When you decided to bring a dog into your family, you probably didn’t envisage dealing with scabs on her nipples. Or his nipples, for as it turns out, male dogs aren’t immune to the problem either! So, what’s it all about? The first thing to mention is that it’s generally no reason to panic. Allergies, infections, injuries, and lactation are all possible causes.
But if you’ve found some scabs on your dog’s nipples, you might want to know a bit more: what the signs are, what causes them, and what you can do about it to help your doggo. If this is the case, read on!
What is a Scab?
A scab is a protective layer of clotted or crusted blood that forms when the skin is broken. Skin can be broken due to injury, self-trauma (scratching), or infection. Once the skin beneath the scab has healed, the scab usually drops off.
Canine Nipples – An Overview
As in people, the nipples or teats of a dog are part of the mammary system (“breast” tissue). In dogs, mammary tissue is arranged in two rows running side by side on the belly. The mammary tissue is surprisingly long, extending from the chest area right down to the groin. This is to accommodate a (potentially) large litter of puppies, ensuring there’s a teat and enough milk for each of them.
Both male and female dogs have 8–10 nipples, though there is some variation. It’s also not unusual for a dog to have an uneven number of nipples. So, don’t be alarmed if your male dog has 7 nipples!
How to Find Scabs on Your Dog’s Nipples
This part is pretty straightforward. It’s easiest done with your dog lying on its side or back. Identify the nipples, which are small raised soft protrusions from the belly, and run your fingers over them. If there is loose skin, crusts, scabs, or redness, there might be something that needs addressing.
This can be a bit of a challenge in very long-coated dogs such as the Siberian Husky, Saint Bernard, and Afghan Hound. Some dogs with long hair will still have sparse hair on their underside, but if there is lots of hair there, he or she may need to be shorn so you can get a decent look.
Why Do My Dog’s Nipples Have Scabs?
Below is a summary of the five main causes of scabs on dogs’ nipples:
Skin allergies are quite common in dogs. They can be caused by a few different things, including environmental pollens/grasses, fleas, and food. The allergy causes inflammation, and if your dog scratches the itchy inflamed skin on their belly, they can end up with scabs on the nipples.
There are two categories of infection that can cause scabs on nipples. The first is parasites such as mites—this may also be referred to as an “infestation”. The second is bacterial or fungal (yeast) infections. These are normally secondary to the skin allergies mentioned above. Once your dog scratches the belly and nipples enough, the skin surface is broken and bacteria find an environment in which to proliferate.
Trauma is a word you may hear vets use when referring to an injury. The most common type of trauma causing scabs on nipples is rough play with other dogs, however, burns or abrasions can also be the cause.
Of course, this only pertains to female dogs who have recently had a litter. It is possible to see some redness and scabs form on the nipples while feeding the puppies. Sometimes puppies can be a bit rough when they latch on to the teat, or sometimes one teat is favored more than the others, leading to overuse and irritation.
Mastitis is defined as inflammation of the mammary gland. Again, this one is only going to affect dogs who have recently given birth to a litter of pups and are in the process of lactating. The infection can be “ascending” (bacteria enter via the nipple) or “hematogenous” (spread to the mammary gland via the bloodstream). The mammary glands will be firm, hot and painful, and any milk expressed will be abnormal. Mastitis will require diagnosis and treatment by a veterinarian.
How Do I Care for a Dog with These Scabs?
1. See Your Veterinarian
If your dog seems to be in discomfort, if the scabs aren’t going away, or if you’re unsure what is causing them, it’s best to arrange a visit to your vet. They will be able to get to the bottom of the cause and recommend the appropriate treatment.
Depending on the cause, your vet may want to run some tests. These include skin sampling to look for infections or bugs, blood tests to rule out any internal problems, or milk sampling to rule out mastitis.
2. Medicated shampoo
For mild scabs that seem a bit red and are causing your dog to scratch, it can be worthwhile trying a medicated shampoo. Malaseb is our favorite one, though there are others available online or over the counter.
These shampoos typically contain an antifungal and antiseptic and are gentle on the skin. The shampoo doesn’t need to be applied to the whole body—in other words, your dog doesn’t need a bath. Just make up a lather, rub it onto the nipples, leave it on for 10 minutes, then rinse and dry thoroughly.
Dogs have surprising flexibility, and they are often able to lick at scabs on irritated nipples. This stops the skin from healing and can make the skin prone to infection. Unfortunately, the only practical way to stop them from doing this is to put on the “cone of shame” (also known as an Elizabethan collar or E-collar). We’ve included some comfortable cone options below:
Of course, a cone may be something recommended by your vet, too. Tip—never throw them away, as they often come in handy in the future!
If you’ve noticed scabs on your dog’s nipples, don’t panic. Infections, allergies, and trauma will all respond to fairly basic treatments, either at home or in conjunction with a vet. Mastitis after giving birth is a little more serious and certainly requires veterinary attention. And, remember, don’t be alarmed if you have a male dog find more nipples than you were expecting!
Featured Image Credit: srimapan, Shutterstock