Understanding Pyoderma in German Shepherd Dogs

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Is your German Shepherd constantly itching, developing scabs, or losing hair? Recurring skin problems are no fun for dogs or owners. Unfortunately, bacterial skin infections called pyoderma are common in this breed.

As a German Shepherd parent myself, I know how worrying and frustrating it can be to deal with this condition. Take heart – with the right treatment plan, pyoderma can be managed.

In this article, I’ll arm you with information to understand why your Shepherd is affected, how to get an accurate diagnosis, the latest treatment options available, tips to reduce future flare-ups, and realistic outlooks for long-term success.

Let’s team up to keep your dog’s skin healthy!

What is Pyoderma in Dogs?

Pyoderma refers to bacterial infections of the skin and can be superficial or deep. Superficial pyoderma affects only the upper layers of skin, while deep pyoderma extends into the lower layers including hair follicles.

Deep pyoderma is very common in German Shepherds and is typically caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus pseudintermedius. It often leads to a condition called furunculosis with painful nodules and draining lesions. German Shepherds seem predisposed to severe, recurrent bouts of deep pyoderma.

Signs of Pyoderma in German Shepherds

In the initial stages, German Shepherds with pyoderma may develop papules – small raised bumps on the skin that may be red, scaly, or filled with pus. Pustules are pus-filled blister-like lesions.

Collarettes occur when scales and crusts form around the borders of a skin lesion. These signs are usually localized at first. As the infection worsens, additional signs like patches of hair loss, flaky skin, and crusty sores start to appear.

As pyoderma advances to the deep form affecting the hair follicles, German Shepherds develop painful nodules in their skin which rupture and drain purulent material.

This nodular form is called furunculosis. The draining lesions and skin infection leads to a bloody and pus-laden discharge that mats the hair coat. Extensive crusting and scab formation develops as the exudate dries.

In long-standing cases, the thickened, hard skin and chronic non-healing sores can ulcerate. Skin ulcers are extremely painful. They appear as open wounds with a red, inflamed base and edges. In severe advanced cases, the skin may become diffusely thickened, hard, and elephant-like.

When the pyoderma is extensive or advancing rapidly, German Shepherds may act lethargic, depressed, and lose their appetite. Fever can occur as the body reacts to the widespread bacterial infection. Severe untreated pyoderma can progress to systemic illness.

While pyoderma usually starts with mild signs, it can quickly advance to include draining lesions, skin ulcers, and other severe manifestations especially in German Shepherds with an underlying predisposition. Prompt veterinary care is vital to treat pyoderma before permanent skin damage occurs.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause is unknown in many cases of German Shepherd pyoderma. However, some predisposing factors include:

  • Bacterial infection – Staphylococcus pseudintermedius is the main pathogen. Secondary invaders like E. coli can worsen it.
  • Allergies – Atopy, food allergies, and flea allergy dermatitis can increase susceptibility.
  • Endocrine disease – Hypothyroidism and Cushing’s (hyperadrenocorticism) may contribute.
  • Parasites – Demodex mites, fleas, and sarcoptic mange mites can initiate or complicate pyoderma.
  • Genetics – German Shepherds may have an inherited immunodeficiency making them prone to severe pyoderma.
  • Immune dysfunction – Affected dogs have been found to have reduced lymphocytes and other immune cell abnormalities.

Diagnosing Pyoderma in German Shepherds

Veterinarians use several diagnostic tests to confirm pyoderma and determine the underlying factors:

  • Physical exam – Inspecting skin lesions and assessing overall health.
  • Cytology – Microscopic examination of skin cells to detect bacteria and inflammation.
  • Skin scrapings – To check for mites like demodex.
  • Bacterial culture – Identifying the bacteria present and their antibiotic sensitivities.
  • Biopsy – For microscopic examination of skin architecture and cells.
  • Bloodwork – Complete blood count, biochemistry, and thyroid testing.
  • Allergy testing – Intradermal or serology testing once infection resolves.

Treating Pyoderma in German Shepherds

The treatment of pyoderma in German Shepherds focuses on eliminating the bacterial infection, controlling symptoms, and preventing recurrence. This multifaceted approach often includes:

  • Antibiotics – Broad spectrum antibiotics like amoxicillin or cephalexin are usually tried first, then targeted therapy based on bacterial culture and sensitivity results. Antibiotics are given orally and/or topically for extended periods of several months.
  • Medicated shampoos – Frequent bathing with medicated shampoos helps remove crusts, soothe inflammation, and fight infection. Common active ingredients include chlorhexidine, benzoyl peroxide, miconazole, and ethyl lactate.
  • Whirlpool baths – For dogs with extensive skin involvement, whirlpool baths allow deep cleansing. The skin is soaked in a dilute antiseptic solution to help disinfect lesions.
  • Antiparasitics – If demodex mites, fleas, or sarcoptic mange is present, targeted antiparasitic drugs like amitraz, ivermectin, or selamectin are essential.
  • Allergy treatment – Antihistamines and immunotherapy can help control pyoderma triggered by environmental or food allergies. Hypoallergenic diet trials may also be undertaken.
  • Hormone therapy – Hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease are often managed with thyroid or adrenal medications to normalize hormones.
  • Immunomodulators – Immunosuppressive drugs like cyclosporine may be used in difficult cases to alter the immune response.
  • Topical therapy – In addition to medicated shampoos, topicals like diluted chlorhexidine or silver sulfadiazine rinses help combat infection and promote healing. Cool saline compresses can provide soothing relief to inflamed, painful skin. Bandaging may help prevent self-trauma.

