This article was updated on May 8th, 2023
You’re giving your dog belly rubs when you notice a scab on their nipple that wasn’t there previously. You aren’t sure what happened. We will help you pinpoint what could cause that scab and whether a vet should look at it.
The most common reasons for a scab on your dog’s nipple are allergies, infections, and self-inflicted injury.
What does a scab look like on a dog’s nipples?
When your pet is scraped or bitten, special blood cells called platelets travel to the site. They perform a vital role in clot formation; this clot formation helps stop bleeding. Over time, the blood clot hardens into a scab through exposure to the open air. The tissue underneath will regenerate, causing the scab to grow smaller as the new skin takes over. Scabs come in many different shapes and sizes.
What might cause scabs to form on a dog’s nipples?
1. Types of allergies
Dr. Graves, an expert veterinarian, comments, “While there are various causes for your dog’s allergies, they usually result in similar symptoms–extreme itchiness, inflamed skin, crusts, and scabs.” Excessive itchiness can lead to scratching other body parts, like the abdomen, causing inflammation on sensitive skin, like nipples.
Skin allergies are the most common allergic reaction in dogs. Flea allergy dermatitis, food allergies, and environmental allergies can all cause your dog to itch excessively and have red, inflamed skin.
Saliva from a flea can cause an allergic reaction in some dogs. Even the bite of one flea can cause an intensely itchy response in sensitive dogs. Symptoms of fleabite allergies include itching and inflamed skin. Additionally, it may be possible to see signs of fleas characterized by dirty marks on the skin.
When a dog has a food allergy, it is typically to a protein source. Symptoms of food allergies can include itching on the ears and paws. Gastrointestinal symptoms are possible, though less likely than skin issues.
Environmental allergies are most often associated with dust, pollen, or mold. These allergies are usually seasonal but can be year-round in severe cases. It commonly affects the paws, ears, and other areas.
2. Bacterial Infection
Bacterial infections are common issues in both dogs and humans. Since staphylococcus infections can be transmitted between humans and dogs, it is critical to recognize symptoms and promptly treat them.
Dr. Graves adds, “Bacterial infections typically cause skin irritation, redness, and bumps called pustules, which look like small pimples. Your dog may be itchy from these infections too. When they scratch the affected area, the pustule can burst open, leaving pus and open sores. These sores can crust and form scabs. A bacterial infection affecting the nipples or surrounding skin may leave small scabs.”
Other symptoms of bacterial infection include:
§ Red or inflamed skin
§ Excessive licking or itching
§ Patchy fur
Dogs can get a bacterial skin infection when the skin’s surface is broken or injured. To diagnose a bacterial infection, your vet might perform additional diagnostic tests like a tape impression or skin scrape. In these tests, they take samples of the superficial layers of the skin to look at under the microscope and possibly identify bacteria.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
The most common treatment for a bacterial infection is oral or topical antibiotics. Mild infections can often be controlled with topical medications, while more extensive infections require oral medications to help reach the whole body.
3. Fungal Infection
Like bacterial infections, a scab can indicate a fungal infection. The difference between fungal and bacterial infections is the source—fungi, which are more complex than bacteria, cause fungal infections.
Your dog can have a local fungal infection called a yeast infection. Dr. Graves says, “Yeast infections thrive in moist areas and can quickly get into tiny crevices in the ears or skin folds around the nipples. These infections are often itchy; your dog may scratch one spot constantly. Since the skin is the first barrier against disease, micro-cuts from itching increase the likelihood of developing an infection, forming scabs from the moist discharge.”
Other symptoms of fungal infection include:
§ Discharge or moist wounds
§ Musty or “stale corn chip” smell
§ Crusts and scabs
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Your vet will determine whether your dog has a fungal infection based on a fungal culture test. This will help identify the specific fungus causing an issue, allowing targeted treatment. Remember that it is important for your vet to determine if the problem is bacterial or fungal – fungal infections will not respond to antibiotics.
The treatment will vary based on the fungal infection. Yeast infections are treated with topical medication. Some involve antiseptic or antifungal drugs applied to the skin. Your dog may need oral medications in severe cases.
4. Self-inflicted Injury
Your dog may have scabs on its nipples from play or other activities. If you notice scabs on your dog but don’t see any other symptoms, this would be the most likely scenario. You shouldn’t worry if it looks like it’s healing well.
A nursing dog constantly has sharp little teeth biting or sucking on her teets, which can cause irritation and broken skin. Nursing mothers are more likely to have scabs on their nipples because of this.
Injured nipples allow bacteria to enter the teet canal and can lead to infection, causing a painful condition called mastitis. Mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary tissue but is most often caused by bacterial infection.
To prevent mastitis, ensure your dog’s nipples are being used for feeding equally. Overused nipples can be sore and irritated. However, abandoning the nipple can lead to clogs or infections in the milk ducts. Also, ensure the mother and pups are in a clean and dry environment – not lying in wet or dirty areas.
If the nipples are already irritated, apply a warm compress to ease some discomfort. Some evidence shows cabbage leaves over the mammary glands and nipples can help with mastitis. Don’t apply lotion or ointment to the area unless prescribed by your veterinarian since they may affect nursing puppies.
Symptoms of mastitis include:
§ Lack of appetite
§ Firm and swollen teats
§ Refusal to let puppies nurse
Mastitis rarely goes away on its own. You should take your dog to the vet to ensure they are appropriately treated.
5. Inverted Nipples
Inverted nipples aren’t usually an issue for a dog, and they rarely cause any discomfort. Dogs with inverted nipples have a slight increase in infections, though, since sebum, the natural skin lubricant, builds up around the inverted nipple. Additionally, the abnormal structure of the inverted nipple makes infection or trauma (like from nursing) more likely.
Inverted nipples can cause issues due to the accumulation of sebum.
Symptoms of an issue include:
§ Inflammation, redness
§ Color change
Inverted nipples can also be an issue if your dog is nursing, as it can be challenging for the puppies to feed appropriately.
If your dog has inverted nipples, you need to properly clean them once or twice a month.
One of the most prominent signs of skin cancer in a dog is a scab that doesn’t heal or presents strange qualities. Scabs may not heal because cancer can suppress the immune system.
Mast cell tumors can show up as small rubber-like inflamed sores. Melanomas can present as lumps or bumps in areas exposed to the sun. Squamous cell carcinomas can seem like raised wart-like blemishes.
It’s easy to miss these or dismiss them as flea bites or other issues. Dr. Graves advises, “Certain cancers can affect the mammary tissue and the nipples. If you notice any discharge, blood, abnormal swelling, or masses, have your dog examined by a vet. Mammary cancer often causes firm swellings under the skin, leading to ulcerations and scab formation.” The best outcome for skin cancer comes from early treatment, which is why you need to be vigilant.
Vets will diagnose cancer by examining the cells of the lump or bump. Fine needle aspiration uses a small needle to get a few cells for review under the microscope. This can sometimes help determine if a mass is concerning or cancerous.
Every cancer is different, which makes it impossible to know what treatment your vet will recommend. Some will be removed surgically, but others require radiation or chemotherapy.
Are my dog’s nipples infected?
It’s hard to determine whether your dog’s nipples are infected. A scab alone does not singularly mean there is an infection.
Symptoms of general infection include:
§ Chills and sweats
§ Nasal congestion
§ Shortness of breath
§ Stiff neck
How do I clean my dog’s nipples?
While the dirt may not be removed with a belly rub, there are ways to get rid of it. The best method is to use a dog-safe cleanser or light oil. Other possible products include hydrogen peroxide or benzoyl peroxide. These substances help to soften the hard dirt in the nipples, allowing for easier removal.