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Scabs on Your Dog? A Vet Explains What to Do [With Images]

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Dermatitis

Finding strange injuries or abrasions on our dog’s skin can be unnerving. We worry about our little friend: where’s he been, how’d he get hurt, what should I do about it? Here, our vet expert discusses why we might find scabs on dogs, when we should be concerned, and what we should do about them.

What Are Scabs?

Crusty scabs come in many different shapes and forms and look like bumpy formations on your dog’s skin. Scabs form when platelets, found in the blood, gather at the break in the skin to try to stop bleeding. Platelets then work to form a more permanent clot while the injury heals.

When exposed to air, platelets break apart and form thread-like structures. These threads form a web-like mesh that traps any red blood cells from escaping the wound. When this mix of mesh and red blood cells dries, a scab forms.

Scabs are typically reddish-brown in color and may be found anywhere on the skin. Sizes will vary, and correlate to the size of the injury.

What Kind of Scabs Should You Worry About?

A veterinarian should investigate any dramatic changes in your dog’s skin or the sudden appearance of sinister-looking lesions as soon as possible. Scabs on dogs should be monitored to make sure they don’t evolve into something more serious.

Similarly, if any areas are causing your dog a lot of discomfort or resulting in them excessively scratching or licking himself, then veterinary intervention is likely required.

It’s also important to pay attention to your dog’s overall well-being. If he is acting differently from his usual or seems unwell, you should take him to the vet.

Top Causes of Scabs on Dogs

1. Cuts and scrapes: Like humans, dogs can sustain injuries to their skin, such as cuts and scrapes, resulting in a scab. If the injury is superficial and not infected, most of these will heal on their own. More significant cuts may need to be stitched, and any injury that gets infected will need to be seen by a veterinarian.

2. Self-trauma: The second most common reason for scabs in dogs is self-trauma. These scabs form after a dog has scratched or licked itself aggressively. If your pet is experiencing these scabs, the underlying cause needs to be treated. Some issues that may cause a dog to scratch and result in scabs include:

  • environmental allergies
  • food allergies
  • skin infections
  • ear infections
  • parasites (fleas, ticks, lice, mites)

Understanding each of these potential reasons from your dog’s scab helps you find the proper treatment. Let’s consider them a little further.

4 Common Types of Scabs on Dogs (With Images)

1. Scabs can be due to allergies:

Allergic Dermatitis: Dermatitis is inflammation of the skin due to allergies causing areas of skin affected to become red, flaky, thickened, and itchy. Excessive rubbing and irritation can lead to hair loss and the breakdown of the skin barrier which allows bacteria to set up secondary infections. These infections lead to more itching and further skin damage.

Dermatitis

To combat allergic dermatitis, the underlying allergy must be controlled. This can be accomplished in many ways, such as allergy prevention medications, shampoos, wipes, and diet/environment changes.


WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]


If a secondary infection is present, appropriate medication will need to be given to cure it.

2. Scabs can be the result of infections:

Bacterial Infections / Folliculitis: One of the most common bacterial infections in dogs is called folliculitis. Folliculitis is a bacterial infection of the hair follicles from which your dog’s fur grows. It results in sores, scabs, and bumps on the dog’s skin.

Folliculitis

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.

Yeast Infection / Dermatitis: A dog’s skin can often become infected with yeast. These infections may be found anywhere on the body but are especially prevalent in areas of high moisture and little light (skin folds, groin, underarms).

Yeast skin infections also occur from a dog repeatedly licking a certain area of his skin.

These infections are treated with oral antifungals, shampoos, and creams. As with bacterial skin infections, the underlying cause will need to be found and corrected to prevent a recurrence.

Hot Spots / Bacterial infections: Technically known as moist dermatitis, hot spots may be caused by bacterial infections, insect bites, and allergies. As the name suggests, hot spots are specific isolated inflamed and moist areas of your dog’s skin.

Hot spots form most commonly due to scratching and self-trauma resulting from bacterial infections, insect bites, or allergies.

hot spot on a dog

Hot spots are treated with both oral and topical medications which will be chosen depending on the underlying cause. Shaving a border of hair from around the lesion is also very helpful for healing.

