Whether you are dealing with black, white, brown, crusty or dry scabs on dogs, we have it all covered. We explore the causes of scabs in dogs, back, skin, ears, head, neck, belly, and legs. You will also learn what treatment is appropriate for your pet.
Scabs on Dogs: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention
- Scabs on Dogs: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention
- Common Symptoms
- About Scabs
- General Treatment
- Root Causes and Specific Treatments for Scabs on Dogs
- External Parasites
- Fungal Infections
- Poor Nutrition
- Hormonal Imbalance
- Environmental Factors
- Skin Care Products
- Immune Disorders
- Dog Skin Conditions
- Diagnostic Options for Scabs on Dogs
- Physical Exam
- Skin Scraping
- Fungal and Bacterial Cultures
- Allergy Testing
- Skin Biopsy
- Wrap Up
- Sources and References
Scabs are dry, protective crusts which form over a wounded skin during the healing process. The cause of the scabs may not be obvious. Scab size, number, and characteristics will depend on the cause and severity of the condition. In the same way, treatment will differ. Below we explore various causes of scabs on dogs.
The symptoms for scabs on dogs are reasonably straightforward. Your dog has developed crusty and persistent scabs in one or more areas of its body. These scabs may or may not appear bothersom to them. You may have also notice redness in the surrounding area, and scars may developed on or near the scabbed area.
When your dog breaks his or her skin, their body knows the wound must close. Otherwise, pathogens can enter, or the blood loss could cause further harm. To that end, the platelets in the blood surrounding the injury release chemicals that kickstart a process.
These chemicals cause fibrinogen proteins to form a fibrin mesh. The platelets then stick to the mesh and each other. When combined with the red blood cells that also get stuck, this creates the blood clot that you see as the scab on your dog.
The goal of the scab is to protect the wound as it heals. On their own, scabs fall off your dog once new tissue forms underneath them.
The first step in helping your pooch is a bath, regardless of how much they object. Baths serve multiple purposes, from clearing skin parasites to relieving the itch. Depending on how your dog’s scabs react to the bath determines the next steps for treatment. For a gentile hypoallergenic option, I suggest Pro Pet Works (Check price on Amazon).
Once the bath is complete, observe your dog. This observation may be critical in determining what caused the scabbing and what your long-term options are. Unfortunately, lasting care for dogs with scabs will depend on what caused the crusts in the first place. Your local veterinarian has the knowledge to assist in these cases.
Never remove scabs from your dog. Instead, focus on keeping the area clean and moist, unless otherwise instructed. Preventing your dog from doing more damage is also important. In some cases, this will require the use of a cone.
Root Causes and Specific Treatments for Scabs on Dogs
There are many possible causes for your dog’s persistent scabs. Unless you know they’ve been breaking their skin open running through the woods, careful observation is required. Additionally, your vet may want diagnostic testing if you’re both stumped.
Fleas, mites, ticks and chiggers are common pests to household pets, not just dogs. Even if your dog spends most of his/her time indoors, fleas and mites may be an issue. Unfortunately, many varieties of external parasites find humans tasty as well.
While these pests may seem small, they pack a wallop. Many dogs actually develop allergic reactions to the bites. This reaction compounds the problem since other symptoms include itchiness and hot spots. Pets often cause more damage seeking symptom relief on their own.
Ideally, your pet has maintenance treatment against fleas and mites already. However, there are specific over the counter shampoos, conditioners, and topical creams to further manage an infestation on your beloved pet. Severe cases may require prescribed veterinary strength products. Additionally, deep cleaning of your home, including the soft surfaces, can help disrupt the pests’ reproductive and life cycle.
While a gross prospect to contemplate, internal parasites such as worms can also cause scabs on dogs. Five common types of worms affect dogs, and all of them can change his/her skin. These are very serious and warrant immediate veterinary treatment as they can cause severe harm and sometimes death.
