What is Folliculitis in Dogs?
Are you itching to know more about folliculitis in dogs? The term folliculitis refers to inflammation of the tunnel-shaped structure in the outer dermal layer of the skin that anchors the hair in place. The inflamed hair follicle will have a “goosebump” like appearance but may also have a small pustule, crusty, or scaly surface around the affected area.
Signs and Symptoms Associated With Canine Folliculitis
The initial development of folliculitis in dogs can be very subtle and difficult to detect early. So often, the progression of the inflammation is quite advanced by the time it is noticeable.
- Very early signs may include:
- Loss of coat luster.
- Increased shedding.
- Coat condition may feel coarser.
- Increased appearance of white flakes (dry skin) on your pet’s coat surface.
Itching – dogs who obsessively scratch or over-groom can introduce bacteria or fungi into their skin if they scratch or bite the skin open.
Dogs have a significant number of hair follicles, and each dog has individual variations in the type and thickness of hair. The areas that most dogs show signs and symptoms of folliculitis are the high friction areas like the groin and the axilla (armpits), as well as the high contact areas like the abdomen.
It is essential to groom your pets and monitor their coat regularly and underlying skin conditions regularly to detect changes early. For example, long-coated dogs will develop mats or crusted hair tufts in affected areas, whereas short-coated dogs will have raised hair tufts.
Once these signs are noticed, part the coat in the affected area, and you may see the following symptoms:
- Swollen or raised patches of skin.
- Discoloration of the skin can either be redness from inflammation or darker areas due to hyperpigmentation from chronic inflammation.
- Whitish raised areas can be pustules or pimples.
- Hair loss can be evident in patches or areas with thinner coat consistency and more visible areas of skin – it can also be due to broken hair shafts from chronic biting due to itching skin.
- Reddish swellings known as papules.
- Circular areas of crusty or scaly skin and hair loss are known as epidermal collarettes.
- The tunnel-like shape of the follicle can result in the formation of draining tracts.
- Blackheads or pinhead-sized black dots that are not advised to be squeezed out as it leads to more inflammation and the possibility of infection.
The Causes of Folliculitis in Dogs
Folliculitis is in itself a clinical presentation of an underlying condition – what this means is that a hair follicle does not spontaneously just develop a problem on its own. Instead, folliculitis is a secondary consequence due to an underlying primary issue.
The most common cause of folliculitis in dogs is bacteria. Bacteria known as commensal bacteria are naturally occurring on the skin and are generally benign. They are a part of a dog’s natural skin barrier.
Bacteria becomes a problem when the skin barrier becomes compromised either through an injury or through other means by which non-commensal bacteria over-proliferate and cause an infection.
Commensal bacteria like Staphylococcus species are the most common organisms that cause bacterial infections when the skin barrier is compromised.
Superficial bacterial folliculitis needs to be treated either with topical medication or through systemic antibiotics, but it is always best to consult your vet to discuss treatment options.
Introduction of fungi from chronic scratching or injury happens occasionally. This, in turn, can cause a significant inflammatory response and infection of the hair follicle. For example, ringworm is a fungus commonly seen and can be transmitted to owners and other pets as well – another fungal cause of folliculitis that is quite serious is blastomycosis which requires systemic treatment.
Systemic diseases like Cushing’s syndrome or hypothyroidism can affect skin health and compromise the skin barrier. So what appears to be a simple folliculitis could actually be a secondary effect of the primary condition.
It is crucial to monitor your pet closely if they have recurring bouts of skin infections or a poor coat condition, as it could mean there is an underlying issue that has not yet been diagnosed.
Remember to mention signs that are out of the ordinary like increased water intake, increased urination, heat-seeking behavior, chronic scratching, poor healing time or abdominal distention, and hair loss.
Immune system disorders
A significant number of animals have overactive immune systems or hypersensitivity disorders that can manifest as skin conditions.
A dog’s allergies can be incredibly frustrating to treat and even more frustrating to live with, so often, owners will want a quick fix to help alleviate symptoms and stop scratching. Allergies and hypersensitivity that cause folliculitis will need to be investigated, and several treatments may be done before finding the correct one. Patience and compliance are key in treating allergies.
Immune system disorders like pemphigus foliaceus or discoid lupus are very rare conditions that have a high prevalence in breeds like German Shepards. These conditions are caused by the immune system overreacting and severe inflammation, crusting, and painful lesions. The lesions are often found in the mucocutaneous areas like the nose bridge, muzzle, or eyes.
How is Canine Folliculitis Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of folliculitis is a secondary symptom, so several tests are recommended to determine the primary cause. A veterinarian will require a detailed history of your pet’s diet, environmental factors involved in skin health, external parasite control, duration and frequency of symptoms, as well as possible hereditary conditions.
Some tests that may be recommended include:
- Visual examination for fleas or ticks – including flea dirt.
- Skin scrapings for mites.
- Skin cytology which can include fine-needle aspirates, biopsies, and histopathology.
- Laboratory fungal culture.
- Wood’s lamp test used to diagnose the fungus ringworm.
- Bacterial culture to isolate the causative organism and antibiotic sensitivity to prescribe the correct antibiotic and avoid antibiotic resistance (especially in chronic cases).
- Diagnostic endocrine tests for conditions like Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism if the clinical symptoms are present.
Effective Treatment Options in Canine Folliculitis
Three elements fundamental treatment approaches need to be applied when dealing with folliculitis:
- Topical therapy – this means that medication will need to be applied directly to the affected area.
- Systemic therapy – this is a medication that is administered orally to combat either infection or hormone imbalances.
- Underlying cause treatment – the primary cause of the condition needs to be addressed; otherwise, it will recur.
