Skin problems

Canine Abscess Types - Causes and Treatment

María Besteiros
By María Besteiros, Expert veterinary assistant and canine/feline hairdresser.. Updated: July 8, 2024
Canine Abscess Types - Causes and Treatment

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Abscesses in dogs are caused by the accumulation of pus in various tissues in a dog's body. They are often the result of infection, but they can also be caused by other inflammatory processes. While they often appear under the skin, they can create a fistula which extends to break through it. These are the ones we often notice because we observe the abscess externally. Internal abscesses are more difficult to detect, so we need to be vigilant in looking for other symptoms of canine abscesses. Since they are closely linked to infection, they need to be treated immediately. This can involve drainage of the fluid, but this treatment is not applicable to all types of abscess in dogs.

At AnimalWised, we look at canine abscess types. We see the causes, symptoms and treatment of each, as well as pictures to help you recognize them in your dog.

  1. What is a canine abscess?
  2. Symptoms of canine abscess
  3. Types of canine anscess
  4. Canine abscess treatment
  5. Video of canine abscess drainage

What is a canine abscess?

We have already mentioned that an abscess is an accumulation of pus in various tissues which is the result of infection or some other inflammatory process. They are usually a response to bacterial infections, although fungal and viral infections may result in an abscess development.

Other processes which are considered causes of canine abscess include the following:

  • Trauma: if the dog is hit or their skin is pierced, the body's immune response can respond by generating pus which develops into an abscess. This can occur without the introduction of bacteria.
  • Foreign body: if a foreign object is stuck in tissue, it can result in an inflammatory response leading to an abscess. Although this is most common with foreign bodies such as broken glass or splinters, it can also occur internally if the dog ingests something they shouldn't.
  • Sterile inflammation: in these cases, the dog's body creates an abscess as the immune system overreacts. This can be due to autoimmune diseases, but it sometimes has an idiopathic origin.
  • Injection site: this is a specific reaction to a form of trauma caused by injections. Inflammation is a relatively common reaction, but abscess development is not.

We can often observe an abscess due to a lump being generated under the skin. However, a lump doesn't always mean there is an abscess. Learn more with our article on the different types of lumps in dogs.

Symptoms of canine abscess

If a dog has an abscess, the main symptom is the buildup of pus. However, the location of an abscess can be almost anywhere on the dog's body, meaning not all will look the same. The underlying cause of a dog's abscess can also affect how it presents in the dog. Some of these causes will have concurrent symptoms which are not related to the abscess itself, but which can help a veterinarian achieve a diagnosis.

Generally speaking, the following are symptoms of an abscess in dogs:

  • Swelling or inflammation
  • Skin redness
  • Heat from abscess site
  • Pus discharge (if ruptured)
  • Pain
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Licking the site

These symptoms present when the dog has an abscess anywhere on their body, but they will depend on the extent of the buildup. In some cases, the abscess may be small and the symptoms will be localized. If the abscess is due to a more serious infection, the problem can be systemic. Left untreated, infections can also result in sepsis which will cause the dog to go into shock and can even be life threatening.

Now we know the general symptoms of canine abscess, we can look at the specific symptoms of the different types of abscesses in dogs.

Types of canine anscess

As we have stated, abscesses can appear almost anywhere on the body. However, these can be categorized into certain types of canine abscess, mainly depending on location:

  • Dental abscess: dog tooth abscesses are caused by an infections produced in the teeth and gums. This is especially common in the upper canines and premolars. Dog tooth abscesses are very painful. The pain can make them stop eating and produce fever. Sometimes pus may be visible. When the abscess is in the upper fourth premolar, there may be apparent inflammation under the eye. If the abscess grows larger, it may result in a ruptured abscess in dog’s face. For more, we recommend reading our article on why my dog won’t eat.
  • Skin abscess: when the skin is damaged by trauma, either trauma itself or a secondary bacterial infection can result in an abscess. In both cases, the dog's immune system is responding and sending white blood cells which produce put at the site. This pus builds up under the skin. These abscesses which create lumps in the dog's skin which are soft to the touch and painful. They can rupture, but it is also possible for an abscess in the tissue under the skin to occur and then fistulate out through the skin. Skin abscesses are the most common type of canine abscess, but they can range greatly in severity.
  • Perianal abscess in dogs: anal gland abscesses in dogs produce a painful inflammation, usually on one side of the anus. The skin around this area becomes red and bruised. If these anal abscesses rupture it will result in a perianal fistula, a channel through which it will drain. This perianal fistula will appear as a hole that will increase in size and release a bad smelling discharge. In addition, they may also be connected to the anal glands. For more, read about all you need to know about a dog’s anal glands.
  • Aural abscess: technically a type of skin abscess, these abscesses occur on the external pinnae of the ears. They are relatively common in dogs because canines are susceptible to various ear problems, often due to the proliferation of mites or fungi. The dog then scratches the ears, creates a wound and then an abscess develops.
  • Internal abscess: although not as common as external skin abscesses, these abscesses can occur for various reasons on the internal tissue. This can occur almost anywhere, but they are particularly problematic if they develop on vital organs such the heart, lungs or brain. They are usually due to infections. Although they common, they are very serious and need immediate attention.
  • Retrobulbar abscess: this abscess occurs behind the eyeball and can cause the protrusion of the eyeball.