Symptoms that appear in combination with the scabs include but are not limited to changes in appetite or energy, pot-bellied appearance, vomiting or diarrhea, and weight loss. Since your dog would not be absorbing the necessary nutrition, other changes may emerge.
Treatments for worms come through a veterinarian. The vet will issue a medication designed to kill the specific worm variety, and then you monitor your pet. The dog will likely be passing dead worms for some time through stool, but you may have to return to your vet if their condition does not improve.
One of the simple answers to scabs on dogs is over-grooming. There are several underlying conditions which may result in over-grooming, from anxiety to Cushing’s, and adrenal dysfunction. However, it may also happen with no obvious cause.
If over-grooming is caused by anxiety, there are a variety of natural calming products available. Just ensure the product comes from a reputable company and read the labels for known allergens. If a medical condition causes your dog’s over-grooming, you will need to consult a vet to obtain a management plan.
Additionally, you can attempt to distract your pet when you notice a potentially unhealthy interest in grooming . Activities, like brushing, throwing the ball, or going for a walk, are fabulous ways to redirect your dog. These also foster connections and may reduce stress.
Ringworm is one of the most recognizable fungal infections on dogs, but it’s not the only one. Since ringworm causes skin lesions, scabs naturally follow. Typically, dogs also experience hair loss with this.
Getting rid of ringworm, and most fungal infections require three steps. It starts with a topical antifungal, which your dog cannot lick off. This step is done in combination with oral medications. Lastly, daily cleaning is required to prevent reinfection while undergoing treatment. You may find it helpful to restrict your dog to certain rooms for that reason.
Since ringworm and other fungal infections are transmittable, even to humans, they should always be treated by a vet. This treatment will minimize the possible spread and medical bills, especially since ringworm is contagious for three weeks or more even with treatment.
Dogs can have allergies just like humans, and your pooch is no exception. Unfortunately, the diagnosis process for dogs is somewhat less efficient compared to human options. Multiple types of allergies can cause scabs on dogs – from food ingredients to something they came in contact with. Identifying an allergen is difficult, and your vet can help you quickly find the culpret or culprets.
A very pervasive and obvious allergen is pollen. It winds its way into the air, even if your dog is only outside a couple of times a day. The pollen settles in their fur, paws, and ears, where it then irritates the skin, and the nasal cavity and lungs. This irritation can manifest in excessive licking, biting, and scratching.
Treatment for pollen allergies in dogs is available in many combinations. Examples include feeding fish oil, wiping down paws after walks, baths in hypoallergenic dog shampoo, leave-in conditioners, and utilizing oatmeal in their fur. Your vet may also recommend doses of antihistamines during allergy season for particularly tough cases.
Food may be another daily allergen, and it’s difficult to detect. Food allergies also have a compounding reactionary effect on your dog, which may lead to other medical conditions. Once the immune system is activated due to an allergen, it is more likely to activate for other minor allergens that may not normally bother your dog. A vet can help ensure that the problem is truly a food allergy.
Dogs are most likely to react to conventional food products, like beef, dairy, and wheat. To test the theory, simply swap out your dog’s diet. Your vet may also conduct allergen testing to help identify the ingredient.
The last category of common allergens is contact. These allergens occur in your dog’s environment. They can be anything from a type of grass to a synthetic material in the home. For whatever reason, your dog’s skin reacts to these items.
Contact allergies are the most difficult to diagnose, since the allergen is only present in a specific area, hopefully. Treatments involve removing the allergen with a bath and keeping your dog away from new items until you’re sure of the reaction cause. A vet may also provide steroids, anti-inflammatory, and antihistamine drugs to help your favorite four-legged critter.
Food supplies the vitamins and minerals necessary for skin repair. The skin is the largest organ in its body! Without proper nutrients, your dog’s skin is at increased risk for breakage and scabs. The essentials also promote hair growth for a healthy coat. Additionally, a healthy coat helps defend against parasites and other nasty irritants.
