Abscesses in Dogs: Causes and Treatment Options
Skin abscesses often appear as painful swelling on the skin which can be firm or fluid-filled to the touch, depending on how thick the pus is inside. Typically, skin abscesses appear suddenly, often with a substantial amount of tissue inflammation surrounding it. They are commonly found on the skin, mucous membranes, or even inside the animal’s body. Continue reading to learn more about abscesses and how to help your dog!
Common Causes of Abscesses in Dogs
Normally, a dog’s skin surface contains normal bacterial and fungal microflora that does not cause any harm to the animal. Any break on the skin barrier due to injuries such as an animal bite or scratches can allow these microorganisms to enter the deeper layers of the skin and cause an infection.
Other injuries that can result in abscess formation are any penetrating wounds from pointed foreign objects such as a needle, branches, sticks, grass seeds, and insect bites such as from ticks and mosquitoes. Previous infections such as superficial pyoderma or dermatophytosis (ringworm) can also lead to abscess formation in dogs.
Several species of bacteria can penetrate the skin and cause infection and eventual abscess formation. Some species of bacteria commonly isolated from skin abscesses in dogs are:
- Pus-forming bacterial species such as Staphylococcus intermedius, Pseudomonas, Mycoplasma, Escherichia coli, Bartonella, Nocardia, Pasteurella multocida, and Actinomyces.
- Anaerobic bacterial species (bacteria that only grow in the absence of oxygen) like Bacteroides, Fusobacterium, and Clostridium.
How can I tell if my dog has an abscess?
Most symptoms associated with skin abscess in dogs are confined on the skin only, but some can cause severe discomfort that often results in a more generalized symptom such as a decrease in appetite, weakness, reluctance to move, and fever.
Skin abscesses will often have severe inflammation around the site, and excessive licking and chewing may be observed in affected dogs. Alopecia or hair loss can be seen in the areas of the skin abscess.
More specific symptoms and signs will vary depending on where the abscess is located. Limping and movement problems may be seen in dogs with abscesses near the joints because of the pain resulting from movement or joint use. This can also be observed in skin abscesses found on the paws or between the toes.
How are abscesses treated in dogs?
Skin abscesses in dogs require drainage to be completely treated. This can be done by a vet as a short and non-invasive outpatient procedure. Most cases will only require local anesthesia, but larger skin abscesses may need sedation or general anesthesia.
Drainage is essential in treating skin abscesses to facilitate the complete removal of pus and thorough cleaning and disinfection of the area. Incomplete and improper drainage increases the risks of recurrence of skin abscess in dogs. However, drainage alone is not enough to completely treat a skin abscess.
Systemic antibacterial medications, either given orally on a daily basis or in a long-acting injectable form, are needed to further control and eliminate the infection. Your vet may put your dog on antibiotics for at least two weeks or longer, depending on the size and severity of the skin abscess.
Anti-inflammatory medications, such as NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may also be indicated, especially if there’s substantial inflammation around the abscess site or there’s noticeable pain from the skin abscess.
Regular follow-ups visits with your vet are important to make sure that the abscess site is healing properly. An Elizabethan collar is usually recommended during treatment to prevent the dog from licking and chewing on the site and delay the healing, or worse, cause further injuries and make the condition worse.
Larger or recurrent abscesses may require complete removal - a relatively more invasive surgical procedure. Surgical removal of skin abscess will require general anesthesia but are often still an outpatient procedure. Larger skin abscesses that require removal may also need subsequent surgical skin repair, especially for those located in parts of the body with limited available skin.
What to Do if a Skin Abscess Ruptures
There are occasions where a skin abscess will rupture before a dog owner can bring their pet to a veterinarian. In such cases, immediate first aid treatment is necessary to prevent the skin problem from becoming worse.
A ruptured abscess needs to be cleaned and disinfected right away. Ideally, clipping the hair around the abscess site will allow for a more thorough cleaning and disinfecting. Wipe away any pus around the site with a clean cloth or paper towel and wash the area with clean water and gentle soap. Topical chlorhexidine or povidone-iodine solution application over the ruptured abscess should be sufficient enough to keep it disinfected until you can bring your dog to a veterinary clinic.
Occasionally, a ruptured abscess will bleed, the extent of which depends on how large the skin abscess is. Applying pressure over the abscess for a couple of minutes after cleaning and disinfecting can help control the bleeding. If the bleeding is profuse, it’s best to bring your dog to a vet as soon as possible.
How to Prevent Skin Abscesses in Dogs
Since most skin abscesses are due to a break on the skin from an injury, the best way to prevent skin abscess formation is to make sure injuries of this nature are avoided. Make sure that your dog does not have access to any object that can puncture or lacerate their skin. Regular tick and flea preventive medications will also help reduce insect bites and decrease the risks of skin abscesses in dogs.
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