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Acne (Pimples)

Introduction | Causes & Prevention | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Test | Treatment Options

 Acne (Pimples)

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Canine acne is a common disorder, especially in young, short-haired large purebred dogs. The therapeutic goals of treating canine acne are to eliminate any contributing primary or secondary bacterial infections and to control recurrent break-outs.

Causes & Prevention

Causes of Canine Acne

The precise cause of acne in dogs is not known. It is thought that bacterial infection is secondary to some other underlying cause. Some authorities suggest that local trauma to the muzzle and face can trigger canine acne, while others theorize that there is a genetic predisposition to development of the disorder. Still other experts hypothesize that hormones play a triggering role.

Prevention of Acne

Keeping a dog's muzzle and chin clean and dry goes a long way towards preventing the onset of acne. However, as with acne in human adolescents, acne in teen-aged companion dogs is quite common and is difficult to prevent. Fortunately, it almost always is treatable and manageable, and almost always eventually resolves.

Symptoms of Acne

Folliculitis (deep inflammation of hair follicles)
Furunculosis (deep inflammatory, pus-filled lesions of the skin and subcutaneous tissues with a central slough or core, also referred to as boils)
Red papules (erythematous papules; papules are small, circumscribed, solid, elevated skin lesions)
Pustules (small, elevated, circumscribed, pus-filled lesions of the skin which usually are thin-walled and rupture easily)
Bullae (blisters; well circumscribed, fluid-containing, elevated skin lesions)
Ulcerated draining tracts
Pain on palpation
Scarring and hardening of local tissue

Dogs at Increased Risk

Canine acne is particularly common in young, large, short-coated purebred dogs. There is no established gender predisposition. Dogs at increased risk reportedly include the Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, Mastiff, English Bulldog, Weimaraner, German Short-Haired Pointer and Rottweiler.

Special Notes

Owners of dogs with acne should not express the lesions (or "pop the pimples"). This can lead to internal rupture of the affected hair follicles and exacerbate massive local inflammation and infection.

Diagnosis & Tests

A diagnosis of canine acne typically is made based on the dog's history, clinical presentation and ruling out of other possible primary causes of the dog's lesions. Other diagnostic tools include taking swabbed samples of the acne lesions and examining them microscopically (a process called cytology), to look for the presence of inflammatory, infectious and/or bacterial cells. Deeper skin scrapings are usually also taken and assessed for overgrowth of the canine mange mite, Demodex canis. Biopsy samples can be taken and submitted for assessment of possible fungal infection. Bacterial culture and sensitivity may be appropriate as well, especially if the dog does not respond well to empiric broad-spectrum antibiotic therapy. Empiric antibiotic treatment refers to treating a suspected bacterial infection with a broad-spectrum antibiotic for a full coarse, before culturing the organism to determine exactly which antibiotics are effective against it.

Treatment Options

The choice of treatment for acne depends on how severe and chronic the condition is in any given animal. It is important to minimize any trauma to the muzzle, chin or lips that may result from treatment or otherwise. For example, if the dog is rubbing his chin on the carpet or chewing on toys or bones that cause excess salivation, the owner should take steps to minimize those behaviors. Clipping the area (carefully!) can improve the effectiveness of topical acne treatments. Mild cases of acne can benefit from gentle cleansing with a benzoyl peroxide shampoo or gel once a day until the acne is resolved, and then once a week thereafter or as necessary.

The dog's veterinarian can recommend and/or prescribe certain creams, lotions or ointments that can be applied topically in addition to or instead of benzoyl peroxide washes. Some of these topical treatments can be quite drying and even irritating to the skin. Glucocorticoid anti-inflammatory medications can be applied topically, after any secondary bacterial infections have been resolved. However, long-term use of topical steroids can have adverse side effects, such as adrenal gland suppression and local skin atrophy. Owners should discuss the potential side effects of all treatment protocols with their veterinarian.

Systemic treatment with oral antibiotics for one to two months is appropriate if bacterial infection is present. Sometimes, the veterinarian will start the dog on broad-spectrum antibiotics to see if the condition resolves. If this is not effective, a culture and sensitivity evaluation should be done on a swab or biopsy sample to identify the exact bacterial organism and determine the most effective antibiotic to treat the disorder.


Most dogs with acne have a good prognosis for full recovery. Some may require life-long treatment with topical lotions, creams, ointments or gels, but this is non-invasive and quite easy for most owners to administer.

Special Notes

Most owners are readily able to identify acne when it affects their dogs' chins, muzzles and/or lips. It certainly is worth a quick visit with the veterinarian to determine a treatment and cleansing protocol to relieve any discomfort that the condition is causing.

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