Skin Lesions in Dogs

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Key takeaways

A skin lesion is any area of skin that is abnormally different from the tissue surrounding it.

  • Sores, blisters, tumors, rashes, skin ulcers, warts, and any other change to normal skin can be referred to as a skin lesion
  • Skin lesions are common on dogs, with different types being more or less likely depending on the dog’s age, breed, and environment
  • A wide variety of medical conditions are associated with skin lesions; injuries, allergies, infections, parasites, immune-mediated disorders, endocrine diseases, hereditary disorders, and tumors are the most common
  • Skin scraping, cytology, culture, biopsy, and bloodwork are useful diagnostic tests for determining why a skin lesion has developed
  • Treatment depends on the underlying cause and may include parasite control, surgical removal, oral medications, and special shampoos
  • Some skin lesions are minor and go away on their own, while some indicate aggressive, incurable disease
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A closer look: Skin Lesions in Dogs


The character of different skin lesions in dogs varies widely according to:

  • Color
  • Texture
  • Depth/elevation
  • Size
  • Consistency (soft, hard, fluid-filled)
  • Dry or wet/draining
  • Focal or widespread
  • Single or multiple
  • Severe or mild
  • Progression (growing, spreading, getting worse vs. staying the same or shrinking and improving)
  • Involvement of hair follicles/nails
  • Itchy or not

Further, specific types of lesions have their own names based on detailed characterization. Some examples include:

  • Blisters
  • Macules
  • Nodules
  • Papules
  • Pustules
  • Rashes
  • Wheals/hives
  • Crusts
  • Scales
  • Scars
  • Ulcers
  • Patches of hair loss

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Possible causes


There are several possible causes of skin lesions in dogs, including injuries, allergies, infections, parasites, immune mediated disorders, endocrine diseases, hereditary disorders, and cancer.

Risk factors


Skin lesions are very common and all dogs are likely to experience them over the course of their lives. Some types of skin lesions may be more or less likely depending on age, breed, and environment. For example, skin lesions in older dogs are more likely to be cancer compared to younger counterparts.

While many skin lesions are not serious, they warrant veterinary attention for appropriate diagnostic testing and treatment.

Skin lesions themselves do not usually present an emergency, but they may occur with other symptoms that do. Pale gums, weakness, collapse, severe bleeding, and labored breathing are examples of emergency symptoms that always require urgent veterinary care.

Some skin lesions are multifactorial. Hot spots, for example, may result from allergic skin disease combined with a bacterial infection. Skin conditions affecting the footpads, claws, and genitals may be easily overlooked.

Testing and diagnosis


Diagnosis and treatment of different skin lesions varies depending on the appearance of the skin lesion at presentation.

Testing is usually not necessary for skin lesions resulting from injuries like bruises, scrapes, or burns.

Testing for other types of skin lesions depends on their appearance and the suspected underlying cause. Common tests include:

  • Skin scrape
  • Bacterial or fungal culture
  • Examination of cells from the skin under a microscope (cytology)
  • Biopsy
  • Blood work

Treatment varies depending on the underlying condition and may include:

  • Benign neglect
  • Environmental modification
  • Wound care
  • Medicated shampoos
  • Parasite control
  • Allergy medication
  • Antibiotics/antifungals
  • Immunosuppressants
  • Surgical removal
  • Chemotherapy/radiation

Not all skin lesions can be treated or cured.

Similar symptoms


Nipples and ticks may be confused for skin lesions.

Associated symptoms


Many skin lesions appear without other symptoms.

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