Dog Acne: Can Dogs Get Pimples?
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM May 23, 2020
Much like a human teenager, puberty for dogs can be a difficult time filled with changes to a dog’s body and behavior. One of the many changes can be acne. While dogs typically don’t feel the embarrassment that humans do, dog acne shouldn’t go unchecked. Here’s what you need to know to recognize, treat, and prevent acne in your “teenage” dog.
What Is Dog Acne?
Acne in dogs is an inflammation of the hair follicles on the muzzle and around the lips. The severity can range from small red bumps to swelling and permanent scarring of the skin. While dog acne may be ugly, it’s typically a benign condition that will go away once your pup reaches maturity around one year old.
Can Dogs Get Pimples?
Yes. It seems that no one is free from the inconvenience of pimples, your dog included. Pimples, by definition, are an area of inflammation on the skin. Most of us think of pimples as pustules, the looming white heads that are just begging to be popped. Dogs can get all of those. But dog acne can be as simple as a couple of small red bumps, or as complex as large pustules with swelling of the skin and lips. These pimples can bleed if bumped or rubbed and can leave permanent scarring if severe enough and left untreated.
What Causes Dog Acne?
Since dog acne usually appears around the time a pup is going through puberty, it was once thought to have a hormonal influence much like acne in humans. However, genetics, trauma, and skin conditions contribute to the cause more than raging hormones.
Acne in dogs is more commonly found in short haired dog breeds like Boxers, Great Danes, German Shorthaired Pointers, Doberman Pinschers, and Weimaraners. However, that does not mean that your mixed breed pup can’t experience acne, there are just some familiar bloodlines that are definitely more prone.
The triggering cause to dog acne is trauma. Those short stub hairs around the nose and mouth can be easily broken off when a pup rubs their face on the carpet or during one of the many wrestling matches. When the hair breaks off near the surface of the skin, it can lead to inflammation of the hair follicles, eventually leading to rupture of the follicle itself. When a hair follicle ruptures, it releases inflammatory factors on to the skin and around it. Then more inflammation is created when the body tries to clean up the ruptures.
The beginning stages of dog acne are often sterile, meaning without bacteria. But bacteria can easily invade as time goes on. It’s the presence of bacteria and the white blood cells that your dog’s body sends to fight it that create the white headed pimples.
Dog acne can also be associated with other skin conditions such as allergies or parasites. Allergies to food or the environment can cause inflammation and itching all on their own. The itching can lead to trauma that sets off dog acne. Parasites, like the mite that causes demodicosis, actually live in the hair follicle. When these mites are present in high, unchecked numbers, inflammation can be the result.
What Are The Symptoms Of Dog Acne?
We already covered what dog acne can look like - small red bumps or giant white heads. But how does a dog with acne act? As you can imagine, since itching is often a culprit that leads to acne in dogs, it is also considered a sign. A dog with acne may rub their face on the carpet, grass, furniture, or you in order to relieve the itching. Dog acne can also be painful and compel dogs to look for soothing relief like a gentle rub or licks from their friends.
More severe acne can cause swelling of the lips and around the nose, especially if a pup is really working to scratch or rub the area. There may also be drainage when the bumps are popped that can be clear, bloody, or full of pus. If your dog’s acne becomes infected, their skin may develop a foul smell.
How Is Dog Acne Diagnosed?
Many skin conditions create red bumps and itchiness. It’s up to your veterinarian to get to the bottom of it. Vets will help rule out other causes of dog acne, or the inciting underlying condition if applicable. They will take a history and do a general exam to determine exactly what the rash looks like, where it’s located, and if anything makes it better or worse. A vet may then do skin scrapings to rule out parasites and do bacterial cultures to find out exactly what lurking in those pimples. If a diagnosis of dog acne is made, they will work with you to formulate a treatment plan.
How Do You Treat Dog Acne?
Fortunately, straightforward dog acne is fairly harmless. It may be ugly and uncomfortable, but most of the time the acne goes away on its own as your pup ages and doesn’t cause any real damage. However, sometimes severe acne can cause scarring, or acne with underlying causes of allergies or parasites will tend to linger. Once your veterinarian confirms a diagnosis, they will get your pup started on a treatment program for whatever type of acne your dog is facing.
Underlying conditions need to be treated first. For parasites, an antiparasitic should be applied or given. For allergies, allergy testing may be in order so that you can hopefully eliminate the allergen from your dog’s food or environment. Allergies may also be treated with antihistamines or anti-inflammatories to decrease the itch and inflammation.
For mild dog acne, benzoyl peroxide can be applied topically. Just like in humans, benzoyl peroxide helps to flush out hair follicles, removing bacteria and inflammation. Topical steroids and antibiotics may be applied to reduce inflammation, relieve itchiness and pain, and prevent or treat infection. As you already know, dogs tend to lick things that are applied, especially around their mouth and nose, so oral antibiotics and steroids can be used as well. Treatment is usually prolonged, especially in severe cases, and may require up to two months to completely resolve.
Should You Pop Your Dog’s Pimple?
To pop or not to pop, that’s always the questions surrounding pimples. Just like human patients, popping pimples can lead to spreading of the infection and scarring. The white pus that builds up inside a pimple, and that gives us that self-satisfying pop, is also loaded with bacteria. Popping releases those bacteria to set up camp in neighboring hair follicles, causing more pimples to spring up. Popping also can leave a lasting scar as it can permanently damage that area of the skin.
So, in short, don’t pop your dog’s pimples. Chances are they don’t want you to anyway.
How Do You Prevent Dog Acne?
Some pups will suffer from acne more severely or for a more prolonged period of time. The acne may resurface after it’s cleared up as well. For these pups, benzoyl peroxide may still be the solution that can be used daily on clear skin for prevention. Also, regular baths can help keep the hair follicles clean.
You may also want to replace or remove items that can cause trauma to your dog’s muzzle. If they tend to dig and root around with their nose, keep them in an area where they can’t do this. Replace plastic food or water bowls with metal so that they don’t develop rough edges. Replace toys that are rough with ones that are smooth. Keep underlying causes under control with regular anti-parasiticides or allergy treatment.
Puberty in dogs can be rough, no doubt about it. Getting a case of the pimples can make that stage of life even worse. If your short haired pup develops red, painful bumps, swelling, or pimples around their mouth and nose, be sure to see your veterinarian to get help. Dog acne usually goes away on its own, but it shouldn’t be ignored. Besides being unsightly, acne can also create permanent scarring. Proper treatment can prevent further flair ups and provide your dog some relief from the itching and pain, as well as preventing those scars.