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Skin Fold Dermatitis in Dogs: Can Those Adorable Ruffles Cause Problems?

Posted December 21, 2014 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Your dog’s skin is not a sterile environment. In all fairness, that’s not because he’s a dog. Your skin is not sterile either. There are always infectious agents like bacteria, fungus and yeast in residence on skin surfaces. They just don’t always cause a problem. Most of the time organisms live on the skin without issue because the protective mechanisms that exist in skin keep them from causing actual infection. That is until something happens that compromises the system either by weakening the skin’s defenses or by strengthening the infectious agents’ offense. This can lead to skin fold dermatitis.

English bulldog puppiesWhat can cause skin fold dermatitis?
One of the conditions that can definitely swing that battle in favor of the infection is the presence of skin folds. Whether by intention (as in smoosh-faced or wrinkled breeds of dogs like Pugs, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs or Shar-peis) or by mistake (due to obesity or acts of nature), any time skin forms folds, ridges, mounds and valleys, there is an increased potential for inflammation and infection to occur. Inside the folds there is more warmth and more moisture. This is especially true in areas with a nearby, natural source of moisture like lip folds that are constantly bathed with saliva or facial folds that collect tears, or even the area around a female dogs vulva. But any fold or crevice in the skin is going to be moister than a flatter area that benefits from more abundant air circulation. In addition, when you fold the skin, the hairs on one side of the skin rub constantly on the opposite side and vice versa. This friction further traumatizes the skin and causes even more inflammation and moisture. When the normally dry, desert-like environment of the skin becomes more humid that predisposes it to the over-growth of the resident and transient bacteria or yeast1.

How do you know if a dog has skin fold dermatitis?
You might think that it would always be readily apparent if your dog had infection in his skin folds. But you would be surprised at how many people bring their dogs in with a complaint of an unpleasant odor that they can’t identify. Sometimes the inflammation in the skin folds is not that obvious, but a cotton swab wiped through the fold reveals the source of the odor. Other times, of course, it is very clear that the dog is in discomfort. Visible redness, discharge, licking, chewing, or scratching will indicate a problem.

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.