Lip fold dermatitis in dogs stinks. Despite brushing my dog’s teeth daily, I could not control the terrible smell emanating from his mouth.
Little did I realize lip fold dermatitis would not disappear solely with daily teeth brushing. It has nothing to do with a dog’s teeth.
Upon visiting our veterinarian with my Cocker Spaniel, he knew that my dog had lip fold dermatitis while seated in the waiting room. The smell was that bad.
You can control lip fold dermatitis in dogs by:
- Cleaning your dog’s lip folds
- Keeping the hair at the folds shaved down
- Preventing flareups with at-home treatments
- Applying medications prescribed by your dog’s veterinarian
- Sometimes surgery is necessary for more correct chronic, ongoing cases that don’t respond well to treatment.
Treatment of canine lip fold dermatitis varies according to the reason, severity, and frequency of the condition, as well as pet parent compliance.
I get at least one email a week, if not more, asking for help to alleviate a dog’s smelly mouth. Lip fold dermatitis can rear its ugly head—and smell—and must be controlled.
Here’s how to prevent, control ,treat, and care for a dog with lip fold dermatitis.
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What Is Lip Fold Dermatitis In Dogs?
Dogs with floppy loose lips that have longer-than-usual contact with saliva have a tendency to develop lip fold dermatitis.
Any area on a dog’s body where it is dark, moisture can build up, air is unable to access the site freely, and there may or may not be hair in that spot is susceptible to lip fold dermatitis.
Derma means “skin” and “-itis” means inflammation. When it affects the dog’s lip fold, it is usually an inflammatory result of excess saliva and/or food that was allowed to form in the fold where bacteria grew. The end result is a stinky, unpleasant odor and irritation for the dog.
Dermatitis can occur on other parts of a dog’s body including the face, lips, neck, vulva, and tail folds. A breed such as a Shar Pei, for example, is prone to face fold dermatitis since the breed has facial folds and wrinkles on his body.
Wherever a pocket of flesh, in this case, a lip fold, is pendulous or allows for fluid, food, and debris to gather, you have a situation ripe for this condition.
Causes of Lip Fold Dermatitis
Sometimes, the anatomy of a dog’s lip folds are thick enough and loose enough to make for a nice host for bacteria to accumulate.
Some dog breeds are predisposed and overly represented with cases of lip fold dermatitis due to their anatomy, and these include but are not limited to:
- Basset Hound
- Cocker Spaniels
- Springer Spaniels
- English Bulldog
- French Bulldog
- British Bulldog
- Saint Bernards
- Shar Pei
- Shih Tzu
Other causes include changes in weather, such as in the summer and warmer months where dogs pant more and produce more saliva.
Look at this photo of a dog with thick lip folds, and you can understand how moisture can build up in the little pocket.
Though lip fold bacteria can form any time of year (as is the case with my Cocker Spaniel), dogs can also develop lip fold dermatitis on and around their lips simply due to saliva accumulation.
Sometimes, the change of chemistry in a dog’s saliva can cause bacteria to form. Yeast infections are common in people after taking antibiotics, too.
If your dog has been on antibiotics and his saliva chemistry changes, dermatitis can occur. I generally administer antibiotics with a probiotic in accordance with my vet’s instructions.
My dog never required an antibiotic for lip fold dermatitis but I know many dogs who have, such as my friend Joy at MyGBGVLife. who says, ” If you have a lip fold infection once, chances are good you will have one again down the road and need even more antibiotics.”
Common Symptoms of Lip Fold Dermatitis in Dogs
One of the first signs in most dogs is a pungent odor and/or inflammation and redness of the affected area.
Truth be told, my dog didn’t have overt redness and initially, I could not figure out where the foul odor was coming from. It might have been a cavity, a growth in his mouth, or the doggie toothpaste wasn’t working.
It was none of those things.
Symptoms of lip fold dermatitis in dogs include:
- Redness or an inflamed area in the lip fold.
- Foul odor of the lips or lip fold
- Discoloration around the hair of the mouth. On my white dog, the fur turned a shade of yellow near the lip fold which then ran down his neck
- Pawing, rubbing, or scratching at the mouth or face
- Pain if the lips or mouth are touched or cleaned
How to Prevent Lip Fold Dermatitis
Prevent this nasty condition by keeping your dog’s lip folds clean and dry. Gently wipe the lip folds/jowls and be sure to brush your dog’s teeth.
Keeping the mouth clean is essential. Never scold your dog, and don’t clean the mouth right before he or she eats. Also, make it a very happy experience and start slow.
If you’ve never cleaned your dog’s mouth or lips before, make it easy. Do not yell at the dog. Take your time. Go slow for dogs who never had their teeth brushed or lip folds cleaned.
You know that area where the upper canine tooth sits on the dog’s lower lip? Think of all the saliva, germs, and bacteria that can harbor in that small and seemingly innocuous area. Keep it clean.
A local irritation from something as simple as the material of the dog’s food/water bowl can cause lip fold issues. The same thing happens to people when we have a reaction or an allergic issue. Any sort of friction or moisture can also flare up lip fold dermatitis.
If your dog has thick jowls and his anatomy is such that nothing is helping, in severe cases, surgery may be considered as a final option. Joy at MyGBGVLife had lip fold surgical intervention on her dog.
In the warmer months, when my dog pants and drools a bit more, we are extra diligent.
Any time you have a dog with folds in the lip or even on the ski, the propensity for bacteria to form in that nice, dark, warm place is high.
Bacteria and yeast thrive in such an environment; consider the dark and hairy ear canal: Yeast and bacteria often cause ear infections.
