Panniculitis in dogs: What It Is and Why it Happens


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Panniculitis is an uncommon condition in which the panniculus adiposus, or fat layer of the abdominal wall, becomes inflamed.

In most of these cases, this tissue swells up from an unknown cause, causing pain and inflammation to ensue, and it's your job to bring your dog to the vet as quickly as possible to diagnose it!

What is Panniculitis in Dogs

Panniculitis is a condition in which the panniculus adiposus, or fat layer of the abdominal wall, becomes inflamed.

The panniculus adiposus is a thin layer of tissue that lies between the skin and muscle layers.

It contains a lot of connective tissues and nerves.

Usually, this tissue swells up from an unknown cause, causing pain and inflammation.

These result in little bumps on the skin, and can be soft or firm.

The bumps can also burst and rupture and leak out an oily discharge that can be clear, yellow, bloody or a mixture of them.

The bumps often look like open sores or lesions on your dog, and if you do happen to notice any of these, please bring your dog to the vets immediately.

Causes of Panniculitis in dogs

The cause of panniculitis is still unknown, though there are some theories about what might trigger it.

Some believe that panniculitis may be caused by an infection or tumor; others think that exposure to certain chemicals or environmental factors could be responsible.

There have also been a few cases where a dog is allergic to a certain type of injection, and react negatively to the shot.

Other times, heavy metal poisoning can also cause the formation of panniculitis in dogs.

In most cases, however, the cause of panniculitis is never determined.

That said, regardless of a trigger or cause, what's most important is to quickly bring your dog to a vet - panniculitis in dogs could signal other more dangerous issues, such as autoimmune diseases that could get triggered. This can lead to necrotizing panniculitis vasculitis in dogs.

Other theories that have surfaced on what causes it are shown below:

  • Infection from wounds
  • Bodily trauma
  • Autoimmune disease
  • tumors or cancers
  • Exposure to certain chemicals or environmental factors, though the root cause is unknown in most cases.
  • Viral or bacterial infections
  • Fungal infections

As we mentioned, the cause of panniculitis is unknown in most cases unfortunately, and biopsies usually have to be done at the vet clinic to best determine it's cause.

Breeds susceptible to panniculitis in dogs

All dogs can develop panniculitis at any point in their lives, and as mentioned, how they get it is currently unknown.

However certain breeds are more susceptible to panniculitis, for example the German Shepherd.

It is currently unknown why it affects this breed more than others, and the mode of transmission is unknown.

It is also unknown if it's actually hereditary, or just inherent in the breed (source)

Other breeds are also more likely to get it - the Dachshunds and Poodles.

However, their type of panniculitis is more related to their autoimmune functions, rather than an idiopathic (cause unknown) case. (source)

Panniculitis dogs symptoms

  • pain and inflammation in the affected area
  • tissue may be red or swollen. It'll look like a skin lesion.
  • Hot to the touch
  • fever
  • Difficulty moving

The most common symptoms of panniculitis are pain and inflammation in the affected area.

The tissue may be red or swollen, and it may be hot to the touch. In some cases, the dog may have a fever.

If the panniculus adiposus becomes inflamed near a joint, the joint may become stiff and difficult to move.

Panniculitis can occur anywhere on the body, but it is most commonly seen on the abdomen, flanks (the sides of the torso), back legs, and neck.

The real issue is to see how far the symptoms stretch, and how severe it is - a mild case of panniculitis in dogs may just seem like a rash.

At the same time, a more serious version, sterile nodular panniculitis, can occur.

Basically, multiple nodes of different sizes and consistencies can appear under the skin, in multiple locations across the body.

They may also cause discomfort when ruptured, or if formed around their joints.

Diagnosis for canine panniculitis

The only way to have a proper answer is with a skin biopsy, followed by laboratory work.

Typically these cells would be inflamed, and alongside fat droplets and cells (which explains the oily discharge above).

Then, the vet may also take blood samples from your dog to check if it's caused by any infections (fungal, viral or bacterial)

This then proceeds to...

Treatment for Panniculitis 

There is no one size fits all treatment as cause is unknown in most cases.

However, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics if infection is causing inflammation.

If tumor suspected, surgery or chemotherapy may be recommended.

In some cases where panniculitis occurs near a joint, cortisone injections may help relieve some of the pain.

For sterile nodular panniculitis (which is panniculitis NOT caused by infections or tumors), then your vet will probably recommend steroidal medication to help your dog with.

After going through a course of this steroidal medication, most dogs will go into remission and not need it anymore - but some dogs will require this medication for life.

Check with your vet - they'll know best.

Prevention of panniculitis in dogs 

There is unfortunately no known prevention for panniculitis.

As the cause is unknown in most cases, it is difficult to take any preventative steps.

At best, you could clean your immediate surroundings to reduce any chance of bacterial, fungal or viral infection.

Or you could also figure out ways to prevent your dog from getting physically hurt - probably not possible with physically active dogs at least.

Apart from that, not much apart from regular vet checkups for your dog.

Most importantly, if you suspect your dog developed panniculitis, seek veterinary care as soon as possible to get them the help they need.

Frequently Asked Questions about panniculitis in dogs

Is panniculitis contagious?

Usually no.

If the cause of panniculitis is NOT due to infections (or sterile nodular panniculitis), it most likely is not.

BUT, if the cause is determined to be a viral infection, then yes, it is possibly infections if your dog has any open wounds and a poor immune system (suppressed or compromised). (source)

Is panniculitis in dogs fatal?

Usually not.

If the problem is caught early on and diagnosed right, the issue can be treated and controlled well.

However, in immunocompromised dogs, it may lead to other autoimmune issues as well, such as Immune Mediated panniculitis in dogs. (source)

Is panniculitis in dogs painful for the dog?

It can be painful for dogs.

Often the nodules are painless as it only affects the fat cells which have no nerves.

However, if it develops near spots where there are a lot of nerves (like their armpits) it can be painful to the touch for them.

Can dogs get necrotizing panniculitis?

Yes, but it is very rare.

It has also been confirmed by scientists that it does happen, but in extremely rare cases (even among humans) (source)

Is there a way to prevent panniculitis in dogs?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

There is no known prevention for panniculitis, as the causes are also currently unknown.


To recap: panniculitis in dogs is a skin condition that can affect any breed, age, or sex of dog.

The symptoms are often vague and many cases go undiagnosed until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage.

So, it's important for pet owners to recognize these signs so they know when their furry friends need medical attention!

If you have any questions or concerns about panniculitis in dogs, please contact your veterinarian. They can provide you with more information and help you decide on the best course of treatment for your pet. 

about the author

Frank Harrigan

Frank loves tacos and dogs - the good, bad and ugly sides of dog ownership.

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