Rashes on dog bellies may look alarming and uncomfortable, but they are quite common. These rashes can have a variety of causes, from a simple bacterial skin infection to a more serious underlying condition, such as Cushing’s disease.
If left untreated, your dog's rash could develop into an unpleasant skin infection that will require veterinary care and cause your dog discomfort.
Here is what you need to know about your dog's belly rash, including the causes, symptoms, and treatment options available.
What Causes Rashes in Dogs?
Your dog’s skin protects his body from the outside world, acting as a barrier between his internal organs and harmful organisms. We might think of skin as being tough and resistant, but it is actually very sensitive to changes in both your dog's body and the environment.
One of the ways the skin shows this sensitivity is through rashes.
There are several causes of rashes in dogs:
- Skin infections
- Inflammatory conditions
- Allergies (which many times are genetic)
- Hormonal imbalances and endocrine conditions
- Environmental causes (such as poison ivy or other plants)
Sometimes cuts can open the skin barrier to infections. Many of the causes of rashes in dogs are the result of bacterial, fungal, or yeast infections.
Bacterial skin infections are called pyoderma, which translates from Greek to “pus” and “skin.” Pyoderma typically causes lesions that look like pimples and can also cause crusty, dry, flaky skin. Hair loss and itchiness can also occur.
Your dog can get pyoderma as a result of trauma to the skin, like an abrasion or cut, excessive moisture, or as a secondary condition. Puppies are prone to puppy pyoderma in areas without a lot of hair, such as their underarms and groin. Hereditary factors can also play a role in skin infections for both puppies and adult dogs.
Fungal infections, such as yeast infections and ringworm, are also common. Yeast dermatitis is a skin condition caused by yeast infections. It is also known as Malassezia dermatitis and is caused by the fungus Malassezia pachydermatis. Symptoms of this condition include thickened skin; changes in skin pigmentation; a musty smell; itching; redness; scaling, crusty, flaky skin; and chronic ear infections.
Ringworm is characterized by circular lesions, which can appear red and scabbed. Hair loss is common, and while these rashes are usually not itchy, they can become inflamed, and the condition can be passed to people and other pets.
Allergies can also cause rashes on your dog’s belly. Environmental allergies, like contact dermatitis or reactions to something on the ground like fertilizer, cleaning products, poison ivy, or other irritants, flea allergy dermatitis, and food allergies, food sensitivities, and food intolerance can lead to itchy bumps and rashes. When your dog itches and scratches, he opens his skin up to infections, which can lead to a rash or complicate an existing rash.
Allergies can have a wide array of symptoms, from digestive upset to skin conditions such as itchiness, hair loss, redness, irritation, and chronic skin infections. Talk to your veterinarian if you suspect that your dog might have an allergy.
Pests and Parasites
Pests and parasites could also be the cause of your dog’s rash. Fleas, mites, and ticks can cause irritation, exposing your dog to bacteria, yeast, and fungal infections. Demodex mites, walking dandruff, flea allergy dermatitis, and sarcoptic mange (caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite) can all cause rashes on your dog's skin, including her belly and groin area.
Some dogs are more prone to rashes than others. Breeds that are predisposed to skin problems, such as Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherd Dogs, Labrador Retrievers, Bulldogs, Doberman Pinschers, and Standard Poodles, may be at an increased risk of developing rashes on their bellies and elsewhere.
Golden Retrievers, for instance, can get a rare condition called congenital ichthyosis, which causes scaling of the skin on the abdomen. Arctic breeds, for example the Samoyed, can develop zinc-responsive dermatosis, and Cocker Spaniels are prone to primary seborrhea (dandruff).
Hormonal Imbalances and Conditions (Endocrine Disorders)
Most concerning, however, is the possibility that your dog’s belly rash could be a sign of an underlying condition, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease. These diseases cause hormonal imbalances in your dog's body, and some of the first obvious symptoms are often skin conditions, such as thinning or loss of coat and changes to the quality of the skin.
You can help your veterinarian catch these diseases early by observing your dog for any changes in coat quality, drinking and urination habits, as well as rashes, hair loss, and dry skin.
Symptoms of Belly Rash
Rashes on your dog’s belly can present in a few ways. Perhaps the most common is pyoderma, which is characterized by pimple-like lesions; dry, scaly, crusty skin; hair loss; and itchiness.
Your dog’s skin may also appear red and inflamed, weepy, or scabbed. Yeast infections can result in a yeasty smell, and fungal infections like ringworm often have a distinct, circular pattern to the lesions.
Find out more about the causes of dry skin on dogs
Diagnosing Your Dog’s Belly Rash
The best way to determine the cause of your dog’s belly rash is to make an appointment with your veterinarian, who will perform some diagnostic tests based on your dog’s age, breed, overall health, and symptoms.
Veterinarians use skin samples, blood tests to detect underlying conditions, fungal cultures, antibiotic sensitivity tests, and in some cases, allergy testing to accurately diagnose skin conditions in dogs. Your veterinarian may refer you to a dermatologist for further testing and treatment.
Treating Belly Rashes
Once your veterinarian has diagnosed the cause of your dog’s belly rash, she will discuss your treatment options.
Bacterial skin infections are typically treated with a course of antibiotics. Your veterinarian may want to perform an additional test to determine the best type of antibiotic to treat your dog’s rash and avoid building up antibiotic resistance, and could prescribe you with medicated shampoos or scrubs to help manage the infection.
Yeast and other fungal infections are treated with antifungal medications and shampoos.
Allergies, depending on the cause, can be more difficult to treat, and may involve treating both the allergy and any secondary skin infections that developed.
Conditions such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, like allergies, require treatment of the condition itself and the skin rash. Your dog may require additional blood tests and follow-up monitoring.
In some cases, your dog's belly rash could be the result of a resistant infection, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). It is very important to follow your veterinarian's instructions about treating resistant infections, and you will need to be patient, as it may take time for the infection to heal.
Rashes on your dog's belly are not usually serious, but they do require medical attention. As a note of caution, some rashes can be transferred to people, like poison ivy or ringworm, so be careful to avoid touching the rash yourself, and make an appointment with your veterinarian today to get an accurate diagnosis for your dog's rash and to ensure that he stays happy, healthy, and active.