Bacterial Infections in Dogs

Posted by Jackie Ly on

dog that looks sick, held by a nurse

Dogs are vulnerable to bacteria infections, especially when they spend a lot of time playing outside. Most bacterial infections clear up with the right antibiotics, anti-inflammatory meds, and even with good shampoo, while some are more serious than others and need immediate treatment. 

As a dog parent, you want to keep your pooch clean, healthy, and away from harm. And if ever they get infected, you want to know the right things to do. Here are the signs, causes, prevention and treatment of bacterial infections. 

Causes of bacterial infections

Infections in dogs can be caused by a variety of germs including bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, etc. When they play outdoors and get scratched or wounded, they are susceptible to bacteria that comes from their environment, or those that normally live on their skin and coat.

Underlying allergy diseases and chronic skin conditions can also cause bacterial infections.

A weakened immune system is another factor. Poor diet, aging, allergies, lack of exercise and training, stress, and other illnesses can all leave your dog vulnerable to bacterial infection.

Symptoms of bacterial infections

Symptoms vary depending on the infection. But some of the most common signs you can observe are:

  • Topical signs on the skin and coat
    • Thickened skin
    • Crusts
    • Hair loss
    • Redness
    • Itching
    • A fishy, foul odor
  • Listlessness/lethargy
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Reluctance to move
  • Fast breathing

To further recognize the signs, here are different types of bacterial infection and how they show up on your dog.

Types of bacterial infection


Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can affect both humans and animals. It is caused by long, spiral bacteria called leptospira that are often present in contaminated water. 

Dogs can get this infection from stagnant water, coming in contact with urine from rodents and other animals that are infected with this bacteria, or through bites from mating with other infected dogs.

Leptospirosis is highly contagious– it can be passed from other animals and people. Some dogs do not show any obvious signs of being unwell, with the bacteria being fought off unnoticed inside the body, whilst others are severely impaired. 

If you see symptoms, it means your dog’s immune system isn’t strong enough to fight. Get help from your vet fast. If the infection is left untreated, leptospirosis can affect your dog’s entire body and lead to severe kidney and liver problems, and other health issues.

Symptoms of leptospirosis may include:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Aches/pains
  • Lethargic behavior and/or muscle soreness
  • Change in attitude
  • Excessive urinary behaviors and water drinking
  • Diarrhea
  • Nasal issues (swelling, discharge, etc.)
  • Decreased appetite
  • Coughing that appears out of nowhere

Kennel cough

Kennel cough is a common condition that affects a dog's respiratory system. It’s a highly contagious infection, and it got its name from how it’s spread– through coughing and sneezing.

This is often contracted often within groups of dogs in kennels or animal shelters, but also from any infected dog close by or at home.

While kennel cough is easily transmitted, it can also be treated easily and often clears up on its own.  However, it can be more severe in puppies under six months old, dogs with underlying health conditions, and older dogs with a weakened immune system.

The primary symptom is true to its name– a noticeable, dry, hacking (or honking) cough in dogs.

Skin infections 

Staphylococci are normally found on the skin of dogs. However, subspecies of this bacteria can lead to bacterial dermatitis. It also can affect your dog's upper respiratory tract or its skin.

This bacteria usually lurks inside open wounds or mucous membranes, and can be transmitted by other animals or humans. 

Skin infections are usually easy to spot as they show visible symptoms. Hair loss, patchy hair loss, itching, rashes, scabs or crusting on the skin can all be signs of infection. You can also smell a distinctive, foul, musty odor caused by the overgrowth of yeast and bacteria on the skin.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease comes from borreliosis bacteria. The bacteria is carried around by ticks that surround your dog when playing in the fields, forests, or tall grass. The risk of being bitten by an infected tick also depends on geographic location– in northern latitudes, lyme disease is a commonly transmitted dog disease caused by ticks. 

Compared with other bacterial diseases, Lyme disease is hard to diagnose, and can often show up on your dog’s immune system several weeks after the transmission, which can cause ongoing health problems. Another issue is that the symptoms are broad and unspecific– they include, for example, fever, fatigue and loss of appetite.

Later on in the disease, dogs often experience listlessness caused by inflamed joints. Others go on to develop kidney problems – sometimes indicated by vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, weight loss, increased thirst and urination, and an abnormal build-up of fluid.

Ear infections

Dogs frequently experience ear infections, which can be brought on by a variety of things including allergies, yeast, ear mites, germs, deep-growing hairs in the ear canal, and more. 

It's quite likely that allergies are to blame for your dog's persistent ear infections, and the most likely allergens are maize, wheat, and soy in their food. Dogs with large, pendulous ears, however, are typically more prone to ear infections.

Symptoms your dog may have with an ear infection include:

  • Ear odor
  • Head trembling or tilting
  • Lack of balance
  • Active scratching
  • Unusual back-and-forth eye movements 
  • Red-ish ear canal
  • Swollen outer part of the ear
  • Brown, bloody, or yellowy discharge

How to treat bacterial infections in dogs

Consult your vet

The ONLY course for treatment is to confirm the infection, rule out other diseases, and start medications. Many bacterial infections in dogs are caused by an underlying health issue. This underlying condition is often not clear until your dog is seen by the veterinarian.

Your vet will conduct a complete physical exam alongside reviewing your pet’s medical history and asking you questions like when you started seeing the symptoms.

Once the infection is examined, the vet will prescribe the right medication (antibiotics, anti-inflammatory meds, etc). Strictly follow the vet’s instructions on the dosage and length of use. 

Preventing bacterial infections in dogs

Get them vaccinated

Some infections are too strong for your dog’s immune system, and the solution is vaccines. Vaccines are reliable, long-term solutions against disease. 

Today, vaccinations are available for a variety of canine viruses. Leptospirosis, kennel cough, distemper, parvovirus, parainfluenza virus, and a plethora of other diseases can all be prevented by vaccinations. And while there’s still a chance of your dog contracting that disease, vaccination helps them recover faster. 

Maintain good hygiene

Viruses are extremely contagious, especially when your dog comes into direct contact with infected animals or objects. The best way to prevent this from happening is practicing good hygiene.

  • Keep their environment clean. A clean area goes a long way to preventing the spread of bacteria. Wash your dog’s beddings regularly, clean their toys, and keep their space tidy. Maintain good hygiene from when they’re still a puppy to avoid infections as early as possible.
  • Use good shampoo. Keep their skin and hair clean with regular dog shampoos. Flea and tick shampoos are great for dogs who take frequent walks outside.. During skin issues, ask your vet about antibacterial shampoos designed specifically to treat bacterial skin infections in dogs. They have ingredients that help remove a lot of the skin's surface debris, and they have antibacterial substances that help remove bacteria on the skin.

Improve their immune system

You can strengthen your dog’s immune system to help your dog fight off infection. Examining their diet is the first step to take. Essential nutrients are necessary for your dog's immune system to stay robust. Give your dog a balanced diet; avoid giving them starchy junk. 

Making sure your dog has adequate water and sleep is another way to ensure their well being. Give them a good bed and always keep their water bowl filled with clean water.  Exercise is also one way to keep them healthy. Keep them engaged by taking walks, playing, and through mental simulation and training. These will keep them physically and mentally strong.

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