Pyoderma is a bacterial skin infection that causes itching, redness, pustules, crusting, and hair loss in dogs. While pyoderma is typically not life-threatening on its own, if left untreated, it can progress to potentially fatal secondary infections.

Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for pyoderma is key to properly managing this condition in dogs.

Can Pyoderma Kill a Dog?

What is Pyoderma?

Pyoderma refers to any bacterial infection of the skin and can be characterized as superficial or deep pyoderma:

  • Superficial pyoderma affects the upper layers of the skin and causes symptoms like itching, redness, pimples, and crusts.
  • Deep pyoderma extends deeper into the skin layers and causes nodules, draining wounds, and abscesses.

The most common cause of pyoderma is Staphylococcus bacteria which normally lives on the skin. An abnormality of the skin or immune system allows these bacteria to overpopulate and cause infection.

What Causes Pyoderma in Dogs?

There are several factors that can lead to the abnormal proliferation of skin bacteria and the development of pyoderma in dogs:

  • Allergies – Dogs with allergies to food, fleas, or environmental triggers often have inflamed, damaged skin that allows bacterial overgrowth.
  • Endocrine disorders – Conditions like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease disrupt the skin barrier and immune defenses.
  • Parasites – Mites, fleas, or ringworms can cause intense itching, wounding, and secondary bacterial infection.
  • Autoimmune disease – Immune-mediated skin diseases make dogs prone to recurrent pyoderma.
  • Skin trauma – Scrapes, burns, or surgical wounds can allow Staph bacteria to penetrate and infect the skin.
  • Poor grooming – Dogs with matted, unclean coats tend to develop skin fold pyodermas.
  • Underlying disease – Systemic illnesses like cancer or kidney failure can suppress immunity and predispose dogs to pyoderma.

What are the Symptoms of Pyoderma in Dogs?


The most common signs of pyoderma in dogs include:

  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Hair loss
  • Itching and scratching
  • Pustules and crusts
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Odor
  • Scaly, flaky skin
  • Papules or nodules
  • Draining wounds or abscesses

Symptoms often start as mild itching and progress to hair loss, pustules, and skin thickening if left untreated. Areas commonly affected include the groin, abdomen, mouth, legs, and skin folds.

Can Pyoderma Progress to Life-Threatening Illness?

On its own, superficial pyoderma is not considered a fatal condition. However, without proper treatment, pyoderma can worsen and lead to potentially life-threatening secondary infections.

Risk factors for progression of pyoderma include:

  • Underlying diseases suppressing the immune system
  • Deep pyoderma extending into fat and tissues
  • Infection spreading to the bloodstream (sepsis)
  • MRSP – a multidrug-resistant Staph strain
  • Multiple recurrences of pyoderma

Secondary infections and sepsis stemming from severe pyoderma can be fatal if not treated urgently with intravenous fluids and antibiotics. Immunosuppressed dogs are at highest risk of dying from pyoderma complications.

How is Pyoderma Diagnosed in Dogs?

Veterinarians use the following approaches to diagnose pyoderma:

  • Medical history – Previous skin issues, underlying conditions, and response to treatment provide clues.
  • Physical exam – Distribution of lesions, depth of infection, and other signs aid diagnosis.
  • Skin cytology – Microscopic evaluation of skin cells and bacteria from samples.
  • Bacterial culture – Identifies the specific bacterial cause and its antibiotic sensitivity.
  • Biopsy – Taking a skin tissue sample to analyze can help exclude other diseases.
  • Bloodwork – A complete blood count and chemistry panel screens for coexisting disorders.

Thorough diagnostic testing is important for determining the severity and underlying cause of pyoderma in the dog.

What is the Treatment for Pyoderma in Dogs?

Treatment of pyoderma involves:

  • Antibiotics – Oral or topical antibiotics prescribed for 3-8 weeks are the mainstay treatment.
  • Antimicrobial shampoos – Medicated baths with chlorhexidine or benzoyl peroxide help resolve infection.
  • Topical therapy – Ointments with mupirocin, fusidic acid, or chlorhexidine applied to lesions.
  • Addressing underlying causes – Allergies, low thyroid, and other conditions must be managed.
  • Pain control – Anti-itch products and NSAIDs provide relief from discomfort.
  • Elizabethan collar – Prevents scratching and further injury to the skin.

Rapid, aggressive antibiotic therapy is crucial for dogs with deep pyoderma, fever, or abscesses to prevent sepsis. Most cases of superficial pyoderma resolve within a few weeks if the underlying cause is properly addressed.

How Can Pyoderma Recurrence Be Prevented?

Steps to reduce pyoderma recurrence include:

  • Stick with the full antibiotic course as prescribed, even if symptoms resolve.
  • Investigate and control underlying triggers like allergies.
  • Perform regular skin health checks and grooming.
  • Use antimicrobial rinses after bathing.
  • Keep up frequent hygiene for skin folds.
  • Use topical and oral flea/tick prevention products.
  • Feed a high-quality diet and supplement with omega fatty acids.
  • Follow-up testing to ensure complete resolution of infection.
  • Consider prophylactic antibiotics if pyoderma recurrences are frequent.

With diligent treatment and prevention methods, most dogs can achieve long-term relief from troubling pyoderma flare-ups.


Can superficial pyoderma become fatal if left untreated?

Typically not. Superficial pyoderma involves only the uppermost skin layers. It tends to resolve on its own or remain a chronic, manageable condition. However, there is always a risk of progression to deep infection or sepsis without treatment.

How long does it take for pyoderma to be fatal once sepsis develops?

Once pyoderma results in sepsis (widespread bacterial blood infection), it can rapidly become life-threatening within 24-48 hours if untreated. Sepsis requires emergency inpatient treatment with IV fluids and intravenous antibiotics.

Can recurrent pyoderma lead to MRSA infections in dogs?

Yes, recurrent pyoderma can result in infection by resistant bacteria like MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). MRSA is challenging to treat and can become a chronic carrier state. Strict hygiene practices and infection control are required in dogs carrying MRSA.

Is pyoderma in dogs contagious to other pets and people?

Pyoderma itself is not contagious. However, Staph bacteria can spread between dogs and potentially humans through contact with draining wounds or pus. Owners should use gloves when treating draining pyoderma and practice good hygiene.

Can pyoderma cause dogs to die from blood loss?

Extensive deep pyoderma with multiple draining, ulcerated lesions could potentially lead to death from blood loss in very rare cases. However, this severe manifestation is uncommon, and the infection itself poses a greater risk than blood loss related to the skin lesions.


While not normally fatal by itself, pyoderma requires proper veterinary treatment to prevent worsening infection and its potentially serious complications. Through close management of underlying conditions, antibiotic therapy, and prevention of recurrence, the prognosis for dogs with pyoderma is very good in the majority of cases.

Paying careful attention to skin health will help identify pyoderma early and allow for prompt treatment. With a thorough understanding of this condition, dog owners can keep their pets happy and healthy for years to come.

Categories: Skin Disease

Doctor Xeeshan

Doctor Xeeshan

I am Doctor Xeeshan, located in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. In this blog, I am providing authentic information about dog breeds, diseases, medications, etc.

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