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German Shepherd Bacterial Skin Infection


Dermatitis or Hot Spots

While red spots and inflammation on German Shepherds' skin may also be caused by Skin Allergies (see 19), the more severe skin problems generally develop in the form of actual infections or hot spots. The fur recedes, swelling occurs and the dog starts to show signs of an infection - such as reduced appetite, lethargy, general malaise, and possibly even fever.

Bacterial Skin Infections come in many forms. Superficial Pyoderma, also known as hot spots, is the most common and the one your dog is most likely to experience. They are caused by the overgrowth of bacteria on the surface of the dog’s skin and are avoidable and very easily treatable if caught early.

Hot spots will most commonly occur on the legs, backside, flanks, and paws – the places where a dog can lick and bite most easily, which means your dog is of high risk to ingest the bacteria too which will lead to seemingly unrelated ailments. Severe hot spots can also appear on the neck, ears and head as well.

Who Gets Skin Infections

Dogs most commonly susceptible to hot spots include those with heavy coats, histories of infections and allergies, fleas, problems with their anal sacs, grooming issues and hair tangles. Keep in mind, however, that even a perfectly healthy short haired German Shepherd can get hot spots out of nowhere, so it is not a limited issue. Humidity and warmth can increase the risk of hot spots due to trapped moisture.

Warning Signs

There are usually no warning signs before the hot spots appear. They will show up one day and need to be treated immediately. A hot spot is usually indicated by circular patches where the hair is missing and the skin gets swollen, itchy, and exudes pus. Sometimes hair can mat over the lesion, obscuring the size and degree of the problem.

The dog will often lick the affected area and hence ingest the bacteria too, which makes the whole situation much worse. In addition, an affected dog may bite and scratch the area to the point of causing injury or even bleeding - and contracting the bacteria on the paws too.

Avoiding and Treating Skin Infections

To avoid Bacterial Skin Infections in future, target the cause of the problem and then treat it - or you will have recurrences. If it is a grooming issue, make sure you’re combing your German Shepherd - if needed, even twice a day. When you comb, use a suitable soft-ended rake, a 45 degree angle, and no pressure on the skin.

If your GSD has allergies, visit a vet and get treatment for the allergies first. This may often require flea and tick medication, a new diet, or treatment with antihistamines (read more under Skin Allergies, see 19). It should never require antibiotics - which generally don't work here anyway - they are inappropriate for both Skin Infections and Skin Allergies (see 19).

If the cause seems to be psychological (nervousness, separation anxiety, etc), you may need to get your German Shepherd more exercise and keep it busy so that it doesn’t get so bored as to cause these infections.

To treat an existing Skin Infection, several steps are needed to ensure success. First look for fleas, mites, or other external parasites, an insect sting or bite, or injury (skin wound, scrape, etc). Carefully wash away all foreign objects with this soothe cream conditioner. Afterwards apply a strong antiseptic spray to the infected area. When this has dried up (ca 20 seconds), apply Vet's Best Hot Spot Spray as the third step of treatment. Finally, where possible, you may want to hard-bandage the area of the Skin Infection if your German Shepherd does not leave the area alone to heal. Watch your dog closely to ensure it does not lick, chew, or scratch the infected area.

You may think that these three or four steps of treating the Skin Infection are "too much". However, experience shows that dog owners who do anything less or different, generally complain that they can't get rid of the Skin Infection, or that it is recurring. Conversely, the treatment outlined above works.

Note that an affected dog is usually highly agitated and will not leave the area alone. Some dogs will even growl or snap if the area is touched! So, be very careful with the infected area. Also, don't touch the infected area with your bare hands. Nonetheless wash your hands thoroughly after the treatment, and use an antiseptic lotion on your hands too.

Make sure that you never apply any ointment, lotion, powder, spray, etc close to the eyes, never in the ears, and never in the mouth or nose - unless it is specifically and clearly meant for this body opening!

If this happens nonetheless, rinse well under running water, and if serious visit a vet straight away.

Distract your dog as much as you can to stop it licking, chewing or scratching. Outdoor exercise is ideal, unless the sun is burning. Even without an acute skin infection, when the sun is burning, consider to apply a natural dog-suitable sun-block to your dog's lightly haired areas.

Don't let your German Shepherd swim anywhere for at least a week after the hot spot has disappeared completely. Don't bathe your GSD either during this time. A shower is good though because of the cleansing effect of running water and the soothe cream conditioner. Afterwards, again use the strong antiseptic wound spray and Vet's Best Hot Spot Spray. Where possible, hard-bandage the infected area, particularly during night-time.

