This article was updated on October 10th, 2023
Discovering scabs on your dog’s body can be alarming, particularly when these scabs are on your dog’s neck or head. As a veterinarian, I encounter this issue daily.
Scabs can indicate a more serious underlying condition, and so it’s important to be aware of what might be causing scabs on your dog’s skin. In this article, I will discuss the most frequent causes of scabs found on the neck or head and share tips to help your dog.
6 common causes of scabs on a dog’s head or neck
Scabs can indicate a more serious underlying health condition, so it is important to be aware of what might be causing scabs on your dog’s skin. Let’s review the most common causes:
Anyone that cut or scraped themselves while playing as a child will know that a scab often forms afterward. The same is true of dogs – in fact, even more so as they’re so prone to mishaps.
Any small injury to the skin will result in bleeding. This blood then dries, forming a scab that protects the vulnerable skin underneath while it heals.
Most small wounds will heal on their own, provided your dog is not able to keep scratching or licking at the wounded area. More significant wounds may require stitches or antibiotics should they become infected.
Learn more about Wound Healing in Dogs.
Another common cause of scabbing on a dog’s head or neck is self-trauma – that is, when your dog scratches so much that they break the skin, creating a wound followed by a scab.
There are many reasons why your dog might scratch at themselves, but the underlying motivation behind it is that they are itchy.
If you’ve noticed your dog scratching or rubbing their head or neck, there’s likely an underlying reason causing the itch. This could be allergies, parasites, and skin infections, as seen in the next sections.
Dogs often suffer from allergies, which can lead to skin rashes and scabs. Just like humans, dogs can develop hives as a reaction to allergens from food or the environment. This can cause irritation to your dog’s skin and result in hair loss and scabs on the head or neck, as shown in the pictures below.
Pictures of scabs as a result of allergies:
Your dog will try to relieve the itching sensation by scratching (self-traumatizing). Anti-inflammatory medication such as steroids can help in the short term, but the underlying allergy must be addressed to help the scabs heal. It’s best to discuss your dog’s allergies with your veterinarian to identify the root cause.
Learn more about skin allergies in dogs.
4. Parasites (fleas, mites, etc)
A common, but easily fixable, cause of self-trauma in dogs is parasites of the skin. These include fleas, ticks, lice, and mites – small organisms that take up residence on or within your dog’s skin, causing damage in the process. This results in inflammation and self-trauma as your dog tries to relieve any itchy sensations they’re feeling.
Pictures of scabs from ticks, mites and fleas:
Signs that your dog has fleas include scratching or itching at other areas of the body, hair loss, or dirty fur/black specks in fur: combing with a fine-toothed flea comb can help capture and identify these pests, or their excrements as shown on the picture below.
If uncertain, consult a veterinarian for a definitive diagnosis.
Be sure to keep your dog’s anti-parasite treatment up to date and visit your vet if you suspect your dog already has a parasite infestation. If you suspect that your dog’s scabs are the results of parasites, we encourage you to read our articles about flea allergies and scabs, and tick scabs.
5. Dog Acne
Dog acne is inflammation in the outermost layers of the skin, called the epidermis, that results in inflamed red or white bumps on the head – around the lips, chin, and muzzle. These bumps or pimples arise from clogged pores and contain a mix of oils, bacteria, and dead skin cells.
Pictures of bumps and scabs as a result of acne:
Your vet may refer to the condition as folliculitis or furunculosis. Folliculitis, or inflammation in the follicle, occurs in the most superficial layers of the skin, meaning it isn’t very deep. Furunculosis is a deeper, more painful infection that causes abscesses and pimples.
Learn more about Dog Acne [with pictures & vet advice].
6. Skin Infections
Infection of the skin by bacteria or fungi results in damage and inflammation as these microorganisms multiply within your dog’s skin. Any signs of pus or a bad smell from your dog’s skin may indicate that they have a skin infection. If this is the case, visit your vet as soon as possible, as your dog may require antibiotics or antifungal treatment.
Pictures of scabs from skin infections:
Learn more about Common Skin Infections in Dogs.
Do your dog’s scabs look like something else?
If the pictures above don’t match what you’re seeing, we recommend checking out the following articles with additional pictures for comparison:
Let’s now review what you can do to help your dog with their head or neck scabs.
Will scabs heal by themselves or is a vet needed?
When scabs can heal by themselves:
In some situations, it may be appropriate to wait and see if your dog’s scabs heal by themself. However, this is only true if there is no underlying condition causing these scabs.
A one-off wound, for example, that your dog may have picked up play-fighting or running through bushes on a walk, is okay to leave to heal by itself. After all, the presence of a scab means that your dog’s skin is healing as it should.
