Abscesses in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

| Updated: May 19, 2023
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If you notice a painful swelling on your dog’s skin, it could be a sign of an abscess. An abscess is a collection of pus that forms under the skin due to an infection. Abscesses can occur anywhere on the body, but they are more common in areas where the skin is thin or easily injured, such as the face, neck, armpits, groin, and tail.

Abscesses can cause a lot of discomfort and complications for your dog if left untreated. This article will explain the most common causes of abscesses in dogs, how to recognize the symptoms, and what treatment options are available.

What are the most common causes of abscesses in dogs?

Abscesses are usually caused by bacteria that enter the skin through a wound or a foreign object. Some of the most common causes of abscesses in dogs are:

  • Bite wounds: When dogs fight or play with other animals, they may inflict bite wounds on each other. These wounds can introduce bacteria into the skin and cause an infection. Bite wounds are especially common on the face and neck of dogs.
  • Foreign material: Sometimes, dogs may ingest or inhale foreign material, such as grass seeds, sharp objects, or bones. These objects can get stuck in the mouth, throat, or lungs and cause inflammation and infection. They can also migrate through the body and create abscesses in different organs.
  • Licking: Dogs often lick their wounds or irritated areas to soothe themselves. However, this can also introduce bacteria into the skin and cause an infection. Licking can also prevent the wound from healing properly and create a moist environment for bacteria to grow.
  • Anal sacs: Anal sacs are two small glands located on either side of the anus. They secrete a smelly fluid that helps dogs mark their territory and communicate with other dogs. Sometimes, these glands can become blocked or infected and form an abscess. This can cause pain, itching, and foul odor around the anus.

What are the symptoms of abscesses in dogs?

The symptoms of abscesses in dogs may vary depending on the location and severity of the infection. Some of the common symptoms are:

  • Painful swelling: The most obvious sign of an abscess is a painful swelling on the skin. The swelling may be warm, red, and tender to the touch. It may also have a foul smell or discharge pus or blood.
  • Hair loss: The hair around the abscess site may fall out due to inflammation and infection. This can expose the skin and make it more prone to injury and infection.
  • Fever: An abscess can cause a fever in your dog as a result of the infection. A fever is a sign that your dog’s body is fighting off the bacteria. You may notice your dog being lethargic, shivering, or panting more than usual.
  • Loss of appetite: An abscess can also affect your dog’s appetite and digestion. Your dog may lose interest in food or have difficulty eating due to pain or nausea. This can lead to weight loss and dehydration.
  • Behavior changes: An abscess can also cause behavior changes in your dog due to pain and discomfort. Your dog may become more aggressive, irritable, or depressed. Your dog may also avoid being touched or groomed around the affected area.

How are abscesses in dogs diagnosed and treated?

If you suspect that your dog has an abscess, you should take him to the vet as soon as possible. Your vet will examine your dog and take a sample of the pus or fluid from the abscess site for testing. This will help identify the type of bacteria causing the infection and determine the best treatment option.

The treatment for abscesses in dogs usually involves:

  • Draining: The first step is to drain the pus from the abscess site. This will relieve the pressure and pain for your dog and allow the wound to heal faster. Your vet may use a needle or a scalpel to make a small incision on the skin and squeeze out the pus. Your vet may also flush the wound with saline or antiseptic solution to clean it.
  • Antibiotics: The second step is to prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing the infection. Your vet may give your dog oral or injectable antibiotics depending on the severity of the infection. You will need to follow your vet’s instructions carefully and give your dog the full course of antibiotics even if he seems better.
  • Pain relief: The third step is to provide pain relief for your dog. Your vet may give your dog anti-inflammatory drugs or analgesics to reduce inflammation and pain. You may also apply warm compresses or ice packs to the abscess site to soothe it.
  • Wound care: The fourth step is to take care of the wound after draining it. Your vet may apply a bandage or dressing to protect it from dirt and bacteria. You will need to change the bandage regularly and keep it clean and dry. You will also need to prevent your dog from licking or biting the wound using a cone or Elizabethan collar.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be required to remove foreign material or damaged tissue from the abscess site. This will help prevent further infection and complications. Your vet will advise you on whether surgery is necessary for your dog.

