Can dogs get pimples? Yes! Thoughts of hormonal teenagers might be what first springs to mind when you hear of acne. However, canine acne and pimples are also common in dogs. While generally a condition of adolescent puppies, pimples can appear on dogs of all ages.
Dog Pimples – The Layers of the Skin
It’s important to understand the various layers that make up your dog’s skin. Acne often involves the epidermal layer, along with the sebaceous glands and hair follicle. In more severe cases, inflammation may affect deeper skin layers as well.
- Epidermis: This is the topmost layer of the skin and what protects the skin from external intruders like dirt and bacteria.
- Dermis: The second layer of skin is where blood vessels, connective tissues, nerves, glands, and hair follicles reside. It’s the main functional part of the skin.
- Subcutaneous Layer: Also known as fascia, this is the bottom layer of skin that connects to muscles. It has a filmy, sticky appearance, almost like a thick spider web.
- Hair Shaft: The hair shaft is the actual visible hair that grows out of the follicle.
- Hair Follicle: The hair follicle is where hair is created and is also connected to the sebaceous glands. Growth of the hair inside the follicle takes place in four stages: anagen, catagen, telogen, and exogen.
- Sebaceous Gland: This is the gland of the skin that helps lubricate by producing oils. When you think of a “clogged pore” it is likely due to excess oils produced by this gland. Other debris, such as dirt and skin, can also clog pores.
What Are Dog Pimples and Acne?
Canine acne generally refers to small pimple-like bumps on the skin. Like human acne, canine acne refers to bumps specifically on the face, chin, jaw, and neck. The bumps can be clogged pores or hair follicles. Bumps may also be filled with debris, such as sebum from the sebaceous glands, dead skin cells, bacteria, and more.
General Signs to Watch Out For
A few minor bumps may not be cause for concern. However, there are a few symptoms that warrant a trip to your vet for closer inspection. If the bumps spread, or the skin surrounding them is irritated, this can be a sign of something more ongoing. If your dog is excessively itchy or rubbing, this could indicate they are bothered by whatever is causing the bumps. With bumps that persist for more than a week or appear to worsen, it’s always best to visit your vet.
Dog Pimples and Canine Acne — Causes
There are many potential causes behind canine acne. Your vet may refer to your dog’s condition as dermatitis, or irritation of the skin. This is a general term that is used until a more specific cause, like canine acne, is found.
Age (Young Puppies)
Just like their human counterparts, puppies and adolescent dogs are the most likely to get canine acne. The exact reason behind this is unknown. There was once speculation that hormonal changes as a dog reaches puberty may be partly to blame. However, that seems to be less the case as more research comes out. Canine acne and pimples generally appear along the jaw and under the chin. These bumps are small, and may or may not be itchy. You may also see redness or irritation surrounding the acne as a result of scratching.
Puppy acne is often diagnosed through a visual inspection. If there are signs of other issues present, such as infection, your vet may recommend a skin scraping to rule out fungal and other infections just in case. The scraping is then tested for growth of bacteria or fungus, or sent into a lab for identification. Skin scrapings are simple, easy tests that involve gently scraping a thin layer of skin onto a medium, such as a petri dish filled with a growth medium. Your dog will not need to be sedated or undergo any special procedures for it.
In many cases, canine acne unrelated to any other conditions, such as infections, can go away on its own. Preventing your puppy from scratching or pawing at it is best. In more severe or stubborn cases, benzoyl peroxide can be used topically to treat the skin and reduce irritation. Keeping the area clean and dry can also help to reduce the chances of a secondary infection taking hold. If there is a secondary infection present, treatment such as medicated shampoos or oral antibiotics can help the skin to heal.
An Elizabethan (cone) collar is also useful in preventing rubbing or pawing at the affected area to prevent further irritation.
Trauma to the Skin
Trauma to the face and jaw may increase the chances of pimples or acne appearing. While not actually acne in the hormonal sense, trauma to the skin, such as repeated rubbing of the face on carpets or flooring, can cause small pimple-like bumps to appear. This is due to irritation from broken hair follicles, and clogging of pores from the release of sebum. If the skin is kept clean and dry they will most likely disappear on their own, however, secondary infection can take hold if wounds or abrasions are present.
