Whether you see them with your own eyes or feel them under your fingers during a bath, finding scabs on your dog can be concerning. Several dog skin conditions can be associated with scabs, and these conditions can range in severity from insignificant to problematic.
Learn more about the possible causes of scabs on dogs and how to work with your veterinarian to determine the source of common dog skin problems.
What is a Scab?
A scab is a protective coating that forms over damaged skin. Nearly anything that damages your dog’s skin or leads to a break in the skin’s surface can lead to scabs.
When your dog’s skin is damaged, platelets rush to the injured area. Platelets are specialized blood cells that constantly circulate in your dog’s blood. They come together at the site of injury, clumping together with other substances to create a protective bandage for your dog’s skin wound.
Once your dog’s skin wound has healed, the scab will typically fall off on its own.
Types of Scabs on Dogs
Dog scabs can take on a wide variety of appearances, depending on their cause and the affected area of skin. Learn more about some of the most common types below:
Crusty scabs on dogs often look less like individual wounds and more like a broad region of scabbiness. For example, your dog may have crusty scabs across his entire back. In general, crusty scabs are caused by an underlying skin condition or internal disorder such as:
- Bacterial infection
- Fungal infection
- Hormonal imbalances
Black scabs on dogs can occur, but it’s important to ensure that you genuinely see a scab and not some other skin lesion. Dogs with fleas often have small black specks (called flea dirt) in their coat and skin; these black specks are not scabs but flea feces and flea eggs. Smooth black lesions on a dog’s skin are often caused by hyperpigmentation, a harmless darkening of the skin that can occur after chronic inflammation.
Raised scabs can occur for various reasons, including parasites, allergies and infections. However, if you see a scab that is raised significantly compared to the surrounding skin, this could indicate that your dog has a skin mass that has become inflamed or infected.
Yellow scabs on dogs may indicate the presence of seborrhea. Dogs with seborrhea often have generalized skin disease, resulting in widespread yellow, flaking scabs. Other conditions can also cause yellow scabs.
Red scabs on dogs often indicate that there has been active bleeding at the site. This is more commonly seen with skin wounds, such as puncture wounds or abrasions.
Itchy scabs on dogs are relatively common. Many dog scabs are associated with allergies, parasites, or infections, and all of these conditions can cause itching.
While all of these scabs may have different appearances, all are types of scabs and indicators of skin damage.
Causes of Scabs on Dogs
Scabs can develop for many reasons and can form any time the skin is injured. If your dog is bit by an insect, a small scab may form at that site. It is not uncommon to see tick or flea bite scabs on dogs who spend a lot of time outdoors without appropriate parasite prevention.
If your dog runs through dense brush, they may develop scabs at areas where branches or thorns scrape their skin. A dogfight or scratches from a cat can cause scabs, as can self-trauma or excessive itching.
Widespread scabs are often caused by underlying allergies or a dog skin infection. Allergies to fleas, food proteins or environmental allergens (such as pollen) can lead to widespread skin inflammation. When the skin becomes inflamed and damaged, scabs often develop. Allergies also predispose dogs to develop skin infections, which also contribute to the formation of scabs.
Scabs can also occur in association with less common diseases. Skin cancer in dogs occasionally presents as a chronic, non-healing scab. Some autoimmune diseases (such as lupus and pemphigus) can also lead to the formation of scabs on the skin.
A veterinarian should address any non-healing scab because it may suggest a more serious medical concern.
Common Areas Where Dog Scabs Appear
Scabs can appear anywhere on the body, but certain areas are more likely to be affected. In some cases, the location of the scabs on your dog can provide clues about the cause of the scabs:
- Belly and back. Allergies often cause widespread scabs on a dog’s belly and back. Scabs associated with allergies are often accompanied by hair loss, itching and skin redness.
- Armpits and sides. Scabs caused by self-trauma (excessive itching) tend to form in the armpits and along the sides of the body, where the dog can vigorously scratch themselves with their hindlimbs.
- Ears. Scabs on dogs’ ears may suggest the presence of an ear infection. In some cases, itching in the ears is not caused by an infection and is also due to allergies.
- Nose. A scab on a dog’s nose can have several different causes. Some dogs rub their noses against their crate door, and this trauma can result in a scab. Dogs that like to dig and nose around in the dirt may develop ringworm on their nose, leading to a scab. Some canine autoimmune diseases can also cause scabs on a dog’s nose.
Treatment for Scabs on Dogs
If your dog has a single, small, isolated scab, it was likely caused by trauma. As long as it is not inflamed, swollen or causing your dog pain and it appears to be healing on its own, treatment is probably not necessary.
However, if the scab becomes inflamed or if your dog is licking it, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may recommend an Elizabethan collar or a dog cone alternative (to prevent licking), pain medications and antibiotics.
Widespread scabs should not be treated at home. If your dog has multiple scabs, this likely reflects an underlying skin disease and should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam and additional testing to determine the cause of your dog’s scabs. Then, your veterinarian can make appropriate treatment recommendations. Treatments may include antibiotics, oral allergy treatments and medicated shampoos.
How to Prevent Scabs on Dogs
There are two basic ways to prevent scabs on dogs: limit injuries and keep your dog’s skin healthy.
To reduce the risk of skin wounds, limit your dog’s time in risky outdoor areas. A fenced, well-kept, grassy backyard is unlikely to result in skin wounds, but dogs that run through woods and dense brush are at higher risk of skin injury. Minimize your dog’s exposure to biting insects by using a prescription parasite preventative.
Keeping your dog’s skin healthy looks slightly different for each dog. For most dogs, feeding a high-quality diet, ensuring that your dog is bathed every month or so and applying an effective parasite preventative are all that is needed to maintain healthy skin.
However, some dogs are a little more high-maintenance. If your dog has skin allergies, work with your veterinarian to determine the best skin health maintenance plan for your dog.