Treating a scab on a dog starts with figuring out what led to the injury, such as a scrape or fleas. From there, you typically should trim away extra hair from around the wound and wash the animal with a good pet shampoo. Put on a medicated spray or cream and follow up with cool compresses or cloths to reduce any inflammation. Collars can prevent additional scratching, biting or licking as the scabs get better. Depending on how bad the problem is and what the temperament of the dog is like, it might be necessary to take safety measures during these steps, such as using a muzzle or a gentle sedative.
Identifying the Cause
The initial step in helping a dog with a scab is to figure out what caused it in the first place. Without doing this, you will often end up simply treating symptoms rather than solving the problem for good. Figuring out why the sore appeared is also necessary because some conditions, such as bacterial infections, can be transferred from animals to people, putting your health at risk.
In many cases, bacterial or viral infections, insect bites, accidental scratches and other injuries are the source of a scab. Nerve issues can also be a cause, however, with scratching or biting a response to physical feelings in the skin. Sometimes, environmental agents or a lack of good nutrition can be the culprit, while in other instances, an allergy is to blame. It often is necessary to go to a veterinarian to get a proper diagnosis that will direct the rest of treatment.
After you or your vet understands what led to the scab, you should gently trim the hair around the wound. By doing this, you should be able to get a better look at the skin and see the real size of the affected area. Trimming also allows air to flow better and promotes drying, which is important because bacteria typically breed where it is damp or wet.
Washing the wound is a good way to remove dirt, allergens and other irritants that can lead to scratching, biting or licking. A simple bath also may temporarily relieve the feeling of burning or itching that makes the animal uncomfortable. It also removes matted pus and blood, both of which can attract biting insects, such as flies. When the scab on a dog is ready to come off on its own, moistening it can help it to gently fall away without the need for hard pulling or rubbing.
Shampoo selection can make a big difference in how effective the treatment is. Similar to people, animals can be allergic to the ingredients in different products, and some shampoos are made to treat specific conditions. In general, it’s best to stick to ones that don’t have any added perfumes or dyes, because these can irritate the skin.
You or your vet may decide to give the animal some medication after you've cleaned the skin. In general, this involves a topical spray, ideally containing vitamins E and B, both of which are soothing and healing. Hydrocortisone creams often work well. Some people use lotions containing aloe, but because this substance is mildly toxic to dogs, potentially causing diarrhea and dehydration, you should apply it sparingly. Some veterinarians prescribe injections that treat either the underlying cause of the scab or the related inflammation and irritation.
Compresses and Cloths
When the skin around an injury is infected, inflammation is part of the natural healing process, but it can be painful for the dog. One simple way to give it some relief is to put a cool cloth or compress on the scab. The mild decrease in temperature usually keeps capillaries more closed so that the swelling goes down.
If a dog has a really hard time leaving scabs alone, using an Elizabethan or “E” collar can help. Made out of firm, semi-flexible plastic, it fits around the animal's neck, keeping the animal from being able to reach around to the rear or scratch behind the ears easily. More than likely, your pet won’t enjoy wearing it, but most vets agree that it’s better than letting the dog hurt itself even more.
The skin and tissue around a scab on a dog can be very sensitive and tender, especially if the area is infected. As with other animals, a dog’s natural instinct is to try to protect itself when something is hurting, so it’s important to keep the animal as calm as possible during treatment. If necessary, a muzzle can stop it from nipping or biting. Dogs that are too big for one person to control easily, or that become extremely stressed and anxious, might benefit from a mild sedative, which vets can prescribe or give by injection.