Diagnosis of skin trauma involves a visual inspection of the affected area for signs of wounds or abrasion. If these are present, your vet may recommend treatment options such as keeping the area clean and dry to allow for healing, as well as an Elizabethan (cone) collar to prevent your dog from continuing to rub the spot.
In some cases, the excessive rubbing may be a sign of an allergy, such as with food or the environment. If there are other signs of an allergy present, such as redness, swelling, or full-body itching or discomfort, your vet may also recommend an oral antihistamine such as Benadryl or Zyrtec in addition to treating the face. If improvements are seen, longer-term allergy care such as a diet change or long-term allergy medication may be recommended.
While itchiness itself can’t be prevented, rubbing of the face to the point of trauma can be. If you notice your dog rubbing excessively, using an Elizabethan collar to stop it, distracting with a chew or puzzle toy, or looking for signs of underlying issues such as an allergy is best.
Some breeds are more prone to puppy and adult acne and genetics may be the greater reason behind its occurrence rather than hormones in adolescence. The breeds most likely to have pimples include Boxers, Bulldogs, Great Danes, Pointers, Doberman Pinschers, and Rottweilers. While other breeds may have some predisposition, the above are the most likely to be affected. In some cases, this may be due to the shape of the face leading to extra skin folds and places where bacteria can take hold.
As with other cases of canine acne, diagnosis is done through visual inspection and health history. If your vet suspects there may be an infection or irritation of the skin in addition, thorough cleaning of skin folds as well as treatment of secondary infections with oral antibiotics and medicated shampoos can help. At home, keeping your dog’s face clean and dry, and removing any dirt or debris around the nose, mouth, chin, and neck can help reduce the chances of irritation and acne formation.
Skin inflammation is usually secondary to, but commonly seen in conjunction with canine acne. This inflammation can occur for a number of reasons, including rubbing of the face if the present acne is itchy. Trauma to the skin from irritated hair follicles or blocked sebaceous glands can also cause inflammation. If your dog excessively rubs or paws at the irritated area, they can also cause additional inflammation by introducing bacteria under the skin.
Inflammation may cause redness and swelling of the skin. Hair loss, heat or skin warmth, and oozing or flaking of debris (seborrhea), or scabbing may also be present, especially if an infection is forming. Your vet may recommend a skin scraping to determine the type of bacteria present in addition to a visual examination.
Oral antibiotics, medicated creams, and Elizabethan collars are usually the treatment of choice. If your vet suspects a secondary cause of the inflammation, or conservative treatment doesn’t help, additional medications such as a steroid cream or oral steroids like prednisone or prednisolone may help. These help to reduce the body’s immune response, reducing irritation and allowing the skin to heal.
Bacterial infections are generally secondary to the pimples themselves, but are often present along with canine acne. This is usually due to repeated trauma to the skin from rubbing or pawing at an already irritated part of the face. When bacteria are present, you may see additional signs such as increased redness and inflammation, swelling, oozing of white or green pus, and pain or heat upon touching the affected area.
A course of oral antibiotics is the first line of treatment for bacterial infections, and are generally given over a period of four to six weeks, depending on how the skin responds. If the skin is very irritated, a topical antibacterial cream may also be prescribed. Keeping the area clean and dry and preventing further trauma and introduction of more bacteria can also help while the skin heals.
Allergies to food or the environment can lead to itchy, acne-like pimples and bumps on the skin. While these bumps can appear anywhere on the body, typically on the neck, face, or belly, pimples on the face or chin specifically may have you thinking about acne. Signs that allergies may be to blame instead include rubbing of the entire body on surfaces, full-body irritation, or irritation in specific situations. For environmental allergens, you may see an increase in redness or itchiness after playing in grass or in a dusty room.
