Your dog’s skin is actually a protective organ – the largest organ in the body. When this barrier is compromised, the stage is set for infection. There are three types of organisms that can cause skin infections – bacteria, fungus and yeast. Often there will be an underlying health issue that sets the stage for skin infections, so be sure to address the primary cause when you treat for a skin disorder or you will find yourself dealing with a chronic problem that continues to return – possibly worse every time.
Underlying conditions can be allergies – particularly to parasites, hormonal imbalances such as hyperthyroidism, immune deficiencies or autoimmune conditions. Anything that makes your dog itch intensely can set the stage for infection – if they scratch or chew their skin enough bacteria or yeasts can reach the deeper layers of skin and grow out of control – causing more itching and scratching and a vicious cycle begins. Proper diagnosis is important so you know exactly what you are treating.
Healthy skin is teaming with bacteria; it is only when there is an underlying health issue as discussed above that pathogenic bacteria can take over and cause infection and lesions. Staph bacteria are the most common organisms found in infected areas of a dog’s skin. These bacteria are not contagious to you or other pets – they are already present on the skin and only become an issue when things get out of balance.
Typically, you will see itchy, yellowish raised areas. The skin often looks red and irritated around the pustule. Eventually they erupt and become crusty – leaving a red, irritated patch of skin beneath. As the condition progresses you will notice a foul smell and patches of missing fur.
Sores can appear anywhere on the body, but frequently appear first on the trunk – eventually spreading to the legs and neck. Infection can also set up between the toes or in the ear.
Both the external lesions and the internal immune imbalance must be addressed. Allergies are often the original culprit – so be sure to follow the steps outlined for treating itchy skin:
- Healing the external lesions begins with a bath. Visit your veterinarian for an anti-bacterial shampoo and rinse.
- After the bath when the fur has dried you will need to trim the hair around every lesion to allow good air circulation.
- Apply a topical antiseptic such as diluted Apple Cider Vinegar, Povidone Iodine, or my personal favorite – Bee Propolis Tincture mixed with coconut oil. Treat twice a day until the lesions heal completely and watch for any developing lesions and treat before they erupt.
After the initial healing is complete, keep your pet’s skin in good health with weekly baths using a gentle, soothing shampoo such as colloidal oatmeal or itch-busting tea tree oil shampoo. Contrary to what many pet owners believe, frequent bathing will not dry out your companion’s skin if you use the proper shampoo and rinse. For dogs with sensitive skin that are prone to infection, a weekly bath can be the one thing that prevents re-infection and the vicious cycle of the itch.
Malassezia pachydermatis is a yeast commonly found on the skin and in the ears of dogs. When a dog’s immune system becomes stressed, Malassezia yeast can multiply until it becomes pathogenic in susceptible dogs.
Yeast overgrowth results in itchy, oily, or scaly skin, hair loss, redness or blackening of the skin, thickening of the skin, and an offensive greasy odor. The ears and skin can both become infected. The dog may also be lethargic and lack energy.
As with bacterial infections, yeast infections must be treated both internally and externally. An anti-fungal shampoo and rinse (Selsun Blue works) along with a tea tree oil based spray or ointment to treat affected skin are the first step externally.
Internal treatment follows the same course as treatment for candidiasis – which is the same protocol we follow for allergies. Grain-free food is best, and home-made would be ideal. Invest in a high quality, high potency probiotic supplement as this will be a key component to healing the digestive tract – along with enzymes and essential fatty acids.
In addition to the above, adding anti-fungal herbs such as Olive Leaf Extract and coconut oil – which contains the yeast-killer caprylic acid, to your pet’s regimen will speed the healing process.
Detoxifying herbs are also very helpful and will ease your companion’s healing process.
As the candida organisms in the digestive tract die, they release toxins that can tax a dog’s already compromised immune system. Herbal support to aid detoxification can hasten healing and keep your companion more comfortable through the process.
Ringworm is by far the most common fungal infection in dogs. There is no actual “worm” involved – it is strictly a fungus. Ringworm is contagious – both to you and other animals in the household so take precautions when treating your companion. Don’t let children pet an infected dog until he is completely healed.
Ringworm infection causes circular areas of hair loss, with dry scaly skin in the center and a red ring at the outer edges. Lesions tend to gradually increase in size. In dogs, ringworm is most frequently seen on the face, ears, legs and paws, tail and/or base of the tail. Ringworm does not always cause itching and scratching, but it may. If left untreated for long, a secondary bacterial infection can invade the irritated skin and cause further problems.
Ringworm occurs more often in puppies with undeveloped immune systems and dogs under stress with a compromised immune system, so immune support is an essential part of treatment.
- Tea tree oil is effective in treating ringworm, so start with a bath using a tea tree oil shampoo. Add additional drops off tea tree oil to the shampoo to increase the anti-fungal action. (Tea Tree Oil should not be used on cats).
- Rinse the affected areas with Apple Cider Vinegar, which is also anti-fungal.
- Clip the hair around the lesion(s) and treat them directly with tea tree oil.
- Support your companion’s immune system with herbal or nutritional remedies such as IMMUNITY by Organic Pet Superfood.
After several days you should notice the patches shrinking and looking more normal. Once the lesions have completely disappeared, continue to treat for another day or two to prevent any lingering fungal cells from reproducing.