How can you prevent abscess development in dogs?

Abscesses in dogs can be prevented by taking some simple steps to keep your dog healthy and safe. Some of these steps are:

  • Vaccination: Make sure your dog is up-to-date on his vaccinations against common diseases that can cause infections, such as rabies, distemper, parvovirus, leptospirosis, etc.
  • Parasite control: Make sure your dog is free of parasites that can cause skin irritation and infection, such as fleas, ticks, mites, worms, etc.
  • Grooming: Keep your dog’s coat clean and well-groomed by brushing it regularly and trimming any mats or tangles that can trap dirt and bacteria.
  • Wound care: Treat any wounds or injuries on your dog’s skin promptly by cleaning them with mild soap and water and applying antiseptic cream or spray. If the wound is deep or bleeding heavily, take your dog to the vet for further treatment.
  • Supervision: Keep an eye on your dog when he is playing with other animals or exploring new areas. Prevent him from ingesting or inhaling foreign material that can cause abscesses.
  • Nutrition: Feed your dog a balanced diet that provides him with all the nutrients he needs for a strong immune system and healthy skin.

What dog breeds are most affected by abscesses?

Abscesses can affect any dog breed, but some breeds may be more prone to them than others. Some of the factors that may increase the risk of abscesses in dogs are:

  • Size: Larger dogs may be more likely to get into fights or accidents that can cause bite wounds or foreign material injuries. They may also have more skin folds or creases that can trap dirt and bacteria.
  • Coat: Dogs with long or thick coats may be more difficult to groom and keep clean. They may also have more hair around the ears, eyes, mouth, or anus that can interfere with drainage and healing.
  • Temperament: Dogs with aggressive or playful personalities may be more likely to engage in activities that can cause wounds or injuries, such as fighting, hunting, or digging. They may also be more resistant to being examined or treated by the vet or owner.
  • Health: Dogs with underlying health conditions that weaken their immune system or affect their skin, such as diabetes, allergies, or cancer, may be more susceptible to infections and abscesses.

Some of the dog breeds that may be more affected by abscesses are:

  • German Shepherd: German Shepherds are large dogs with thick coats that can make them prone to skin infections and abscesses. They are also active and loyal dogs that may get into fights or accidents while protecting their owners or territory.
  • Labrador Retriever: Labrador Retrievers are large dogs with dense coats that can trap dirt and bacteria. They are also friendly and energetic dogs that love to swim, fetch, and explore new places. These activities can expose them to foreign material or water-borne bacteria that can cause abscesses.
  • Cocker Spaniel: Cocker Spaniels are medium-sized dogs with long, curly coats requiring regular grooming and trimming. They also have floppy ears that can prevent air circulation and drainage. These factors can make them prone to ear infections and abscesses.
  • Poodle: Poodles are small to medium-sized dogs with curly and wooly coats that need frequent brushing and clipping. They also have hair around their eyes and mouth that can interfere with vision and hygiene. These factors can make them prone to eye infections and dental abscesses.
  • Bulldog: Bulldogs are medium-sized dogs with short, wrinkled coats that can harbor dirt and bacteria. They also have flat faces and short noses that can cause breathing difficulties and snoring. These factors can make them prone to respiratory infections and abscesses.

If you have a dog breed that is more affected by abscesses, you should pay extra attention to their skin health and hygiene. You should also consult your vet regularly for check-ups and preventive care.


Abscesses in dogs are painful infections that can cause serious complications if left untreated. They are usually caused by bacteria that enter the skin through a wound or a foreign object. If you notice any signs of an abscess on your dog’s skin, immediately take him to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.

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