Patty Khuly on pets: Diet could be key to pet’s infected skin folds, but check with vet first

Q: Our bulldog mix is having lots of problems with all the deep skin folds she has in her face and near her tail. They get red, infected and gooey. I have to clean them every single day. Should I change her food?

A: Yuck. And I say that in the nicest of ways (I’ve lived with and loved my share of skin-challenged bulldogs). Here’s the scoop on this common condition:

Skin fold dermatitis is a dermatologic problem specific to dogs (and sometimes cats) whose conformation allows for infection-prone folds in the skin. These “wrinkles” are most common in breeds with pronounced facial, tail and vulvar folds, in particular, though any deep skin fold anywhere in the body can lead to skin fold dermatitis.

The folds allow for abnormal rubbing and retaining moisture in an area that’s both warm and airless, which is why these areas are ideal for the overgrowth of normal skin inhabitants like yeast and bacteria. The resulting skin inflammation, called dermatitis, typically leads to a skin infection, called pyoderma.

Though not a genetic disease, per se, some dog and cat breeds are more likely to have folds because of their shape. Obesity will exacerbate the condition, as will any underlying skin disease (such as allergic skin disease, which is common in bulldogs).

Skin fold dermatitis is easily identified as typically hairless, reddened and smelly skin fold interiors. In the case of deep facial folds, facial staining with the porphyrin pigments found in tears will make these folds look even more pronounced.

Tail fold dermatitis (typical to dogs with corkscrew tails), when especially severe, can lead to deep fistulas that can even enter the body cavity and lead to deadly systemic infections.

Vulvar tail fold dermatitis is an equally insidious and often overlooked condition common to breeds that suffer deeply recessed vulvas. Urinary tract infection as the result of bacterial infections in this area is a particularly nasty complication.

But here’s the thing you really want to know: Treatment for all versions of skin fold dermatitis requires cleaning of the affected areas and frequent use of topical or systemic antibiotics or even corticosteroid drugs. In severely affected patients, surgically removing the abnormal skin folds is recommended.

As to changing the food? It’s a great idea if your veterinarian suspects a food allergy. If so, be sure to try the therapeutic diet he or she recommends.

Otherwise, you might be wasting your money!

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is Send questions to