If you notice a lump on your dog we recommend going to the veterinarian as soon as possible, diagnosis is necessary in order to treat the case accordingly. You may also want to learn more about skin tumors on dogs, which are often mistaken for abscesses.

The picture below shows a skin abscess which has not yet ruptured:

Canine Abscess Types - Causes and Treatment - Types of canine anscess

Canine abscess treatment

The treatment of the abscess will depend on the cause, but all treatments have the same end goal. This is to remove the buildup of fluid and to stop the inflammatory process. We look at the different types of canine abscess and provide the possible treatment options:

  • Dental abscess: in this case, the dog will need attention from a veterinarian qualified in canine dentistry. The tooth may be given a root canal treatment to drain the pus, remove the pulp and fix up the tooth. However, this is less common and it is more likely the veterinarian will simply extract tooth to drain the pus. Antibiotics will usually be required to kill bacteria and prevent further infection.
  • Skin abscesses: in these cases, the severity of the abscess will determine treatment. If a dog has a small abscess that has ruptured, we should clean the wound regularly and let it drain on its own. For larger abscesses, we will need to go to a veterinarian. They may be able to drain the fluid if it has not ruptured, often flushing it with saline (see picture below). They may need to debride the wound by removing any necrotic tissue and clean it afterwards with antibacterial products. Antibiotics will be given for serious infections and the wound may need to be bandaged and cleaned regularly.
  • Perianal abscess in dogs: treatment will be the same as for other skin abscesses. However, the anal gland will also need to be expressed. This may need to happen regularly if the problem is chronic, something which happens more often in older or immunosuppressed dogs.
  • Aural abscess: same as other skin abscesses, but the ear may need extra cleaning and antibiotics may be given in ear-dropper form.
  • Internal abscess: treatment for this type of abscess is complicated. It will require careful imaging of the problem, usually via x-rays and/or ultrasound. In some cases, antibiotic treatment may be enough. In others, surgical intervention may be required for drainage, debridement and tissue repair.
  • Retrobulbar abscess: careful drainage of the pus and antibiotic treatment will be required. This can be a difficult procedure due to the sensitive location.

Unless it is a minor skin abscess such as occurs from bacterial folliculitis due to an ingrown hair, you should take the dog to a veterinarian. In some cases of bacterial folliculitis, bacterial infection can cause serious abscesses which can even lead to sepsis. The veterinarian will need to examine the dog carefully to determine the cause and administer the correct treatment[1].

If the abscess is caused by a foreign body, this will need to be extracted by a professional. This is because the removal could damage healthy tissue if not carried out correctly. It can also put the dog at risk of further infection. Never try to drain the abscess yourself. It can cause serious harm, especially if there is a lack of hygiene.

Canine Abscess Types - Causes and Treatment - Canine abscess treatment

Video of canine abscess drainage

In the following video you will see how a veterinarian drains a dog abscess. If your dog is suffering from an open abscess and you try to drain it yourself at home, consequences may be severe. The infection could worsen and develop a secondary infection due to the presence of opportunistic bacteria, such as Staphylococcus pseudintermedius.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Canine Abscess Types - Causes and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Skin problems category.


1. Hillier, A., Lloyd, D. H., Weese, J. S., Blondeau, J. M., Boothe, D., Breitschwerdt, E., Guardabassi, L., Papich, M. G., Rankin, S., Turnidge, J. D., & Sykes, J. E. (2014). Guidelines for the diagnosis and antimicrobial therapy of canine superficial bacterial folliculitis (Antimicrobial Guidelines Working Group of the International Society for Companion Animal Infectious Diseases). Veterinary dermatology, 25(3), 163–e43.

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Canine Abscess Types - Causes and Treatment