your veterinarian about the possibility of food allergy. The most common food allergens in dogs and beef and dairy.
How long does it take folliculitis to go away in dogs?
The length of treatment required to clear folliculitis in dogs will depend on the cause and the severity. Typically, once appropriate treatment is instituted and the underlying causes, if any, are controlled, the dog should feel better in a matter of days to weeks.
Is folliculitis more common in some dog breeds?
Folliculitis is more common in dogs that are prone to allergies. These include Chinese Shar-Peis, Wirehaired Fox Terriers, Golden Retrievers, Dalmatians, Boxers, Boston Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Lhasa Apsos, Scottish Terriers, Shih Tzus, and West Highland White Terriers1. However, any dog may develop folliculitis.
Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.