More about home treatment and prevention of lip fold dermatitis further down.
Lip Fold Dermatitis vs Lip Fold Pyoderma
Although they are related, lip fold dermatitis in dogs is different from lip fold pyoderma. Both involve inflammation and skin irritation in the fold of the lips, but there are differences.
Lip fold dermatitis occurs in the folds of a dog’s lips. However, this condition refers to the irritation and inflammation. Causes include food particles, moisture, and the dog’s lip fold anatomy (such as excess skin, wrinkly skin, droopy skin, etc.).
Lip fold pyoderma is a bacterial infection of the lip folds. It can be caused by food particles, lip fold anatomy, or moisture.
Both conditions require veterinary attention to achieve a diagnosis, the underlying cause, and to begin a treatment plan.
Veterinary Intervention of Lip Fold Dermatitis
Treating your dog’s lip fold dermatitis involves keeping the area clean, free of moisture and hair, and reducing inflammation should it flare-up.
Occasionally, anti-yeast treatments of antibiotics may be prescribed.
Talk to your veterinarian about mupirocin ointment, which I used whenever even the slightest odor occurred in Dexter’s lip folds.
Topical or systemic antimicrobials, which are prescribed by a vet, may help manage this condition.
If surgery is required, be certain you feel comfortable with it and always get a second opinion if you are uncertain. The goal of skin fold surgery is to prevent dermatitis from ever affecting the lip folds again.
A veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics, antifungals, antibacterial wipes, or specialized shampoos.
Over-the-counter products we discussed included chlorhexidine gluconate, hydrocortisone cream, and ketoconazole shampoo.
Your vet should show you HOW and WHERE to apply the ointment or any other sort of treatment. You don’t want the dog ingesting anything and the area in question is NOT the lip, but specifically, that dark, dank place called the lip fold.
When Dexter was first diagnosed with lip fold dermatitis, the vet prescribed Pyoben antifungal medicated shampoo, one droplet to be massaged into the affected areas and cleaned out followed up with Pyoben ointment.
Never put the ointment, medication, or balm in your dog’s mouth or inside his cheek.
The key is in making sure you apply the product to the exact area of the lip fold: Not to the mouth, not in the mouth, but in the fold, as shown by my beloved Dexter here:
Here’s a great video on how to keep a dog’s lip folds clean:
Best At Home Products for Lip Fold Dermatitis in Dogs
Here are preventative measures I took to care for my Cocker Spaniel’s lip fold dermatitis:
After meals, I cleaned my dog’s skin folds with warm water and a washcloth. Regular cleaning is something I did twice a day after each meal.
I dried the areas thoroughly because lip fold dermatitis loves a moist environment.
To keep it at bay and to keep the jowls and lip folds clean and free of bacteria, I learned to clip the hair around the mouth of my dog.
If you are interested in a small set of clippers that are good for a novice and handy to have, consider the Wahl Professional Arco Clippers with 5-in-1 blade.
You’ll be using the #10 blade to start, but use caution. You can hurt the dog if you are unsure as to how to use clippers at home.
If you want to learn more about grooming your dog at home, even in between professional grooming visits, read my article on How to Groom a Cocker Spaniel at home. Any dog can benefit from the tools and tips in that article.
Here are a few other products I’ve used with veterinary approval with success. I did not use them all at once. You may need to experiment to see which one(s) work best for your dog.
Dechra Mal-A-Ket Wipes: Makes cleaning the folds easy to prevent debris and bacteria from building up.
Chlorhexidine Antiseptic Wipes: Non-stinging wipes for lip fold dermatitis in dogs.
Zymox Veterinarian Strength Topical Cream with 1% Hydrocortisone: I swear by this cream. A bit in each skin fold at the start of any odor is what helped us. No sting and no antibiotics.
Pet Releaf Skin & Paw Releaf: I am never without this topical CBD that helps with itching, irritation, and allergies. It’s easy to apply on nose, skin, paws, and lip folds.
Natural Dog Company Wrinkle Balm: This wrinkle balm cleans and treats if used one to three times a day to fight infections.
Treatment for this condition is multifactorial. Since learning to keep my Cocker Spaniel’s jowls and lip folds cleaned, groomed, and dry, he never had another flare-up requiring antibiotics.
The Merck Vet Manual, aka the Bible for Pet Care, says, “Medical management of lip fold dermatitis includes clipping the hair, cleaning the folds 1–2 times/day with benzoyl peroxide or a mild skin cleanser, and keeping the area dry.”
Other Types of Skin Fold Dermatitis in Dogs
There are several types of skin fold dermatitis that affect dogs. We focused on the lip folds in this article, but some other body areas and symptoms include:
Tail Fold Dermatitis
- Dogs may scoot across the carpet or outside
- Your dog may itch, scratch, rub, bite, or lick the area
- Foul odor
- Usually affects dogs with a corkscrew tails or short, curly tails like a Bulldog
Vulvar Fold Dermatitis
- Licking the groin area
- Red or irritated skin
- Recurrent urinary tract infections
- Strong odor
- Can affect any female dog at any age
Face Fold Dermatitis
- Redness and/or sores that weep or ooze in skin folds
- Your dog may scratch or rub the face
- Blisters or lesions on the face/folds
- Usually affects dogs with wrinkled faces such as the Shar Pei
Skin Fold Dermatitis on the Body
- Dogs can be affected with dermatitis anywhere there are folds on the body
- Overweight dogs or dogs who are heavy are over-represented
More Help For Dog Mouth Issues
Have you ever heard of this condition and/or dealt with it in your dog(s)? Let us know in the comments below.