To fix this cause of scabs on dogs, it’s important to read the dog food label. There is no one size fits all solution for the perfect dog nutrition; however, there are guidelines. Regardless of the food’s price point, your dog should be getting all the nutrients it needs. And pass on the artificial ingredients and preservatives whenever possible.
Just like their humans, dogs can have major hormonal imbalances within their endocrine system. Endocrine issues can cause a wide variety of symptoms, but may include issues with the coat, which can become brittle and lose its sheen. In pets, the most common sort of imbalance is caused by hypothyroidism.
Regardless of the cause, most vets will prescribe, monitor and adjust medications to treat the imbalance. Often, these become lifetime necessities. Surgery may also an option, depending on the issue, but will be treated as a last resort.
Sometimes, scabs on dogs are due to environmental elements. In addition to abrasive circumstances, certain chemicals can cause problems. Many people may use these in their lawns or around the household, which can cause your dog problems in your yard.
Unfortunately, the only way to fix this one is to avoid the factor, once identified. Determining what the problem is requires careful notation of when the dog’s symptoms come and go, along with any location commonalities.
Skin Care Products
An often unexpected cause of scabs are the very skin and coat care products used, and intended for loving care! Some products may simply be too harsh, or may contain individually irritating ingredients.
The fix for this is simply to swap to gentler products, or even natural products if possible. Though, just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean that it will not cause a reaction. While this may not be feasible if your furry friend is battling something else, you can talk to your vet about supplementary care to prevent scabs on your dog.
Never use beauty products formulated for humans on your dog. Their coat requirements are different than those for human hair, particularly with regard to pH.
Immune disorders can show up when your dog is suffering from both auto- and immune-suppressing disorder varieties. In either case, the immune system is dysfunctional and may over react to irritants. The scabs on your dog’s skin are merely a symptom of a larger problem.
Depending on the immune system status, a variety of other symptoms can turn up, ranging from minor itching to diarrhea. These must be taken seriously by a veterinarian or the complications may kill your beloved pet.
The best thing you can do for your dog is see the vet and get a diagnosis. This process will then yield a treatment plan, so the symptoms do not get out of control. Your vet will also do ongoing monitoring.
Stress can affect your furry best friend at any point in his or her life. The causes can range from missing their person during the day to exposure to overwhelming stimuli. This stress can cause your dog to lick and bite their skin, which although detrimental, serves as a coping mechanism.
There are a variety of accompanying symptoms, from hot spots to house wetting, to indicate your dog may be stressed. Often, there are natural solutions which can be tried. Things like compression shirts and calming drops can help your dog manage their stress. Folks with very high strung, nervous animals have had excellent results with the AKC Calming Coat (Check price on Amazon).
The first treatment step is isolating why the dog is stressed. Then, the stressor either needs to be removed, or the dog needs to go through a desensitization routine. In rare cases, your vet may prescribe medication to help.
The scabs you see may be a result of habit rather than an indication of a medical condition. Dogs form habits and compulsions just like people do, and they’re hard to break.
The best way to help your dog in these situations is to provide them with a non-harmful alternative when you notice the behavior. Toys, walks, and other forms of human interaction are great substitutes since your dog wants to be with you anyway. You can also go to a professional dog behavior modification office.
Boredom can occur to dogs of any age, and it’s not simply because you crate your dog while you’re at work. Rather, boredom tends to stem from insufficient intellectual stimulation. Your dog may simply be trying to amuse him or herself and breaking the skin in the process. This may go hand-in-hand with habits mentioned above.
Boredom for dogs comes in many forms, so chances are observe multiple behaviors. These can include barking, chewing furniture, and stealing shoes, as well as the grooming behaviors that break skin.
Boredom for dogs is relatively easy to address. Regular exercise, challenging toys, and even brief obedience training sessions are great options, as is doggie daycare.
Dog Skin Conditions
Dog skin is more sensitive than human skin due to the number of layers. Consequently, skin conditions can get out of hand fast. Additionally, many chronic skin conditions for dogs can be easily aggravated by their environment.