With long-term coordinated treatment, both systemically and topically, pyoderma in German Shepherds can often be controlled though recurrences are common. Close follow-up care is imperative.

Prognosis for German Shepherds with Pyoderma

The prognosis is quite variable depending on the individual case:

  • Mild superficial pyoderma often resolves readily with treatment.
  • Deep pyoderma is more challenging, requiring intensive long-term treatment.
  • If an underlying trigger like allergies is identified and controlled, prolonged remission is possible.
  • In many cases, pyoderma recurs frequently and requires lifelong management.
  • Severe, treatment-resistant infections may ultimately result in euthanasia.

With aggressive treatment of both pyoderma and any predisposing problems, the long-term outlook can be good. Close monitoring and owner compliance are imperative.

Prevention of Pyoderma in German Shepherds

Preventing pyoderma should be a priority for all German Shepherd owners and breeders. Some recommended prevention strategies include:

  • Select breeding stock wisely – Breed dogs from bloodlines free of chronic or recurrent pyoderma. Avoid breeding dogs with a history of skin infections. Genetics play a role in susceptibility.
  • Limit excessive bathing – While medicated baths help treat active pyoderma, overly-frequent bathing strips natural oils from the skin. Stick to a regular schedule of once every 3-4 weeks maximum, unless otherwise advised by your veterinarian.
  • Control parasites – Diligently using flea/tick and heartworm preventatives helps prevent skin irritation, self-trauma, and secondary infections from parasite bites. Also check for mites like demodex through regular skin scrapings.
  • Feed a high quality diet – Nutrition impacts skin health. Choose a premium dog food formulated for German Shepherds. Avoid corn, wheat, soy, and chicken which commonly trigger allergic reactions.
  • Supplement wisely – Daily antioxidants, fatty acids, vitamins E and C, zinc, and probiotics help support immune function and skin health. Consult your vet on appropriate supplements.
  • Practice good grooming habits – Regularly trim nails to prevent self-trauma. Clean ears weekly. Brush frequently to distribute oils and improve circulation.
  • Schedule annual checkups – Wellness exams allow for skin checks and identifying problems early before they escalate. Be vigilant for early pyoderma symptoms.

Following these guidelines helps minimize risks and instill good skin care habits. However, pyoderma can still occur despite best efforts. Early intervention greatly improves outcome.

Home Care for Dogs with Pyoderma

Caring for a German Shepherd with pyoderma at home involves:

  • Administering all medications as directed, especially antibiotics.
  • Bathing frequently (every 3-5 days initially) with a medicated shampoo.
  • Gently cleansing crusty areas to encourage healing. Avoid picking.
  • Applying prescribed topical products after bathing.
  • Preventing licking, scratching or rubbing to avoid worsening infection.
  • Using an Elizabethan collar if necessary to prevent self-trauma.
  • Disinfecting bedding and surfaces to prevent reinfection.

With treatment and diligent home care, pyoderma can often be managed successfully. But consult your vet promptly if symptoms worsen.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes pyoderma in German Shepherds?

The exact cause is often unknown. Staphylococcus bacteria are usually the main culprit. Allergies, hormonal disorders, parasites, and inherited immune defects may increase susceptibility.

How is pyoderma diagnosed in German Shepherd dogs?

Veterinarians diagnose it based on clinical signs, cytology, bacterial culture, skin scrapings, and biopsy. Bloodwork helps identify underlying problems.

Is pyoderma in German Shepherds contagious to other pets or people?

It can be contagious to other dogs, but unlikely to infect cats or people. Good hygiene when handling affected dogs is still advised.

What is the best treatment for recurrent pyoderma in German Shepherds?

Long-term oral and topical antibiotics based on culture results, treating any underlying trigger, antimicrobial shampoos, and keeping the dog’s immune system healthy.

How can I prevent my German Shepherd from getting pyoderma?

Select dogs from healthy lines, avoid excessive bathing, control parasites, feed a high-quality diet, give immune-supporting supplements, and schedule regular vet check-ups.


Pyoderma is a frustratingly common condition in German Shepherds that requires a multi-pronged approach. Identifying and controlling underlying factors like allergies or hypothyroidism is key, along with an intensive regimen of antibiotics and skin care.

With aggressive treatment of both the skin infection and any predisposing problems, many dogs can achieve prolonged remission. Close coordination with a veterinary dermatologist is advised for severe or recurrent cases.

While challenging, pyoderma in German Shepherds can often be well-managed with dedication from the owner.

By Andrew Garf

Andrew Garf has loved dogs, especially German Shepherds, since he was 10 years old. Though he also loves burgers, training dogs is his real passion. That's why he created the website TrainYourGSD.com - to help dog owners learn how to properly train, care for, and bond with their German Shepherd dogs.