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Uncovering & Managing Impetigo in Puppies: A Comprehensive Guide

If your puppy has developed impetigo, you may notice them experiencing patchy hair loss and itchy, red, dry skin, among other symptoms. Here, our Orange Park veterinary dermatologist explains how this condition is diagnosed and treated.

What is impetigo in puppies?

Impetigo is a superficial bacterial skin infection triggered by staphylococcus (staph) which infects some of the uppermost layers of a dog's skin.

Also referred to as juvenile pustular dermatitis, impetigo is most common in young puppies between the ages of three and six months old. At this young age, a puppy's immune system isn't yet fully developed, which leaves them vulnerable to infections and illnesses that cause an imbalance in the endocrine or immune system.

Some strains of staphylococcus are highly contagious and are resistant to antibiotics, making them difficult to treat. 

Impetigo is not contagious to other dogs. While this infection does spread quickly in children, this is not true for our canine companions. 

Types of Puppy Impetigo

There are three classifications of puppy impetigo:

  • Surface Pyoderma - Typically mild and rare, this type of impetigo affects only the top layer of skin where there is no hair. 
  • Superficial Bacterial Folliculitis - Can also affect areas where hair covers the skin, and the folds of the skin. 
  • Deep Pyoderma - Reaches the deeper layers of tissue through a break in the skin, which may be caused by scratching. 

What are the symptoms of impetigo in puppies?

The most common clinical sign of impetigo is patchy hair loss, especially on a puppy's stomach.  Other signs of impetigo in young dogs include:

  • Areas of acne or rash 
  • Skin infection
  • Pus-filled, painful red bumps that may look like pimples
  • Itchy, circular, crusty lesions that look like hives (on certain breeds)
  • Dry patches of skin  
  • Lesions appearing on the abdomen, groin, and other areas with a lack of fur 
  • Secondary infections or health issues, like contact allergies or parasites
  • Depression 
  • Weight loss 

The infection may start as an itchy, red rash that can occur on any area on your puppy's body without hair. Your puppy will likely be mildly uncomfortable due to their itchy skin. In severe cases, this infection can cause pain. 

When a puppy scratches the areas infected by impetigo, the blisters easily break and can become painful if the infection is severe. Impetigo can potentially spread to other areas of a puppy's body, which can lead to hair loss, weight loss, and deep tissue infection. 

What causes a puppy to develop impetigo?

Though the cause of puppy impetigo is not well understood, it's believed that skin damage, or a compromised endocrine or immune system may be to blame. When one of these systems is damaged or under threat, bacteria grow out of control. Some common causes include:

  • Food allergy 
  • Compromised immune system 
  • Weakened endocrine system 
  • Insect bite 
  • Fleas
  • Urine scalding
  •  Mange

How is impetigo in puppies diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam for your puppy and check the skin and coat thoroughly. They'll ask about your puppy's medical background, run some diagnostic tests, and order X-rays or other imaging tests. 

Bring a summary of your puppy's current health status, including:

  • Any recent illnesses or injuries
  • Abnormal appetite or behavior
  • Immunizations 
  • Any medications you've given your puppy (prescription or over-the-counter), which can affect diagnosis
  • Overall health 

The veterinarian will likely collect a skin scraping so the tissue sample can be examined under a microscope, samples of the pus or fluid from blisters for a cytological analysis, and direct impression smears of the lesions. 

A bacterial and fungal culture, complete blood count, chemical panel, urinalysis, and blood glucose level can help your vet rule out infection or other health conditions such as mite infestation. Your veterinarian may also refer you to our veterinary dermatologist at Animal Friends Dermatology for diagnosis and treatment.

How is impetigo in puppies treated?

If your vet or veterinary dermatologist has diagnosed your puppy with impetigo, they may prescribe creams, antibiotics, and/or shampoos to treat the infection. Further medication may be required if your puppy has a severe case of impetigo, or if any underlying illnesses are identified. 


