Skin problems in brachycephalic dogs

Chronic skin irritation and infection can be common in some extreme brachycephalic dogs, specifically those with excessive wrinkling and skin folds, usually found on the muzzle (the nasal fold), but also around the tail and the vulva in female dogs, in association with screw-tails. Deep skin folds cause rubbing and retention of moisture, and may lead to overgrowth of bacteria and yeast. These organisms feed on the skin secretions trapped in the fold, creating a perfect breeding ground for infections. These organisms also produce substances that cause further irritation to the skin. Local infections in these folds are common if they are not regularly cleaned. Infections may be painful, particularly if the skin becomes ulcerated. Fluids such as tears and saliva can catch in facial folds adding to these problems, and urine may exacerbate problems in vulvar folds in female dogs. In addition to skin fold problems, some brachycephalic dogs are predisposed to allergic skin disease, which may cause chronic itchiness and make the skin more prone to infections.

What are the signs my dog may have skin problems?

Owners may first notice an unpleasant odour from their dog’s skin fold that indicate skin fold problems. As the skin folds may be deep, visual signs of infection and sore skin may be hidden away from view, without further inspection of the fold. On further inspection, owners may notice a pussy discharge, matting of the coat around the affected fold, inflammation (puffiness) and reddening of the skin. Affected dogs may be very sore and resistant to their owners touching the fold to examine the skin hidden from view, however, raw and reddened areas of skin are readily seen in some dogs. In long term cases, the skin may become thickened, and it may darken in colour. Affected dogs may show signs of pain and discomfort, including moving away or crying when the affected folds are touched. Affected areas may be itchy and dogs may scratch, and this may cause further damage to the skin.

What should I do if my dog shows signs of skin problems?

Owners of all brachycephalic dogs with skin folds should regularly monitor their dog’s folds and wrinkles to check for signs of infection and irritation detailed above. Owners should clean the dog’s wrinkles daily to remove dirt, debris, moisture and food particles. Owners should also try to keep their dog’s wrinkles dry after bathing but also drinking. If an infection is present you should take your dog to the vet for treatment. Your vet will examine your dog’s skin and collect a sample from the area to be tested for bacteria or fungi. Most cases will be treated with a topical antibiotic and/or antibiotic medications. For dogs that are affected by recurrent skin fold infections, vets may recommend surgical removal of the affected fold to avoid chronic pain and infection.

Who can I contact for further advice?

The Kennel Club is not a veterinary organisation and is unable to provide general or case specific veterinary advice.  If you have any questions regarding any of the issues discussed in this article then please contact your local veterinary practice for further information. 

This article was written by Dr Rowena Packer from the Royal Veterinary College who has given the Kennel Club kind permission to replicate this article.   Dr Rowena Packer is a Research Fellow at the Royal Veterinary College. Her research interests include many areas of canine inherited disease including brachycephalic health and canine epilepsy.

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