Lip fold dermatitis in dogs stinks. As a diligent dog mom who brushes her dog’s teeth daily, I could not manage to control the terrible smell coming from my dog’s mouth. Little did I realize lip fold dermatitis would not disappear despite daily teeth brushing. When I visited the veterinarian with my Cocker Spaniel, he knew what my dog had lip fold dermatitis while we sat in the waiting room before the examination. The smell was that bad.
You can control lip fold dermatitis in dogs by cleaning the lip folds, keeping hair at the fold shaved down, treating it with non-prescription methods such as coconut oil, applying medications prescribed by the dog’s veterinarian, and sometimes even surgery to 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. If you are diligently providing at-home dental care for your dog on a regular basis, seeing the veterinarian for regular oral checkups and examinations, and the smell still exists, it may not be a dental issue at all. Lip fold dermatitis can rear its ugly head—and smell—and it must be brought under control. Here’s how to prevent, control, treatment, and care for a dog with lip fold dermatitis:
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 area 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, so 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 and the end result is a big smelly 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 wrinkled, loose skin of the face (and 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 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 Hounds
- Cocker Spaniels
- English Bulldogs
- Saint Bernards
- Shar Peis
- Shih Tzus
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. If you’ve ever developed a yeast infection after taking antibiotics, you know all about that. 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.”
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. I was thinking 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, you need to make it an easy process. Do not yell at the dog. Take your time.
You know that area where the upper canine tooth sits on the lower lip of the dog? 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, surgery may be considered as a final option. Joy at MyGBGVLife had lip fold surgery on her dog.
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. You can hurt the dog if you are unsure as to how to use clippers at home. If you are interested in a small set of clippers that are good for a novice and handy to have, consider these on Amazon. If you are interested in learning more about grooming your dog at home, even if in between professional grooming visits, read my article on How to Groom a Cocker Spaniel at home. Most dogs can benefit from the tools and tips in this article.
Two products that really helped my dog maintain clean lip folds are ProBioraPet Oral Probiotics that you simply sprinkled on your dog’s food. I also keep Mal-a-ket Wipes on hand or chlorhexidine antiseptic wipes.
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.
Here’s a great video on how to keep a dog’s lip folds clean:
Treatment For Lip Fold Dermatitis
When Dexter was first diagnosed with lip fold dermatitis, the vet prescribed Pyoben antifungal shampoo, one droplet to be massaged into the area and cleaned out followed up with Pyoben ointment.
Something to keep on hand for dogs with wrinkles and to help keep lip folds clean is Wrinkle Balm by the Natural Dog Company, which is available on Amazon.
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 include 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.
Treatment for this condition is multifactorial. Since learning to keep my Cocker Spaniel’s jowls and lip folds cleaned, groomed, and dry, we haven’t had a flare-up in years. Sometimes despite all efforts, lip folds get overrun with bacteria.
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.”
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 here:
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.