Dog Skin Infections: How To Spot The Signs & When To Seek Treatment

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A dog with skin infection trying to lick wound.

Is your dog’s irritated skin giving you cause for concern? You’re not alone. Dogs are extremely prone to skin problems. In fact, skin conditions are the second most common ailment that dog parents face when seeking veterinary care.1 We have had personal experience with skin issues in dogs before, too.

If your dog is itching or licking incessantly, has crusty dog skin conditions, or has patches of skin that don’t look normal, your dog could have a skin infection. Find out what to look out for when it’s time to see your vet and other need-to-know information about skin infections.

Primary Causes Of Dog Skin Infections

There are two main types of skin infections in dogs: yeast and bacteria infections. Both yeast and bacteria normally reside on your dog’s skin, but when something irritates them, they can proliferate, causing an infection. Many things can cause yeast and/or bacteria to multiply, but here are some of the most common causes:

  • Excessive licking, chewing, or scratching
  • Allergies to environmental factors, like pollen, dust, dust mites, mold, etc.
  • Food allergies

As a pet parent, it can be difficult to determine whether your dog is suffering from a bacterial or yeast skin infection because symptoms can often be very similar. But we’ll break down each type to help give you a better idea of what your dog may be experiencing.

Also, it’s fairly common for dogs to have both a yeast and bacterial skin infection simultaneously. So, keep in mind that it’s wise to seek veterinary attention if you suspect a skin infection because treatment can differ depending on the infection type(s).

Yeast Skin Infections

Yeast dermatitis, also called Malassezia dermatitis, is caused by the fungus Malassezia pachydermatis. It’s an extremely common cause of skin infections in dogs. Yeast infections aren’t contagious. Although yeast infections can appear anywhere on a dog’s body, some areas are especially prone: ears, skin folds, paw pads, or other hot, humid areas of the body.

Dogs with atopic dermatitis (allergic dermatitis) are more susceptible, as are immunocompromised dogs. An immune deficiency makes it hard for a dog’s body to fight off yeast infections, resulting in chronic and recurring infections. Dogs who are taking steroids or antibiotics can also be more prone to yeast infections.

Predisposed Breeds

Some breeds are also genetically predisposed to developing yeast or fungal skin infections, including:

  • Australian Terriers
  • Basset Hounds
  • Bulldogs
  • Chihuahuas
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Dachshunds
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Maltese Terriers
  • Poodles
  • Pugs
  • Shetland Sheepdogs
  • West Highland White Terriers

Chronic conditions like yeast infections and skin diseases that require frequent vet visits and medication can drain your bank account. But, if you have one of these breeds that’s prone to this ailment, you might consider investing in pet insurance from an early age (before a condition presents and becomes “pre-existing”). It is a great way to manage this risk along with other health and accident situations you and your pet may find yourselves in. Learn more about Pet Insurance.


The most prominent symptoms are excessive itching and inflamed skin, but other common symptoms of skin conditions include:

  • Itching and redness
  • Smelly skin
  • Crusty, flaky skin
  • Thickened skin
  • Sores
  • Sticky or yellow/green discharge
  • Greasy coat
  • Hyperpigmentation (darkly pigmented skin)
  • Recurring ear infections


A person applying topical oil to dog's skin.
A topical cream or gel might be prescribed or recommended by your vet to treat some skin issues on dogs.

Treatment for dog yeast skin infections depends on the severity of the infection. It’s important to consult your vet so you can get a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Oral Treatment

In more severe or chronic cases of skin yeast infections, your vet may prescribe oral anti-fungal medications, including ketoconazole, itraconazole, and fluconazole.

Topical Treatment

Davis Benzoyl Peroxide Shampoo bottle.

You can use home remedies to treat cases of yeast infections that aren’t severe (just make sure you get a vet’s diagnosis first). Medicated shampoos are the best way to treat skin yeast infections. However, some dogs with especially oily or greasy skin may require an initial shampoo with Davis Benzoyl Peroxide Shampoo (or another pet shampoo containing benzoyl peroxide or selenium sulfide), which can help eliminate the excessive oil.

After you cut down the oil and grease, use an anti-fungal shampoo containing chlorhexidine, miconazole, or ketoconazole. We recommend KetoChlor Medicated Shampoo for dogs and cats.

  • Make sure the anti-fungal shampoo stays on your dog’s skin for at least 10 minutes.
  • Dry your dog thoroughly after bathing with a clean towel.
  • Repeat every three to five days until there’s no sign of infection (this can take anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks).

Bacterial Skin Infections

A bacterial skin infection in dogs, also referred to as pyoderma or bacterial dermatitis, can occur in any breed or age, but older dogs are more susceptible due to a weaker immune system. Dogs with hypothyroidism are also more susceptible. The most common dog bacterial skin infection is a staph infection.


As we said above, some of the symptoms of bacterial skin infections are very similar to yeast infections. But there are some differences.

