Do you think there’s a particular dog someone had in mind when the term “mangy mutt” was coined? Lassie? Nah, too windswept. Toto? Nah, too fluffy. Snoopy? He’d never put up with such disrespect. Actually, if I didn’t know better, I’d suspect the original poster pooch was our dear departed family Airedale. Like most members of his breed, Beethoven (named before the movie came out, thank you very much) was stately and majestic-looking much of his life. But when he was about 3 years old, he spent a long weekend at a local kennel — and a couple weeks later, he started looking like a gruesome moth-eaten carpet.
Our family vet diagnosed something called folliculitis, which she described as inflammation of the hair follicle. Follicles, as you may know, are tiny openings positioned along the skin’s outer layer. This makes them vulnerable to irritation caused by allergies, environmental agents, repeated chewing/scratching, and some pretty pesky microorganisms.
The vet told us that Beethoven’s irritated follicles were actually playing host to a bacterial skin infection. The condition, known as bacterial pyoderma, was probably picked up during his stay at the kennel. I made the mistake of looking up this official-sounding term, so I can tell you that the layman’s translation is “pus embedded in the skin.” Yeah, can’t really unsee that.
Further adding to the irritation extravaganza was Beethoven’s seasonal pollen allergy. This “triple threat” of allergies + irritation + bacterial overgrowth is apparently not uncommon with folliculitis. It can prompt a truly vicious cycle of pain, inflammation, itchiness, and patchy fur loss.
Regrettably, when it comes to canine folliculitis, other factors can contribute to flareups as well. Fungal organisms are one known culprit. Veterinary dermatologist Dr. Lowell Ackerman, author of Guide to Skin and Haircoat Problems in Dogs, notes that ringworm (dermatophytosis) is an especially common cause.
Additionally, an external parasite called demodex canis routinely lives in the hair follicles of many adult canines. According to veterinarian Dr. Richard Pitcairn, founder of the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy, the presence of this parasite often causes no symptoms whatsoever. That’s because the immune system of most adult dogs keeps the parasite population in check. But when a dog’s immune system is weakened or simply immature, folliculitis can definitely result from a demodex infestation. That’s why our dog Maizy’s coat was such a clumpy mess when we first adopted her. Having spent time in an abusive puppy mill, Maizy’s immune system had been compromised from constant neglect and poor diet.
Because folliculitis can be triggered in multiple ways, veterinary medicine uses multiple treatment methods to clear up symptoms. For example, the shelter vet treated Maizy’s demodex issue with orally administered milbemycin oxime (found in many heartworm preventives); and Dr. Ackerman notes that fungal infections can be treated with either oral or topical agents. Beethoven’s pyoderma was treated with a 10-day course of oral antibiotics. We were also given a special shampoo containing the ingredients ketoconazole and cholorhexadine. And according to Dr. Pitcairn, oral steroids are sometimes suggested for especially intense itching to help break the inflammation cycle.
While these vet-recommended remedies helped Beethoven and Maizy, they also had some decidedly unsavory side effects. I remember both pups experiencing digestive upset, loss of appetite, loose stools, and (in Beethoven’s case) an extremely weird fur discoloration that lasted for months. All this prompted me to research supportive natural remedies that can help address both symptoms and underlying causes of folliculitis. Here are some insights and options you may want to discuss with your vet.
Has your furry friend ever struggled with a bout of folliculitis? What worked? What didn’t? Share your personal insights!