Cellulitis in Dogs – Is it Contagious? Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Cellulitis in dogs
Cellulitis in dogs

Dogs are the most compassionate of friends you can have. No better reward can you give your dog than keeping him or her healthy and well fed. When the health of your dog is not properly checked, certain infections can set in.

There are several infections relating to hygiene and grooming of your dog. However, one of the most common skin infections is cellulitis.

What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is referred to as inflammation involving the skin and any other tissue structures beneath the skin. This inflammation is usually due to infections by certain bacteria.

Most commonly, cellulitis occurs in ulcerated regions of the skin or wounds that are healing after a surgical procedure. This is because, these conditions provide suitable environment for the growth of Streptoccocus and Staphylococcus.


Cellulitis is caused by bacteria. Several species of bacteria can be implicated in the pathogenesis of cellulitis. However, the most common are Staphylococcus and Streptococcus.

Other bacteria capable of causing cellulitis are Pneumococcus, Clostridium species and Hemophilus influenza among others.

The infection starts when these bacteria find their way into the dermis and/or the subcutaneous tissue through a mechanical breach in the integrity of the skin.

Mechanical damage to the skin can be due to a bite, injury or surgical procedures.


Since cellulitis is an inflammatory process, the major symptoms are the cardinal signs and symptoms of inflammation. The following are principle signs of cellulitis:

  • Redness
  • Pain and tenderness
  • Swelling
  • The affected area feels warm

However, as the disease progresses, the red area of the skin starts getting larger. Fever usually set in and may be accompanied with chills and sweat. Besides, the lymph nodes near the infected area of skin begin to swell as the infection spreads.

Other signs may include;

  • Formation of pus field abscesses
  • Bald spots on the skin
  • Hair loss

Can I get cellulitis from my dog? Is it contagious?

Yes, you can get the infection from your dog. Hemophilus influenza, bacteria that causes cellulitis in dogs, can also cause cellulitis in humans.

This is common especially in children under the age of 6 years. The common areas that the disease manifests after infection are the face, arms and upper trunk.

Another bacterium – Pasteurella multocida – is also a well-known species of bacteria causing cellulitis in humans following a dog bite or scratch. This bacterium has the advantage of a short incubation period between 4 and 24 hours which makes it very aggressive.

Besides, the risk of getting infected increases following a dog attack. This is because the teeth of a dog are sharp enough to cause a penetrating wound and a dog’s mouth contains saliva that is a cocktail of very deadly bacteria.

All victims of dog bites should be wary of cellulitis and seek medical attention promptly to rule out cellulitis.

Is it contagious?

No, cellulitis is not contagious. The reason for this is because cellulitis is an infection of the deep layers of the skin. The epidermis, which is the top layer of the skin, covers the infection preventing it from being acquired via skin contact.

In this regard, a clear distinction between cellulitis and impetigo is evident. Impetigo on the other hand infects the superficial layer of the skin and is also contagious.

Can canine cellulitis be cured?

Yes. Canine cellulitis can be cured with prompt antibiotic therapy. It usually clears completely after 10 days when the treatment regimen is diligently followed.

Treatment should not be stopped until the last dose is complete as instructed by the Vet. When treatment is done correctly, the prognosis is always good.


Before treatment is begun, the veterinary officer will first make a diagnosis to rule out other infections of the skin.

Diagnosis of cellulitis in dogs

Your veterinary officer will ask you to provide previous medical history of your dog. The Vet will then perform a physical examination to find out the aforementioned symptoms.

You may also need to mention any other symptoms you noticed such as inability to walk properly, loss of appetite and general weakness to help in the diagnosis.

Finally, a blood test is taken to confirm the specific bacteria causing the infection. The veterinary officer will then initiate treatment promptly to prevent the spread of the infection to other body parts.


Dogs that are affected by cellulitis are frequently treated with antibiotics. These antibiotics have a different mechanism of action but the end result is the death of the bacteria.

Commonly used medications are:

  • Nafcillin
  • Vancomycin
  • Cephalexin
  • Moxifloxacin

Abscesses are common with cellulitis. Large abscesses are lanced and then applied with antibiotics to promote the healing process. Lancing is done if the abscess does not drain on its own.

In case the excision of the abscess leaves a wound cavity, you will be advised to always clean the area and apply antiseptic medication at least twice a day till proper healing is achieved.

Although symptoms may subside and completely disappear before the antibiotic therapy ends, you should not stop the treatment plan. Ensure you administer all the medication without discontinuation unless the veterinary officer advises you to stop.

 Other treatment options

Cellulitis often has a tendency to recur at later stages. Therefore, you will have to keep your dog clean at all times in a neat environment. You will also have to routinely groom your dog to eliminate any instances of skin infection.

Moreover, proper nutrition and nutrient supplements for your dog is important to maintain good health. Good nutrition boosts the immune system making the body primed to fight any infection.

When proper treatment is done and good hygiene is maintained, the chances of recurrence will be very slim. Though if it does happen, seek further attention from the veterinary officer.

Cellulitis in humans vs. cellulitis in dogs

Cellulitis in dogs is somewhat similar to how it manifests in humans. Below are the major similarities and differences.

Cellulitis similarity in dogs and humans

Similarities are more common based on how the infection manifests in both dogs and humans.

  • The infected area is usually painful to touch and very sensitive.
  • Visible swelling and irritation is common to both dogs and humans.
  • As an inflammatory effect, the infected area usually feels hotter than other parts of the body.
  • Lymphatic spread of the disease to other tissues is also common to both humans and dogs.
  • Usually, pus-filled abscesses are also evident from the skin of both humans and dogs.

Cellulitis differences in dogs and humans

Despite the more pronounced similarities of symptoms. There are certain differences as outlined below.

  • In humans, it is common for cellulitis to spread to the eyes and cause facial problems. This is however less prevalent in dogs.
  • Cellulitis is more serious and dangerous in humans particularly patients with compromised immune system. These are patients who have undergone immunosuppressant therapy or are suffering from major illnesses such as cancer, HIV among others.
  • The difference in skin structure and coat in humans and dogs makes investigation and identification of signs and symptoms much easier in humans. The condition is quite difficult to identify in dogs without detailed investigation and keen assessment.

Juvenile cellulitis

Juvenile cellulitis is commonly referred to as puppy strangles. It is common in puppies less than 6 months old. However, certain incidences of juvenile cellulitis have been reported in dogs up to 4 years of age.

The cause for juvenile cellulitis sill remains unknown hence termed idiopathic. The condition is believed to be immune mediated where the immune system of the puppy is attacking its own skin.

Its association with the body’s immune system differentiates it from cellulitis caused by bacteria.

Nevertheless, the reason for this immune attack has not been fully identified. The prognosis is good. Proper treatment usually resolves the condition. Prednisone is the most common medication used to manage this condition.

Management involves suppression of the immune system to prevent auto immune reaction.