During the day, ensure that your dog cannot lick, chew, or scratch the treated skin. If it does, you can alternate the above treatment with a flimsy coating of ClearSkin-E Cream to prevent itching (but then have at least 60 minutes between both treatments).

Some dogs have been known to self-initiate a hot spot out of boredom, pain from a previous injury, or stress-related psychological problems. Hence, consider all these factors as well.

Hot spots that are not treated promptly will often grow and make your dog very irritable and possibly sick. They can also lead to German Shepherd behavior problems. Therefore, immediate treatment as outlined above is advisable.

Note that chronic Skin Infections are often a reason for your vet to test for Hypothyroidism (see 17).

  25 Responses to “German Shepherd Bacterial Skin Infection”


    This explains my dog’s symptoms perfectly. Yet, after visiting three different vets now the problem still remains, in fact, seems worse than ever. I plan to visit a fouth vet next week, however, the feeling of helplessness that I have is becoming unbearable. I just wish I could make this poor dog better again.

    Robert Gray.


      After reading some of these posts, I thought I would share our trials with our dog. After endless research, countless visits to many different vets, and about a year dealing with constant hot spots forming, we found out our dog is allergic to wheat and grain. Wheat and grain is common in many dog treats. Once we changed our food and eliminated treats with wheat and grain, our dog has not had a hot spot in over 6 months. I hope this helps, it broke my heart for such a long time to see our dog suffer from these, but try different foods and/or diet. Best.


        Had you gone through systematically, you would have realized within a day or so that he has an allergy – which is entirely different from an infection. And the money for your “countless visits to many different vets” you could easily have saved (and saved your dog’s health) had you only studied our Periodicals – which are invaluable, yet FREE. Because you can’t measure value by price.


      Use all natural organic coconut oil – I rub it directly on the hot spots and they are cleared up within a few days. If this doesn’t work, use Apple Cider Vinegar, the undistilled “with the mother”. It will sting a little, but it will rapidly kill the bacterial infection.


    I feel the same way it makes me sad and aggravated thaht I can’t do anything about it I have tried a lot of thing but a few of those tips r new to me I’ll give it a try thanks


    All the above symptoms my dog is also suffering, Many potions, creams and shampoos have been tried to no avail, and it is so upsetting to see the animal suffer. I have now tried the above recommendations – and so far, so good!


    My dog also has the same issue. I have visited the vet multiple times and they just keep giving him antibiotics that have done nothing for him. I have a friend of mine that had a dog with the same issues and they tried a shampoo they got on petmed.com. malesab shampoo. you scrub that in there skin while giving them a bath and let it soak for about 15 mins. Im going to try that, she swears by it!! Ill let you all know how it goes.


      HOW MANY TIMES have I warned you – with clear comprehensible reasoning – NOT to take antibiotics! Threehundredtimes?

      anti – biotic
      Against Life!

      Accordingly, unless my dog (or I) was dying, I would NOT take antibiotics. There are always much more effective remedies available that have zero side effects.

      I choose those. You choose what you want. But don’t waste my time with your choice. ;-)


    My Jagermeister has sores on his belly and legs, they are red with a blackish crust on them. They don’t seem to itch him and his hair fell out around them. What could this be????

    Help disperate mom!!!!


    ya I feel really sorry for my dog as well going to try essential oils . we have had him to vet as well, ANTIBIOTIC DID NOT WORK!


    My GSD has hotspots on his backside. I’m going to try all the above. Would you suggest shaving his backside 1st or just use the medication above?


      I wouldn’t shave, no. If you spray the disinfectant at a shallow angle, it will penetrate through the hair onto the skin. If you think it doesn’t, you may want to gently rub a few times against then with the hair-growth to get it onto the skin.
      It may not be an infection, but an allergy?


    Oncein a while my german shepherd bites himself to much above his tail, hes gotten an inspections twice now I’ve taken him to the vet And all they do is cut his hair and give me some Ointment to put on his infection. What can be causing him to bite himself


    Mine has had many episodes of hot spots. After several vet visits and steroid treatments, they kept returning.
    i finally came to the conclusion that wearing a dog cone would keep her from licking and biting at these sites. Dogs wear these after getting fixed so they can’t get to stitches, etc.
    She did not like it, but she healed and now leaves her legs alone:).


      It helps to study the MyGermanShepherd Health Manual, it also explains why steroids one can give to their dog. :-(


    My little guy had this problem occur when I was out of the country and when I got home, I took him to the vet immediately and he was treated with antibiotics, and was doing great for about 7 months, until he started to get them again. This time I just treated it with Neosporen, antiseptic spray and tea tree oil to help the itch. After ripping it back open a few times, it started to heal over… 4 days later, with absolutely no other symptoms, we went to play fetch and he dropped to the ground convulsing and was gone in under a minute. I don’t know what possibly could have caused such a circumstance in an active dog, less than 5 years old, with not one other symptom and no possibility to have consumed any form of poison…. Any suggestions would be comforting.


