Why is my dog scratching his face?

Chipper, my cocker spaniel, rubbed the left side of his face everywhere, on my legs, the kitchen cabinets, even on the asphalt driveway.  He would scratch at his face, but not to the point of damaging the skin, so I couldn’t tell exactly where he itched.

He drooled puddles of saliva while he sat patiently hoping for a tidbit while my husband and I ate dinner. I frequently grabbed paper towels to wipe a string of slime from his jowls.  Every morning I used a fine-toothed comb to remove most of the dried gook, which collected on his neck and the inside tip of his long droopy ear.  His white jaw and neck developed a brown stain. Chipper normally wasn’t such a drooly, itchy dog.

What was going on?  Could it be an infected tooth? Was it just the hot summer, causing him to pant more?  After a week or so, I took him to the vet.

“It’s a yeast infection,” my vet said.  “They can drive a dog crazy.  Notice this brown stain, its yeast growing near his lower lip, in a fold, next to his canine tooth.”

The vet told me to shave his chin as close as possible and to clean his face twice a day with ear cleaning solution, which has a cleaning and drying agent.  But after a week, it wasn’t going away, so I started doing some research.

What is Lip Fold Dermatitis?

It’s that time of year again, hot and humid. This summer in the Chicago area has been warmer than the last few. Warm, moist conditions create a great environment for bacteria and yeast to grow.

Dog with lip fold dermatitis
Chipper’s stained jowl.

It turns out we were lucky.  Many dogs with heavy jowls and lip folds develop infections that can smell very bad.  Lip fold dermatitis and lip fold pyoderma are sometimes used interchangeably, but as Pet Helpful explains pyoderma is an infection involving pus, while dermatitis is just inflammation.  Severe cases of pyoderma produce a strong odor, described in my favorite blog, Fidose of Reality (also about a cocker spaniel).

How to treat lip fold dermatitis

  • Keep the area as clean and dry as possible.
    • Shave the fur very short.
    • Brush your dog’s teeth at least once a day.
      • Excess food stuck in the lip fold allows bacteria and yeast to grow.
    • Wash your dog’s face several times a day with a washcloth and hand soap or other cleanser that is safe for your dog’s face. Wipe dry with a towel.
  • Mal-A-Ket wipes contain an antifungal and antibacterial agent. Use more often to get the dermatitis under control (once a day), then every few days once the infection is under control.
  • Wrinkle Balm has all natural ingredients and designed for dogs with skin folds on their face. Since Chipper doesn’t really have a skin fold, just his lip, I have not used this product much.  It may be more helpful for other breeds.
Dog with lip fold dermatitis
Chipper’s lip fold.

Cleaning Chipper’s mouth several times a day has reduced the drool and dried slobber on his fur although there’s still some staining.  I’m hoping cooler weather will set in soon with the approach of fall, and then he will pant less and I hope his drooling will decrease.

Does your dog have lip fold dermatitis?  What have you done to reduce it?