Ringworm: Despite being named after a worm, ringworm is actually caused by a fungus. It infects the skin in circular lesions resulting in soreness and hair loss. It is an infection that can spread quickly and even pass to humans. Your vet will be able to perform various tests to determine whether a fungus is the cause of your dog’s lesions and treat accordingly.

ringworms on dog

3. Dog scabs can also be caused by parasites:

Mites (Mange): There are two main types of mange in dogs: demodectic and sarcoptic. Demodex primarily affects young dogs and is not itchy. These dogs lose hair, typically beginning around the eyes, but should not scratch or form scabs.

mange on dog

Demodex is not contagious and results from a defect in the dog’s immune system that allows the mites–that are always present to some extent–to multiply excessively. Demodectic mange is treatable with medication, but affected dogs should not be bred in order to avoid passing the defect onto their offspring.

Scabies is a mite infestation that is contagious and acquired through contact with the mites in the environment or from another host. These infestations are very itchy, and excessive scabbing of the skin is common.

Disclaimer: This website's content is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your local veterinarian for health decisions. Learn more.

Scabies can be treated with medication. Secondary infections of the skin will also need to be addressed. Scabies is zoonotic, which means it can be passed between animals and humans.

Fleas, Ticks, and Lice: Below is a picture of dog skin after flea bites. Fleas are hard to spot, but their droppings or eggs can usually be spotted in a dog’s coat.

dog skin after flea bites

Dogs infected with fleas, ticks, or lice will typically excessively lick, scratch, or even have scabs or hot spots.

Both fleas and ticks can transmit disease to humans, so it is essential to keep them off your dog. The best treatment for these parasites is prevention and there are several medications that will protect your dog. Ask your veterinarian which is right for your pet.

4. Scabs can also simply be flaky skin

Often, flaky skin is nothing to worry about. Just like humans, dogs can get flaky skin. Giving your dog fatty acid supplements or using moisturizing shampoo may help.

flaky skin

However, flaky skin can also be an indication of something more serious going on with your dog, including allergies, hypothyroidism, autoimmune disorders, and other skin conditions. If flaky skin persists, makes your dog uncomfortable, or if you observe other symptoms, consult your veterinarian.

Other Potential Causes of Scabs

There are a number of other issues that may cause scabs on the skin of a senior dog. These include autoimmune disorders, hormone imbalances, and nutritional issues. If your dog is forming scabs without trauma, they should be evaluated by their veterinarian as soon as possible.

How Will Your Vet Determine the Cause and the Right Treatment?

When you take your dog to the veterinarian, be prepared with a thorough history.

Things like scratching, licking, changes in behavior, appetite, or thirst, as well as any changes in the dog’s food or environment, will enable your veterinarian to determine what diagnostic procedures need to be performed.

Skin scrapes, cultures, biopsies, and other tests will aid in finding the cause for the skin issue.

Lumps That May Look Like Scabs

Warts (also called papillomas) are a common type of old dog lump that may occur anywhere on your dog’s skin, from the head to the tail.

Warts are benign lesions, but since they can look very similar to cancerous masses, it is recommended that you have them checked by a veterinarian. Bothersome papillomas can be removed surgically.

wart closeup on a dog

Benign warts are often found on the skin of older dogs. These warts usually don’t need any treatment unless they get infected or become irritated. This can happen if a dog licks or scratches at the wart, or it is in an area that’s rubbed by a collar or harness.

Of course, you’ll want your vet to look at any new growth, lump, or bump on your senior dog just to make sure that it isn’t anything to worry about. Once confirmed as a benign wart, all you need to do is to keep an eye on it to make sure that it doesn’t grow, change, or become infected.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dog Scabs

How long does it take for a scab to heal?

The time it takes for a scab to heal depends on the size and severity of the injury, but typically scabs heal in one to two weeks.

Is there medicine I can put on a scab to help my dog?

In general, scabs should be left alone to heal. Underlying causes and infections need to be controlled, but scabs are marvelous wound protectors and do not need additional medications to do their job.

What other symptoms might appear alongside crusty scabs?

The first clue you’ll see if your dog develops scabs is itching: scratching, licking an area, or rubbing himself against the floor or other objects. Often the skin around scabs is red, moist, or has a foul smell.

Where do scabs on dogs appear most frequently?

Scabs appear anywhere on the skin where there has been a trauma that breaks the skin barrier. These injuries can range from superficial to severe. The most common areas to find scabs on dogs are those that the dog can reach with his nails or paws.

These scabs result from self-trauma (scratching and licking) and typically have an underlying cause. The back, chest, and under the ears are common areas for scabs. Injuries such as cuts and scrapes are an exception to this can be found anywhere.

Author

  • Dr. Jamie Whittenburg is the Director and Owner of Kingsgate Animal Hospital, a a full-service animal hospital providing comprehensive pet healthcare services in Lubbock, TX. She graduated from Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine (DVM).

Disclaimer: This website's content is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action. Read More.

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