When scabs require a vet’s attention:
Below are signs that veterinary intervention is required. Prompt veterinary treatment will help get the best outcome for your dog:
- Scabs have been appearing on your dog’s head and neck for a while now (if your dog’s scabs do not heal within a few days)
- Your dog is excessively itching: if your dog is constantly scratching or biting at the scabs, it can cause further irritation and lead to infection. This behavior may indicate that the scabs are itchy or painful and require treatment.
- The scabs are large, numerous, or spreading: If your dog has many scabs, they are getting bigger, or they are spreading to other areas.
- The scabs are oozing or bleeding: Scabs that are oozing or bleeding can be a sign of infection or injury.
- Your dog is showing other signs of illness: If your dog has less energy, less appetite, fever, appears to be in pain or is showing any other signs of being ill.
- You see signs of an infection or excessive redness: if there are signs of infection in the skin, such as pus and discharge or if the skin around the head or neck is very red and sore.
- Your dog has a large wound that is partially healing: any large wounds that are partially scabbing but not healing very well may require stitches.
4 steps to help your dog at home
If you’ve noticed scabs on your dog’s head or neck, there are some things at home that you may be able to do to help. The first rule of dealing with a scab is ‘less is more’. A scab is a good thing, it is the body’s way of healing a break in the skin, and removing the scab too early can prevent the healing process from occurring properly; interfering with a scab can also result in scarring.
1. Use an Elizabethan collar if your dog is scratching
An Elizabethan collar such as this one below to prevent itching and scratching. This will allow any scabs to heal uninterrupted and break the itch cycle that your dog may have gotten itself into.
- 【GREAT PROTECTOR】- This dog cones for pets can well protect your pets from injuries, rashes and post surgery wounds. Help to prevent pets from biting and licking their injured area or surgical site. Promote recovering from surgery or wounds. Make the recovery process more pleasant
2. Gently bathe the area with salt water
Be sure not to remove the scab by accident but remove any excess dirt or hair that may have found itself in the area.
3. Treat your dog for parasites
If your dog isn’t up to date with their anti-parasite treatment, then do this. Not all parasites are visible to the naked eye, and giving your dog treatment is relatively inexpensive and rules this out as a possible underlying cause. Be sure to use a veterinary-strength product.
4. Try a hypoallergenic diet if the issue is due to allergies
If your dog is itching or rubbing their head and neck excessively, then allergies might be to blame. You could try your dog on a hypoallergenic diet for 4-6 weeks to see if this makes a difference (please always talk to your veterinarian before changing your dog’s diet).
- Hill's Prescription Diet z/d Skin/Food Sensitivities Dry Dog Food is specially formulated by Hill’s nutritionists and veterinarians to support your dog’s skin and food sensitivities
Remember that these remedies should only be used after discussing the situation with your veterinarian first. They are often not a substitute for veterinary care.
How long does it take for neck or head scabs to heal?
Most scabs will heal within a few weeks, provided there is no underlying cause left untreated. A fresh wound will gradually dry up and become crusty as any blood from the wound clots to seal over the wound.
Over the course of a few days to weeks, the scab will become dryer and harder as the skin underneath repairs itself. Once the skin has healed underneath, the scab will eventually fall off of its own accord, as shown on the pictures below:
However, if there is any underlying issue, such as allergy or infection, then the scab may take much longer to heal if at all, if no veterinary treatment is provided.
Therefore, scabs that take weeks to heal should be examined by your veterinarian as there is likely an underlying condition that requires veterinary treatment.
How a vet can help with scabs
Your vet has many tools at their disposal for getting to the root cause of your dog’s scabby face and neck. After talking to you to get a history of your dog’s issue (see questions your vet might ask you), they might want to take samples of your dog’s skin.
These samples include taking skin scapes, hair plucks, and impression smears of your dog’s skin – this allows your vet to detect parasites, bacteria, or fungi that might be contributing to the scabs. Swabs can also be taken to perform what’s called a culture and sensitivity, this involves growing any bacteria that might be present and testing different antibiotics against it so that your dog is started on the correct treatment.
If allergies are suspected, then blood tests can be performed to identify potential food and environmental allergens that your dog is reacting to, so that they can then be avoided.
Questions your vet might ask you:
It’s important to be prepared for what questions your vet might ask you, this will save both you and them time and allow for quicker treatment of your dog’s scabs. These questions might include:
- When did you first notice the scabs? How long have they been there?
- Are the scabs getting worse?
- Have you noticed scabs anywhere else on your dog’s body?
- Was there any obvious trauma or cause of the scabs?
- Does your dog suffer from allergies?
- Is your dog otherwise well in himself? Any other symptoms?
- Is your dog itching at the scabs?
- What treatment options have you tried already?
How do you define “scabs”?
The definition of a scab is a broad one, and it can apply to many different abnormalities of the skin. However, scabs are generally seen to be dry, crusty, red bumps on the skin. These form due to damage to the skin and resultant bleeding – dry skin cells and blood form a scab which gradually starts to peel off as the layers of skin underneath push through.
Related posts about scabs in dogs:
Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.