Skin Fold Dermatitis in Dogs


Skin fold dermatitis in dogs is a skin infection often seen in dog breeds characterized by excessive skin folds. As much as dogs with excessive wrinkles are appealing, those wrinkles often come at a cost which can result in annoying health challenges and expensive veterinary bills. Skin fold dermatitis in dogs can also show up in dogs who are not equipped with wrinkles, but who have skin folds in certain body parts which makes them susceptible to infections. Skin fold dermatitis can affect the whole dog’s body or specific areas of the dog’s body where the skin folds.

Skin fold dermatitis in dogs

Skin Fold Dermatitis in Dogs 

Also known as intertrigo or skin fold pyoderma, skin fold dermatitis in dogs is the skin inflammation and infection associated with wrinkles and skin folds.

Dog breeds particularly predisposed to skin fold dermatitis as a result of wrinkles include Saint Bernards, pugs, Pekingese, bulldogs, boxers, Neapolitan mastiffs, Chinese shar-pei and basset hounds. Dogs of any breed may too be predisposed to skin fold dermatitis especially when they are obese.

The issue associated with wrinkles and skin folds is mainly triggered by the dog’s skin rubbing together and the fact that skin folds provide dark, warm areas that trap moisture.

Moisture found in between wrinkles and skin folds predisposes the dog’s skin to maceration, the softening and breaking down of skin occurring as a result of prolonged exposure to moisture. These predisposing factors promote the rapid growth of opportunistic bacteria and yeast which thrive in such moist habitats.

On top of this, several body parts where skin folds are found may secrete natural secretions which further encourage moisture and the associated yeast and bacterial growth.

Signs of Skin Fold Dermatitis in Dogs 

Skin fold dermatitis are classified as superficial pyodermas, meaning that they only affect the upper-most surface of the skin. This form of dermatitis may be widespread, affecting the whole body if the dog is covered in wrinkles, or may be only limited to certain body parts.

Skin fold dermatitis in dogs will produce some distinctive signs that can be readily recognized by vets. Dog owners may not always recognize skin fold dermatitis in their dogs since the skin folds need to be retracted and examined carefully with scrutiny.

Typically, the moisture and associated bacterial or fungal growth will cause an offensive odor. The surface area of the affected skin will often appear reddened, moist and there may be presence of crusts. The affected skin is also often hairless due to the constant rubbing of the skin and its deterioration.

Several other skin conditions can sometimes be confused for skin fold dermatitis. Veterinarians suspecting skin fold dermatitis may therefore wish to rule out other potential skin problems,  before making a diagnosis and suggesting treatment.

Types of Skin Fold Dermatitis in Dogs

Skin wrinkles can cause lip fold dermatitis.

As mentioned, skin fold dermatitis may be a widespread condition affecting the entire dog’s body, but often the skin problem is localized to an exact body part. There are therefore several types of skin fold dermatitis affecting dogs depending on where they are located. Following is a brief summary of types of skin fold dermatitis in dogs.

Body Fold Dermatitis in Dogs 

Body fold dermatitis affects the excessive skin folds found in leg and truncal areas of dogs. They are commonly found in Chinese shar-peis, basset hounds (legs), dachshunds (legs) and sometimes in obese dogs. Signs include reddened, sometimes, mildly itchy skin that has an unpleasant odor.

Facial Fold Dermatitis in Dogs

This form of dermatitis affects the skin found on the dog’s face. It is often seen in Pekingnese, pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers and boxers. Commonly affected areas include the nasal skin folds, skin folds of the scalp and skin folds found under the eyes. Generally, the affected skin is non-painful and not itchy, but the area may present an odor. Sometimes, concurrent eye disorders may be present.

Lip Fold Dermatitis in Dogs 

This form of dermatitis is seen in dogs with saggy folds of the skin nearby the lip area. Affected dogs include Saint Bernards, bulldogs, bloodhounds, cocker spaniels, springer spaniels and Neapolitan mastiffs. Signs include an unpleasant odor due to saliva and food debris accumulating within the skin folds, and damp, red and irritated lip skin folds.

Affected dogs may also exhibit changes in the color of their fur, which in light-colored dogs may assume a reddish, brown tint from the saliva and proliferation of yeast or bacteria. Some dogs may be seen scratching their lip folds and then proceed to smell and/or lick their foot afterward.

Tail Fold Dermatitis

The folds of the skin under a dog’s tail presents as macerated, reddened and with an unpleasant odor. This type of skin fold dermatitis is common in the tail folds found in dog breeds with curly tails. Commonly affected breeds include bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs.

Vulvar Fold Dermatitis 

This is a form of dermatitis affecting the skin folds located in the vulvar area of female dogs. Most affected female dogs are elderly, obese and with small, recessed vulvas (buried in a fold of extra skin) which promote the accumulation of urine and vaginal secretions. Licking of the area further predisposes to this form of dermatitis.

Signs include brown discoloration in the fur around the vulva, reddened skin that is macerated and malodourous, licking and scooting.  Sometimes, a secondary urinary tract infection may be present, which is why it’s a good idea to have a dog’s urine sample checked. Vulvar fold dermatitis should not be confused with urine scald and primary vaginitis.

At the Vet’s Office 

The vet will assess the dog’s history, clinical signs and will physically examine the dog, carefully observing the skin in between the skin folds. Next, a sample of the discharge may be taken so to rule out other skin conditions. With skin fold dermatitis, the vet will usually find the presence of bacteria and/or yeast by looking at the sample under a microscope.

Treatment varies based on the vet’s findings. Dogs with vulvar skin fold dermatitis that are obese may undergo a weight reduction program.

The vet may prescribe topical application of antibacterial shampoo containing chlorhexidine. benzoyl peroxide or ethyl lactate for dogs with full body fold dermatitis.  Antibiotic creams, solutions or sprays may also be prescribed to treat localized problem areas.

Special medicated wipes (like Malaseb wipes) may be suggested to use to clean the facial skin folds in wrinkly dogs. The use of these products is often needed for long-term maintenance. Severe cases may require antibiotics or antifungal medications given by mouth.

Of significant importance is to keep the affected lesions dry and clean. Clipping the hair may help increase airflow. Permanent treatment for chronic cases entails surgical removal of excess skin folds. These procedures may be carried out be board-certified veterinary surgeons.  The goal is to stretch the fold so that it no longer exists. Tails may be amputated to eliminate the rubbing of tail folds.

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