Antibiotic treatment is necessary if there is a bacterial infection. The treatment can sometimes extend from one to 12 weeks, depending on the initial cause and severity of the condition. Your vet will dispense the correct antibiotic according to the antibiogram and bacterial identification.
Topical treatments like ointments or shampoos may be prescribed to treat fungal infections, but for severe systemic infections like blastomycosis, oral medication may be necessary for several months.
Endocrine disorder folliculitis
Endocrine disorders can only be treated if diagnosed and managed effectively with strict compliance with medication schedules and follow-up consultations.
Hypothyroidism is easy to manage with daily chronic medication, but conditions like Cushing’s may need a combination of chronic medication and possibly surgery depending on the origin of the hyperadrenocorticism.
There are several recommended products for treating parasitic-induced folliculitis, which can be either topical or oral. Active ingredients need to target the specific parasite, so be sure to discuss this with your veterinarian to ensure you are using the right products.
Certain natural products can be used to alleviate some symptoms of folliculitis but always confer with a veterinarian about additional treatments to ensure they do not compromise any treatment outcomes being monitored.
Home remedies can sometimes delay the diagnosis of the underlying cause if an owner relies solely on treating the symptoms. It is essential to realize that even though home remedies may soothe the symptoms, they will not treat the cause.
Pets may also have allergies to some treatments, so it’s key to monitor their response to any remedies. It is also important to only apply one medication at a time so that it can be attributed to the correct remedy and not used again if there is an adverse effect.
Natural products can help soothe irritated skin, and some topical treatments may include:
- Tea: The natural compounds found in teas can help reduce itching skin. A tea bag is soaked in warm water and then applied directly to the affected area for a short period of time. This is ideally done when a pet is in a calm or relaxed state.
- Witch hazel: Ensure that you purchase witch hazel extract from a reputable manufacturer and that it does not contain alcohol or other fragrances which may irritate the skin. According to holistic vets, it can be applied lightly (too much is undesirable) to the affected skin and helps maintain skin barrier health.
- Coconut oil: Owners often use coconut in meals as it contains several essential oils that are great in supporting the skin, but it can also be applied directly to affected areas to help soothe irritation.
The Prevention of Folliculitis in Dogs
Preventing folliculitis can be easy if common causes are prophylactically treated:
- External parasites – regular preventives for skin parasites are readily available from most pet outlets or veterinarians.
- Grooming is important as it helps you monitor your pet’s overall coat condition and avoid high bacterial or fungal loads from the environment by using appropriate pet shampoos.
- Regular vet checks to monitor dogs who may have itchy skins.
Ensure dogs with allergies stick to their prescribed medication or food because this helps maintain their healthy skin barrier and moderates their immune reactions to possible allergens.
Are Certain Dog Breeds Predisposed to Folliculitis?
All dogs have hair and can therefore develop folliculitis, but certain breeds listed below do have a predisposition:
- Boston terriers
- Bull terriers
- Golden retrievers
- Jack Russel Terriers
- Labrador retrievers
- Scottish terriers
- West Highland white terriers
- Wirehaired Fox Terriers
What You Need to Know as a Pet Owner
As a pet owner, the diagnosis of folliculitis can be very frustrating. Still, if you are prepared with all the details of your pet’s day-to-day activities and environmental factors, then your vet can do their best to provide you with an answer as to why your pet may have folliculitis.
Consenting to the tests needed to find an underlying cause is the best you can do for your pet, but sometimes the answer isn’t always obvious, and some treatments require combination approaches or some trial and error before finding what works best for your pet.
Always read the directions for medicated shampoos or food supplements and special diets to ensure they are being administered correctly and most effectively–otherwise, they could not yield expected results.
Complying stringently with your veterinarian’s recommendations is also very important as it helps rule out causes and mitigate flare-ups of the condition. Before trying new home remedies, always discuss them with your veterinarian to ensure they won’t compromise the current treatment’s results.
The Prognosis of Dogs With Folliculitis
If the correct cause of folliculitis is determined then, the prognosis is good. As long as the recommended treatment is applied and general health protocols are followed, pets should make a full recovery.
Is Folliculitis in Dogs Contagious to Humans?
Folliculitis is a secondary symptom from a primary cause, so unless humans come into contact with the primary infectious cause, then no, it is not contagious. Primary causes that can create lesions in humans include:
- Ringworm – a fungus.
- Sarcoptic mites – which cause mange.
- Bacteria, especially Staphylococcus species, can also be spread to humans from pets and vice versa.
Don’t split hairs about folliculitis, instead monitor your dog’s overall coat condition regularly and detect early signs and symptoms and avoid severe flare-ups.
Originally from the deep eastern suburbs of Johannesburg in South Africa, I grew up fairly feral, without shoes, on a farm surrounded by pets of all shapes and sizes. I have always kept close company with animals but never thought that they would be such a big part of my life by becoming a part of my career. I love being a veterinarian as it is such a diverse occupation, always changing and always challenging. I qualified as a vet in 2015 from Onderstepoort.
I have worked in rural communities between rabid goats, cows and dogs but chose to settle in the lovely bushveld area of the Lowveld where I then opted to start “living la vida locum”after a few years in private practice. My husband – who truly loves me as he suffers from severe animal allergies (married the vet anyway), our dog Lily and our equally animal obsessed daughter love to spend our off time in an old Series 2 Land Rover.
I started my own locum company, Kubuntu Veterinary Services in June 2018 as it offered broader opportunities to gain more experience in different clinics with different practitioners, as well as learn more about different management styles and strategies. The name of the company is associated with a South African term “ubuntu” which means humanity, but sometimes it is translated as “I am because we are” which in a more philosophical sense means “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.