      I am very sorry to hear of your loss, Brian.

      “This time I just treated it with Neosporen, antiseptic spray and tea tree oil to help the itch.”
      Not quite, you treated it again with antibiotics, Neosporen is an antibiotic ointment. Nowhere on our entire site can you find a single suggestion to give antibiotics. This lack of such suggestion is for good reason, and explained in countless places. I cannot understand why people (and ordinary allopathic doctors) use antibiotics so frivolous, as blanket treatment for ANYthing! – Well, that’s wrong, I do understand the reason: Allopathic medicine has nothing else, only painkillers, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories (steroids and NSAIDS) – which only suppress symptoms, they do nothing to cure the cause! You may want to study our Periodical How to find the right veterinarian (or you may not want to) – it can’t help you with your grief, but it will certainly help you going forward.

      Note that Neosporen (even per its label!) must NOT be given in the mouth (and nose, and eyes, and ears) as this may have dramatic adverse effects. Possibly your dog found a way to lick off the Neosporen. Another possibility (much less likely) is an allergic reaction to the tea tree oil you administered. All possibilities aside, it sounds like your dog had an anaphylactic shock, so sudden was his death. This would likely (not certainly) have been caused by the antibiotics that destroyed his immune system – as they always do! (Linked is another Periodical to help you going forward)

      What did the vet say about the circumstances of death?? And based on what examination?


    Thanks for the support info. Bronx, 6/mth. yr old GSD, chewing legs and scratching different spots. Has 1st hot spot on top of butt, hair falling out, large scab but not biting at it. Put coconut oil on hot spot, gone in 3 applications. Tried 4 different foods and raw diet on whole chicken. Interesting note, on raw chicken, puked it all out for 2 days straight. Did tick & flea baths. Now, changing food to no grains and will try skin care as mentioned above. Will let you know how this goes. New frustration, trying to find a good food for GSD with no grains! Any thoughts?


      Ron, forget the “no grain” mar, domesticated dogs owe their very existence to having been fed grains for thousands of years. What you must not feed is the grain byproducts (husks etc) that now make up the “grain” part in commercial pet foods (which only exist since about the 1950s). They are as bad for your dog as they would be for you – all well explained by our top veterinarian nutritionist in the Dog Expert Interview Series.

      Thus, either feed only fresh homemade natural foods (like we do too), or if you must choose pet food that doesn’t come from rendering plants and that doesn’t follow fashions either – like “no grain” or “raw meat only” etc, that’s all a fashion, nothing of that bears scientific substance.

      Site members see comprehensively what I feed in My New Puppy Diary.


      I found a grain free salmon and pea at Walmart that seems to work well with my GSD and my lab. It’s Pure Balance brand. Not super expensive, and they seem to like it. It seems to have cut down on their skin issues a lot. Also make sure you are washing any bedding regularly as well as their bowls daily. All this has seemed to help. They still get it from time to time, but now I believe it’s mostly seasonal allergies.


        I disagree. As we’ve explained in countless places, ANY commercial dog food you can buy in Walmart & Co is UNhealthy, and WHY.
        Your currently chosen(!) brand may seem to be an improvement over your prior brand, but both/all will ultimately lead to more chronic health issues.
        No need to “believe” me, you too may learn that from the Top Dog Experts in the world. Right on our site.

        Personally, I’d never feed such rendering plant crap.


    My 3 yr old gsd birch has been to vets twice for this it’s still not clearing up he prescribed anti biotics they two didn’t help just gave her the runs the worst Ares affected is her back legs between her paws and elbow has gone bald and swollen up feels squidgy to the touch I have also noticed her heel pads are not black but wig white .


      Right above it says clearly: “It should never require antibiotics – which generally don’t work here anyway – they are inappropriate for both Skin Infections and Skin Allergies (see 19).”

      I will NEVER understand why people do what they learned doesn’t work. Had only you done what we teach your dog would be fine. Maybe you want to start right now. IF so, then this will help:

      1) Choose the right veterinarian – NO lab medicaments, NO blanket treatments (antibiotics, steroids, NSAIDs, vaccines)!
      2) Feed natural homemade foods – NO commercial crap from rendering plants!
      3) Come back, post a before and after photo, and say “Thank you!”

      (3 is irony, you won’t do it anyway ;-) )

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