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By Becca DiFabbio

Cats and dogs can have acne just like humans. You might notice swelling and a bumpy appearance on your pet’s chin, but acne can crop up on other parts of the body, too. These bumps look similar to the blackheads and whiteheads humans get, and may even ooze with pus or blood in extreme cases. If a cat or dog licks or chews at the affected area, a more serious bacterial infection can develop from irritation.

Pet acne is a symptom of an unrelated reaction, according to Dr. Ken Tudor, owner of The Well Dog Place in Claremont, California. “We’re always looking for a reason for this dermatological manifestation,” he says. It can be caused by flea allergies, environmental allergies, pollen, and fungal spores. Additionally, skin infections from a poorly groomed coat can also lead to acne. Unlike humans, it is unlikely that cats and dogs will develop acne from oily skin.

To prevent acne, make sure to keep your pet’s food and water bowls clean. Ceramic or steel bowls are recommended, as many pets can have a sensitivity to plastic. Also clean your pet’s face after eating or drinking, especially if food collects around his mouth or if he has wrinkly skin where substances can get trapped.

Some dog and cat breeds are more prone to acne than others. “There’s certainly a genetic predisposition for certain breeds,” says Dr. Judy Morgan, owner of Churchtown Veterinary Associates and Clayton Veterinary Associates in New Jersey. “It will be different for each individual, depending on what their intolerance is.” Susceptible dog breeds include Boxers, Mastiffs, Bulldogs, and Golden Retrievers, Morgan says. Long-haired cat breeds such as Himalayans and Persians are most prone to acne.

Here are five ways you can treat acne in cats and dogs. Keep in mind that it is important to consult a veterinarian before trying any at-home acne treatment.

Cucumber Pulp or Other DIY Treatments

One at-home remedy for dog or cat acne is rubbing cucumber pulp on the affected area. “It will help dry the area and dry out the acne as well,” Morgan says. In fact, there are other products in your pantry or medicine cabinet that could be useful for treating your pet’s acne. Green or black teas, organic apple cider vinegar, aloe, witch hazel, diluted tea tree oil, and coconut oil are among the natural products Morgan recommends for mild cases of canine or feline acne before turning to prescribed medication. (Note: Accidental ingestion or improper dilutions of essential oils can be harmful to pets, so make sure to speak with your veterinarian before using tea tree oil.) “If it’s a simple case of acne and you do the treatment at home, it should clear up,” Morgan says. “It should have your pet looking a lot better in about a week or so.”

Homeopathic Medicine

For pet parents interested in a holistic approach to their cat or dog’s acne, Morgan likes to turn to some homeopathies, such as hepar sulph and silicea. These two oral homeopathies are used for treatment of various skin conditions, including acne. “Hepar sulph is made from burning the white interior of oyster shells with lime sulphur [and] acts almost like an antibiotic, driving infection out of the body,” Morgan explains. “Silica is made of rock crystals which are diluted down to the ‘essence’ to make a homeopathic remedy [and] is used to expel foreign matter, like abscess debris, from the skin.” When using homeopathic remedies, the body as a whole is treated rather than solely one area of the body or specific illness.  

Surgical Scrub or Antibacterial Medication

In some cases, your veterinarian may clip the hair around the affect area and scrub softly with surgical scrub, a topical antiseptic use to clean the skin, Morgan says. Dr. Stephanie Chlebowski, associate veterinarian at Vernon Veterinary Clinic in Vernon, New Jersey, has also used surgical scrub to treat pets with acne. In some cases, veterinarians may offer pet parents a flush or rinse version that is more diluted and can be used at home. Chlebowski has also prescribed antibacterial topical medications, which are comparable to human antibiotic ointments and contain similar active ingredients. Do not to use acne products intended for humans unless specifically directed by a veterinarian. Also, it is best not to squeeze or pick at your pet’s acne to avoid infection.

Oftentimes, Dr. Morgan will treat feline or canine acne topically since it is the most effective method, provided that the acne is occurring in one concentrated area of the body. “It doesn’t make sense to give an animal something oral if [the acne] is localized,” says Dr. Morgan.

Medicated Shampoo or Wipes

Chlebowski agrees that canine or feline acne is best treated topically instead of with oral medication. She often prescribes medicated shampoo with chlorhexedine as the active ingredient and recommends medicated wipes as another form of topical treatment. In severe cases, your veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic or, for cases of acne caused by a yeast infection, antifungal medication in conjunction with medicated shampoo or wipes.


Warm Compress

For more mild cases of canine and feline acne, topical medications and kitchen concoctions may be unnecessary. Chlebowski recommends applying a soft washcloth or towel rinsed in warm water to the affected area. This can help soothe the skin and reduce swelling associated with acne. 

Managing Your Pet’s Acne

In cases where your pet develops resistance to medication, his acne won’t heal and becomes a recurring issue, or when acne is being caused by an underlying issue such as allergies, your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist, Chlebowski says. “It’s important to have that conversation with your veterinarian.”

All in all, be sure to seek veterinary guidance before treating your cat or dog for acne at home. With the proper care and attention, you can help your furry family member clear up his acne. 

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