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Dog Acne

Dog acne treatment

Have you noticed red bumps or pimples on your dog’s skin? It may be a case of canine acne. The condition is characterized by the appearance of inflammatory lesions on the lips of dogs. In some cases, acne may also spread to the dog’s muzzle and face. Continue reading to learn more about dog acne, including treatment and home remedies.

What is Canine Acne?

Like humans, acne in dogs tends to appear during puberty, that is, between 5-8 months of age. Most cases will likely disappear on their own by the time dogs turn one year old.

There are two forms of acne-- mild and generalized. Dogs with cases of mild acne have pimples on their skin. Generalized acne is the more severe form. Affected dogs experience swelling of the lips and muzzle, scabs on the face, and oozing wounds. Without proper veterinary intervention, the dog could end up with permanent scars.

Symptoms Of Acne In Dogs

  • Red bumps on the skin, face, and/or muzzle
  • Swelling
  • Blackheads or whiteheads
  • The dog may rub his face against surfaces such as carpets or furniture to ease the itching
  • Infection may be present
  • Skin lesions may contain pus
  • The dog may experience pain when you touch the skin lesions
  • Scars from acne that have healed

Why Dogs Develop Acne

It’s not clear why dogs suffer from acne. The underlying cause(s) cannot be fully explained by experts. At first, it was believed that dog acne was similar to cases of acne in humans which is primarily associated with hormones. Recent studies, however, suggest that it’s not.

Several factors, however, have been identified that increase a dog’s risk of developing acne. The common denominator to these factors is the irritation of the hair follicles.


An important factor that veterinarians consider to play an important role in the occurrence of canine acne is genetic predisposition. Short-haired dog breeds like Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Boxers, Rottweilers, and Mastiffs are more prone to acne. However, other breeds of dogs can also be affected, but the incidence is quite lower compared to their short-haired counterparts.


Acne in dogs starts to become a problem upon reaching puberty but most cases resolve on their own by the time the dog is 1 year old.


Skin trauma on the dog’s chin or muzzle is also thought to be an important predisposing factor of many dog acne cases. Inflammation develops within the hair follicles. When the hair follicles rupture, the release of their contents into the surrounding skin can eventually pave the way for more areas of skin inflammation. The contents of the ruptured hair follicles are recognized by the body as foreign and this can cause further inflammation in the skin.

In the early stages of dog acne, infection is not usually present. However, the conditions created are favorable for bacterial invasion which can lead to infection and further damage to the skin.

Underlying Skin Condition

If your vet suspects that your dog’s acne is associated with an underlying skin problem, your dog may be assessed for possible allergies. Hypersensitivity reactions to certain food ingredients or environmental allergens are also thought to be important predisposing factors to dog acne.

Your vet may also check your dog for parasites, such as fleas and mites, that may contribute to acne.

How Dog Acne Is Diagnosed

The diagnosis of dog acne is based primarily on the characteristic appearance of the skin lesions and their location, that is, around the dog’s lips and muzzle.

Some cases of dog acne, however, require specific diagnostic tests and procedures to confirm your vet’s initial diagnosis. Tests may also be necessary so your vet can rule out diseases that look like acne, such as demodicosis (mange) or ringworm. These tests and procedures may include:

  • Biopsy - Helps to rule out other types of skin disorders.
  • Bacterial culture and sensitivity testing - To identify the type of bacteria that is present in the skin lesions and the best antibiotic for treatment.

Treatment Options for Dog Acne

The treatment regimen for dog acne is composed of several types of medications that can help ease the inflammation and prevent secondary bacterial infection. These include:

Benzoyl Peroxide

The product is applied topically to help flush out the hair follicles and minimize bacterial contamination. Most mild cases of dog acne can be resolved with benzoyl peroxide application. Your vet may prescribe long-term use of benzoyl peroxide to decrease the possibility of recurrence. Benzoyl peroxide may be applied topically on affected areas. There are also specially formulated shampoos that contain benzoyl peroxide which can be used at least twice a week.

A word of caution when using benzoyl peroxide on dogs: the skin on the dog’s chin and lips is significantly thinner and more sensitive compared to humans, thus a much weaker concentration of benzoyl peroxide is needed. Don’t use benzoyl peroxide that is prescribed for humans because it has a stronger concentration.


Steroids can decrease the swelling and inflammation within the skin. Your vet will decide whether your dog will need only topical or oral steroids or both. Prednisone or prednisolone are just two of the most common oral steroids that are used for dog acne treatment. Topical steroids usually contain betamethasone or fluocinolone.


An antibiotic may be necessary to decrease the bacterial population on the dog’s skin surface and treat infected lesions. The severity of the infection will be assessed to determine whether there is a need for oral antibiotics that are usually given for 4-8 weeks.

Other Medications

Isotretinoin - Some dogs respond with favorable changes within their hair follicles.

Home Care For Dogs With Acne

If your dog’s acne is caused by trauma or allergy, take steps to decrease or avoid the problem. Possible causes of trauma to your dog’s face include eating from a bowl with rough edges, rubbing the face on surfaces, or persistent scratching at the face.

Avoid popping your dog’s pimples. Squeezing them can cause the hair follicle lesions to rupture and spread their contents which are filled with bacteria. Squeezing can also cause further skin injury and worsen inflammation.

Keep your pet’s muzzle and facial folds (if your pet has them) clean and dry using a clean towel or hypoallergenic wipes. Any moisture and/or dirt in the facial folds can create a favorable environment for bacterial colonization and infection.

Dog acne usually resolves on its own as your pet ages. While there’s no need to worry about this skin condition, it is highly recommended that you keep an eye on your dog’s acne for any signs of inflammation and infection.

Read more:

Hot Spots (Moist Dermatitis) in Dogs

Pet First Aid: How to Treat Minor Wounds

Grooming Tips and Coat Care for Your Dog

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your dog’s acne or another condition?

Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.

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