Diagnosing your dog’s skin condition can be an involved process. Dogs with chronic scabs may have a multitude of specific conditions, which may require a vet to diagnose. For example, pemphigus foliaceus is the most common skin disorder for dogs, but each dog is unique.
Generally, keeping your dog clean and on any prescribed medication helps clear the skin disorder and the scabs. Ongoing management is essential for your dog’s comfort.
Diagnostic Options for Scabs on Dogs
Your local vet has many options for helping your furry friend. First, the vet needs to know precisely what they’re treating, though. There are a bevy of tests available, and your vet will choose those that best match your pet’s described symptoms. If necessary, keep a diary of what your pet does before your appointment.
The physical exam is a starting point for any vet visit. Your vet will check any lesions or scabs, as well as the surrounding areas. In some cases, they can diagnose external parasites during this exam. Most often though, the exam leads to additional testing.
Skin scrapings do not break your dog’s skin. Instead, your vet takes a sample from the surface, which includes dead cells. Then, the sample is examined under a microscope for evidence of external parasites. If there is anything else odd, your vet will note it. This is common for fungal issues.
Fungal and Bacterial Cultures
Culturing a sample of your dog’s skin allows your vet to understand what strain of fungus or bacteria is out of control. A small sample is collected from a wound and then set aside in a growth medium for a few days. While it’s not the fastest test, your vet can then target the specific strain for more effective treatment.
A skin cytology is a more in-depth analysis of what’s living on your dog’s skin. Your vet collects a sample of using clear tape near one of your dog’s scabs and then examines it closely to determine what is living on his or her skin specifically. Skin cytology is useful when there is more than one issue causing your dog to develop scabs. Your vet should be able to treat both reasons at once.
Allergy testing works for dogs with scabs the same way it works for humans. There are blood-based options, but they’re not as accurate as a skin test. During a skin test, your veterinary specialist will inject small amounts of various irritants under your dog’s skin to see what reacts.
Allergy testing is not perfect – false positives and negatives are common. It helps if you can provide observations to the vet, to help narrow down potential allergens.
If food is suspected, your vet may prescribe a low allergen diet. If symptoms clear up on the diet, a food or food ingredient may be the cause. Your vet will work with you to determine what dietary changes are required to prevent recurrence.
Regardless of which allergy testing reveals, managing dog allergies typically involves avoidance or desensitization. There are a number of companies that produce injections you can administer to your dog on a schedule to help them if desensitization is the best solution.
Skin biopsies are typically a vet’s last resort when other tests fail. They may also be done if the lesions are abnormal, though. During this process, your dog is mildly sedated, and a piece of the lesion is removed for analysis. The results of this test tend to be definitive.
Preventing excessive scabs on dogs is simply good practice. Unless your vet offers specific instructions for your case, you can follow these general guidelines.
Ensure your dog receives regular grooming. While dogs rarely appreciate bath time, it’s an opportunity to remove all the irritants from their bodies. Additionally, you get a chance to inspect for any problems as you wash with dog-friendly products.
Maintaining nails at a certain length will also help your best friend. The nails will stay healthier, which in turn means they won’t splinter or get overly jagged. This care lessens the chances of unintended scratching and skin breakage.
At the first sign of unusual scabs, be prepared to identify a cause and possible treatment. Typically, warm water, a little ointment, and time clear these, unless your dog has one of the conditions mentioned above. Make sure to irrigate the scab at least once a day to prevent further infection.
Scabs on dogs can be disconcerting at first, especially if it’s never happened to your dog before. However, understanding the potential causes will help you manage your dog. As always, don’t hesitate to bring the scabs up with your vet. They will be happy to discuss both diagnosis and treatment options. After all, your dog is your furry best friend, and they deserve to be comfortable.
This article is not a substitute for a licensed veterinarian. Please consult your vet regarding persistent symptoms.