Folliculitis is a common infection that can affect the hair follicles—the part of the hair that resides below the skin and regulates hair growth—in both dogs and cats. Folliculitis usually occurs when a healthy hair follicle becomes compromised and is then attacked by bacteria.
While folliculitis is common, it is uncomfortable for your pet and, if left untreated, can result in deep skin infections, cellulitis, and scarring. In severe cases, the dermal infection can enter the bloodstream, resulting in further complications and possibly death.
Let’s look at a few simple ways to identify, diagnose, and treat folliculitis before it becomes a serious veterinary emergency.
Folliculitis in pets may have a range of potential causes, including bacterial infection, mites or other parasites, and even allergies. Unlike humans, pets express many allergic reactions via the skin. This widens the potential triggering effects to include skin manifestations of food or contact allergy (allergies can result from a variety of sources, including a change in diet, contact with certain plants, or a new detergent used to wash the animal’s bedding). Other causes may include fungal infections, hot spots on the skin, or irritations between the toes or skin folds.
Symptoms & Signs
Folliculitis in pets usually presents as swelling, redness, and irritation. You may notice your pet scratching itself more often and in a particular area. A brief visual inspection typically shows:
• Small reddish papules (swollen spots) on the skin
• Darkening of the skin (also called hyperpigmentation)
• Hair loss and crusting in the affected area
• Signs of superficial skin erosion
• Circular lesions (called draining tacts)
Your animal will also likely show behavioral signs of discomfort, such as over-grooming the area, or the inability to lie comfortably still for long periods. No breed bias is thus far evident in the occurrence of folliculitis.
If you suspect that your pet is suffering from folliculitis, make an appointment with your vet—they have the tests and equipment necessary to pinpoint a diagnosis. Typically, your vet will check for root causes, such as skin infection, and will perform a skin scrape check for the presence of parasites (like mites or ticks). Your vet may also perform a skin biopsy—removing a small skin sample and analyzing it for the presence of disease. Fungal cultures and blood work are also often used to hone a diagnosis of folliculitis and to rule out other potential causes.
Treatment of folliculitis in pets depends upon the root cause. Your vet has a variety of systemic and topical treatment options from which to choose, so a lot will depend on the particular nature of your pet’s illness. Some treatment options include:
• Topical creams or ointments to treat acutely affected areas
• Regular baths with a medicated (prescribed) shampoo
• Oral antibiotics (to treat systemic bacterial infection)
• Anti-fungal agents (if the root cause is a fungus)
These treatments are aimed at addressing the underlying cause of the illness. Some required treatments may be short term (like a course of antibiotics), while others may be long term (such as medicated baths, creams, or sprays to control outbreaks)
Vigilance is likely your best weapon in preventing folliculitis from developing into a serious illness. Here are a few things you can do:
• Keep up with regular grooming & bathing
• Inspect your pet for parasites
• Observe your pet’s behavior
• Address any hot spots on your pet’s skin promptly
Contact your vet if your pet seems to be in discomfort or showing signs of a skin infection.
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Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.