  • Excessive scratching, licking, or chewing
  • Red and inflamed skin
  • Papules or pustules (pus-filled lesions on the skin that resemble human pimples)
  • Dry or flaky patches of skin
  • Patchy fur loss or bald patches
  • Circular crusts that look like ringworm

Our Personal Experience With Bacterial Skin Issues On Dogs

Close up of a dog with a staph infection.

One winter, my dog’s skin became very red and itchy. A trip to the vet led us to discover it was a staph infection caused by skin allergies. Her dry skin was flaking off, and she had a bump on her belly that looked like a zit, which the vet said were both signs of a staph infection. She was prescribed an antibiotic and steroid, which helped immediately. Our vet said staph infections are the number one condition she sees during the winter months.

Kimberly Alt, rescue dog mom & Canine Journal pet insurance expert


Dog skin infection treatments are similar for bacteria as they are for yeast.

Oral Treatment

In many cases, veterinarians prescribe an oral antibiotic to treat skin bacterial infections. Amoxicillincephalexin, and clindamycin are common prescriptions for this type of infection. It may be necessary for your vet to do a skin culture and antibiotic sensitivity test to make sure he prescribes the most effective antibiotic.

The typical treatment time is a minimum of three to four weeks, but in recurrent or chronic cases of infection, oral treatment can last as long as 12 weeks.

Topical Treatment

Although most cases require oral antibiotics, your vet may recommend a topical treatment if your dog’s infection is mild. This can include antibacterial shampoos and sprays that you apply once or twice a week for three to four weeks.

You can also use these topical treatments in addition to antibiotics to help your dog recover from his infection more quickly. It’s also important that your dog has clean, dry, and padded bedding.

Are Allergies The Culprit?

If your dog is frequently itchy or has recurring skin infections, allergies could be the reason. As we mentioned above, it’s important to consult your vet to properly diagnosis any skin allergies your dog is having. But you can also learn more about which foods and environmental factors could be causing your dog problems by giving him an at-home dog allergy test kit.

10 Home Remedies For Dog Skin Irritation

There are some home remedies you can try to alleviate symptoms and support your dog’s skin health. Keep in mind that these remedies are not substitutes for professional veterinary care, especially if the infection is severe or doesn’t improve with home treatment. Always consult with your veterinarian before trying any home remedies. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Regular Baths: Keeping your dog sanitary is important for managing skin infections. Use a mild, veterinary-approved shampoo that won’t irritate the skin further. Be sure to rinse thoroughly to remove all shampoo residue.
  2. Apple Cider Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar has natural antibacterial and antifungal properties. Dilute it with water (one part vinegar to one part water) and use it as a rinse after bathing your dog. Do not apply it to open wounds or raw skin as it may sting.
  3. Coconut Oil: Coconut oil has moisturizing and antibacterial properties too. Apply a thin layer of organic, virgin coconut oil to affected areas to soothe the skin and potentially help fight off infections.
  4. Oatmeal Baths: Oatmeal can help soothe itchy and irritated skin. Grind plain, uncooked oatmeal into a fine powder and add it to your dog’s bathwater. Alternatively, you can use colloidal oatmeal products specifically formulated for dogs.
  5. Honey: Raw, unpasteurized honey has natural antimicrobial properties. Apply a thin layer of honey to affected areas (avoiding the dog’s eyes and mouth) and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes before gently rinsing it off.
  6. Probiotics: Probiotic supplements or plain, unsweetened yogurt containing live cultures can help support your dog’s immune system and promote healthy skin from the inside out.
  7. Herbal Soaks: Some herbs, such as calendula, chamomile, and lavender, have soothing and anti-inflammatory properties. You can brew these herbs into a tea, let it cool, and use it as a skin rinse for your dog.
  8. Aloe Vera: Aloe vera gel, especially when pure and free of additives like alcohol, can help soothe irritated skin. Apply a thin layer of aloe vera gel to the affected areas.
  9. Keep the Area Clean & Dry: Moisture can exacerbate skin infections, so if your dog has long fur, consider trimming it to improve airflow.
  10. Proper Diet: A balanced diet rich in essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals is crucial for maintaining healthy skin and a strong immune system. Ensure your dog is receiving high-quality, nutritionally complete food.

Remember, while these home remedies may offer some relief for mild skin infections, they are not a substitute for professional veterinary care. If your dog’s skin infection is severe, persistent, or worsening, it’s essential to consult with a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

How Can I Soothe My Dog’s Skin Irritation?

If your dog’s skin is itchy and painful, you may want to consider using a CBD topical product to alleviate his symptoms (with your vet’s okay). CBD topical treatments are all-natural and could help soothe your dog’s skin without interfering with prescription meds. We’ve reviewed the best CBD oil companies, many of which carry topical CBD skin ointments or creams that can help soothe irritated skin until it clears up.

Why Trust Canine Journal?

Sally has over 20 years of experience in human health sciences communications, including 10 years as an expert on pet health conditions and treatment. She’s also spent over a decade researching pet insurance as part of an expert team at Canine Journal. As dedicated canine professionals and long-time dog owners, we test and research the best pet products, not only for our own pups but for all of our readers.

Sources: [1] Healthy Paws

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The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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