Your vet will work with you to rule out other potential causes, such as infections from bacteria, fungus, or parasites, as well as take a full history to see if allergies are a potential cause. If your vet suspects an allergy to be the cause, they may first recommend an oral antihistamine. Over the counter products, such as Benadryl and Zyrtec, can be safely given short-term. In more severe cases, an oral steroid can be given in addition to the antihistamine to help stop the body’s immune and inflammatory response.
If environmental allergens are to blame, a referral to a veterinary allergist is a good idea. These specialists can test for specific environmental triggers and recommend an action plan of long-term allergy medications, or even allergy shots to help reduce the body’s immune response.
In addition to allergies caused by the environment, your dog’s food may be to blame. For foods, this may cause an increase in redness or bumps after a certain ingredient is eaten. Since eating food often leaves particles behind on the face, chin, and neck, an increase of redness, pimples, and irritation in this area can be a major indicator. The most common ingredients that cause allergies include wheat, soy, beef, and other proteins. While it is commonly believed that grains are to blame for food allergies, proteins tend to be the top ingredient allergen in dogs.
In the case of food-caused allergies, a food trial is the top treatment. This generally involves switching to a limited ingredient diet, novel (different from the usual) protein diet, or hypoallergenic diet such as a prescription food. The food is then given for a period of 6-8 weeks to allow the body to return to baseline. From there, your vet can introduce one new ingredient at a time to see if the allergic response returns.
Food trials can be slow, mainly because it can take 6-8 weeks to see improvement, plus the additional time of adding in new ingredients. However, they are great for pinpointing specific allergens to avoid.
Dirt and Debris in Skin Folds
Smush-faced and other short-nosed breeds tend to have an excess of tight skin folds on the face, jowls, and neck. These folds can easily trap dirt, bacteria, and other debris, leading to inflammation and infection of the skin. In some cases, the inflammation may appear as tiny acne-like bumps on the face. Other signs of an issue include swelling of the facial folds, redness, smells, and itchiness or irritation.
Visual inspection of the skin folds is usually enough to determine if there is a problem, however, if the irritation is persistent, your vet may recommend additional testing. Skin scrapings can check for bacterial or fungal causes. In the event of long-term bacterial infections of the folds, a bacterial type and sensitivity test may also be useful. This involves taking a small sample of the bacteria present and sending it to a lab. It is then tested to see what exact type of bacteria is present, as well as treated with several different types of antibiotics in the lab to see which is most effective. Your vet can then use this information to target stubborn infections more specifically.
Keeping the skin folds clean and dry with daily pet or baby wipes is the best way to prevent irritation and inflammation of the skin. When you bring your dog indoors from a walk or outing, a quick inspection and wipe down of the folds is best. It allows you to see if any changes are taking place, and to keep the skin clean and dry.
Fungal, and Other Acne-Mimicking Infections
Sometimes, a different condition entirely may mimic what looks like a pimple. Fungal infections, yeast infections, cysts, blisters, and more may all appear with acne-like lesions on the face and neck. Symptoms can vary, from not being bothersome at all in the case of a cyst, oozing debris if a blister is popped, or spreading rapidly in the case of a fungal infection.
If your vet suspects there may be something more than just acne going on, there are several ways they can narrow down the causes. In addition to skin scrapings, a Wood’s Lamp test can be used to check for fungus. This is a blacklight that is shined on the affected area, causing fungus (generally ringworm) to glow brightly under it. Bumps on the skin, such as a cyst, can be aspirated with a needle (a small sample taken) and then looked at under a microscope to determine what’s inside.
Once your vet figures out what is going on, they can prescribe a variety of treatment options. Fungal and other infections are best treated with medicated shampoos used 1-2 times daily, or with oral antifungal or antibiotics. If the skin is severely inflamed, an oral or topical steroid can also be given. Cysts and blisters may be left alone, or drained, however cysts can quickly return even after treatment. If something more serious, such as a tumor, is suspected, your vet may recommend surgical treatment or referral to a veterinary oncologist.
Pimples and canine acne are usually benign, and self limiting. However, if home treatments don’t help, a visit to your vet to rule out more serious conditions, and to get stronger treatment options can help.