Your vet will likely recommend a systemic antibiotic such as cephalexin, clindamycin, or erythromycin for six to eight weeks. These can prevent impetigo from spreading and speed up your puppy's recovery time. In some cases, more than one round of antibiotics may be needed due to resistant bacteria.

Topical Antibiotic Ointment

Topical antibiotic creams or ointments your veterinarian may prescribe include mupirocin, neomycin, and polymyxin. 

Medicated Shampoo

While there are many medicated shampoos that can be used for this condition, your veterinarian may recommend one that's best for your dog. Some options include benzoyl peroxide, chlorhexidine, and ethyl lactate. Your vet will also provide instructions on how often you should use the shampoo, but it is typically once or twice per week for a month. 

In some cases, a puppy's impetigo can clear up without treatment, especially if it's mild and the cause is related to factors such as an unclean environment that a pup is then removed from.

For example, after puppies with impetigo are rescued from one environment and are then placed with an adoptive owner who keeps the puppy's space clean and free of bacteria, the condition may then resolve itself. 

However, by treating impetigo early, you'll be preventing the negative effects this infection and secondary health issues can have on your puppy's long-term health. We recommend consulting your vet as soon as you notice signs of any infection or condition that's affecting your puppy's skin.

Can I prevent my puppy from developing impetigo?

To prevent your puppy from developing impetigo, you'll need to keep your four-legged companion's living area clean, bathe them regularly, address any underlying health issues they may have, and take proactive, preventive measures to reduce the risk of infection. Here are some specific steps you can take:

Regular Bathing

Use a mild shampoo made especially for dogs to bathe your puppy regularly (every three or four months or so). This will help keep their skin clean and reduce the risk of bacterial infections. However, we recommend over-bathing, as it can dry out their skin. 

Feed Your Puppy a Healthy Diet 

A nutritious, balanced diet can help maintain your puppy's overall health as they grow, which in turn can help their immune system block infections. 

Make sure the food you feed your dog offers a balanced mix of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, and vitamins. Always provide fresh, clean water for your puppy – proper hydration is essential to their overall health. 

Maintain a Clean Living Environment 

Your puppy's bedding, food bowls, toys, and other items in their living area should be cleaned regularly. This will help to prevent the accumulation of bacteria, which could lead to infections. 

Prevent Your Puppy From Scratching Excessively 

Discourage your puppy from scratching excessively, which can cause skin irritation and potentially lead to impetigo. If you notice your puppy scratching frequently, consult your vet to identify the underlying cause. 

Isolate Infected Dogs 

If you have multiple dogs and one develops impetigo, isolate the infected dog to their own area until they have fully recovered to prevent the infection from spreading to others. 

Prevent Fleas & Ticks 

Your veterinarian can recommend flea and tick preventatives to use regularly. These parasites can irritate your dog's skin and leave openings for bacteria to enter, so preventing fleas and ticks is one important element of reducing your puppy's risk of impetigo. 

Veterinary Dermatology at Animal Friends Dermatology

Our veterinary dermatologist understands that spotting symptoms of impetigo or other skin conditions on your dog can be very concerning. We are here to help treat this infection and many other issues. 

At Animal Friends Dermatology, we provide specialized care for pets suffering from uncomfortable skin issues like impetigo, which require proper diagnosis, treatment, and management to prevent secondary health problems or recurrences. A veterinary dermatologist can be an important ally in managing skin conditions like impetigo. 

We accept both requests for appointments and referrals from primary care veterinarians. Our vet dermatologist can develop an individualized treatment plan for your cat and provide you a written copy. In addition, we are always available to answer any questions and concerns you may have about treatment or at-home care. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Have you noticed symptoms of impetigo or another skin infection in your dog? Ask your vet about a referral. Our veterinary dermatologist will work with your primary care vet to ensure your pet receives the best possible care. 

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Animal Friends Dermatology is accepting new patients! Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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