Pyoderma means bacterial infection within the skin. Usually this occurs within the top layers of the skin (superficial pyoderma), and is a common medical problem in dogs. Deep pyoderma, when infection penetrates further into the skin, is much more serious and may take months of intensive treatment to cure.
Skin fold pyoderma is a common, usually superficial, infection which occurs where two layers of skin fold over one another, creating a warm, moist environment where bacteria can flourish. Pockets of skin are very prone to infection due to the closed environment. Once infection takes hold, it tends to progress rapidly due to poor ventilation and the problems encountered in keeping the area clean. Food residues and bad teeth may compound the problem around the mouth.
This type of skin problem occurs commonly in certain breeds of dogs, particularly those with lots of loose skin, e.g. Sharpei, Spaniel, Bassethound, Pekingese and Boxers. Certain body areas are more commonly affected especially around the face, feet, lips, tail-base and vulva. Obese animals are more likely to suffer with the condition due to excess tissue folds.
Dogs with an infantile vulva – a small vulva in a relatively ‘tucked up’ position – commonly get skin fold pyoderma in the surrounding area. This may be difficult to see without close examination and may be very painful to examine in the conscious dog. Infantile vulva may be more common in bitches spayed at a very young age.
In some animals areas of moist, reddened skin with discharge and unpleasant odour are easy to see. But, often the condition may not be visible until the fold of skin is stretched open, revealing the infected skin within. Dogs may also show other signs:
- Pain and discomfort
- Pawing at the mouth
- Rubbing the face
- Licking at the feet
- Excess rubbing and licking at the bottom area
Medical treatment, using drugs of various types, often leads to an initial improvement in the condition. However because the skin pockets remain, future recurrence is quite likely. Drug treatments used include:
- Antiseptic washes applied to the area
- Anti-inflammatory drugs/painkillers
- Topical creams and ointments.
The condition is often difficult to control – it may not respond well to medical treatment or come back as soon as treatment is stopped.
Since the problem is caused by abnormal anatomy or conformation surgery can help to correct this. Surgical treatment is recommended when there is frequent recurrence. The skin folds/pockets are surgically removed, opening up the area and allowing proper ventilation of the skin and a reduction in the likelihood of recurring bacterial infection. Operations of this type include cheiloplasty (on the lips), nasal fold resection (in Pekingese) and vulvoplasty (at the vulval area). In dogs with bad teeth and skin fold pyoderma at the mouth, your vet may also recommend dental treatment.
Keeping affected areas clean certainly helps. Daily bathing with a salt solution (1 tbsp in a pint of water), followed by drying, may help prevent subsequent infection. Other antiseptics, unless supplied by a vet, should not be used.
There is variation between individuals of the same breed, so some animals may be more severely affected than others. Responsible breeders should not breed from dogs which are severely affected to reduce the risk of problems being passed to the next generation. However, a great many Sharpeis have this condition to some degree due to the characteristics of this breed.