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What Is Dog Acne?

Dog acne is inflammation of the lips and the skin of the muzzle, which can appear as red bumps or pimples on the skin. Acne may begin as folliculitis, which is when short hairs push below the skin’s surface and become inflamed. 

Acne may also occur due to furunculosis, which is when the hair follicle under the skin (also known as muzzle folliculitis and furunculosis) becomes painful, infected, and inflamed, often filled with pus. This occurs when short hairs on the surface of the skin break and are pushed below the skin surface in the follicle.  

In both these cases, there is trauma to the tissues, and it can create a chronic condition in which secondary bacterial or fungal infections can complicate the process. 

This condition is fairly common in young, short, coated breeds of dogs.   

Symptoms of Dog Acne

Dog acne most commonly appears on the bottom of the chin, skin around the mouth, and lower lips. It can look like red bumps, hairless areas, and swelling of the muzzle. As the condition progresses, the bumps can become infected, grow, ooze, or drain fluid.

Causes of Dog Acne

Although the cause of dog acne is often unknown, possible factors include: 

  • Skin damage from rough play or rubbing the face on a rough surface 

  • Itching and rubbing triggered by an underlying skin allergy 

  • Age (most dogs with chin acne are between 6 months and a year old) 

  • Short hair breeds, such as Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, English Bulldog, Great Dane, Weimaraner, English Mastiff, Rottweiler, and German Short Haired Pointer 

Dog acne is unique in that typically the only area of the dog affected is the muzzle.  

In many cases, the cause of acne is unknown. Some possible causes are localized trauma from rough play or rubbing face on carpet or on rough surfaces. Some pets itch and rub from underlying skin allergies (that affect many parts of the body), and this can complicate or cause the initial acne flare. Not all dogs of the short haired breeds develop chin acne, so it’s likely genetics and environmental causes play a role in this condition.  

How Veterinarians Diagnose Dog Acne

It is important to schedule a visit with your veterinarian if you believe your dog has developed acne and is exhibiting any of the above symptoms.   

Your veterinarian will want to rule out other conditions, such as: 

  • Demodicosis: A type of mange that is typically diagnosed through an examine of skin scrapings under a microscope. 

  • Ringworm: In its early stages this fungus resembles acne, so your veterinarian will pluck several hairs for a culture. It typically takes 10 to 14 days to determine whether there is a fungal infection. 

  • Puppy Strangles: A skin disorder that appears in puppies and can resemble acne.  

Typically, your veterinarian will do a thorough examination and ask for history regarding diet, treats, supplements, and home environment (your vet may ask about the types of dishes used for pets or whether other pets are in the home). Some pets can have a contact reaction to plastic bowls. Also, it is possible that contamination of bacteria or yeast can hide in micro scratches on plastic dishes.  

Your vet may also take skin samples to look for secondary bacteria, yeast, or Demodex mites and possibly order a dermatophyte fungal culture. A bacterial culture may be taken if the acne shows signs of draining to identify the type of bacteria. 

In rare cases, a biopsy may be performed to check deep disease, unusual lesions, or cases not responding to therapy.

Treatment of Dog Acne

Treatment of dog acne can include medication, dietary changes, and behavioral therapy.  

Your veterinarian may prescribe topical or oral medications to reduce inflammation and fight any bacterial infection, if necessary. Medications can include: 

  • Anti-inflammatories 

  • Antibiotics 

  • Antifungals 

Your vet may suggest behavioral therapy to help your dog avoid injuring the area from rough play or rubbing their face on rough surfaces. Your vet may also recommend how to properly clean the infected area to prevent secondary infections. 

If your vet finds that your dog has an underlying allergy, they may suggest diet therapy, supplements, and allergy medications (prescription or over-the-counter).

Recovery and Management of Dog Acne

Most dogs with acne recover with proper treatment but do require management, which may include preventing recurring trauma, using topical medications during flare ups, and long-term allergy management if necessary. Some severe cases can result in scarring and can be prone to lesion recurrence.

Dog Acne FAQs

What can I do at home to help my dog's acne?

Behavioral modification to limit contact with rough surfaces or rough play can help limit hair breakage. Keeping the chin area clean and dry can help prevent secondary infections.

Will dog acne go away on its own?

Because the follicle becomes inflamed when the broken hair is pushed deep under the skin, dog chin acne usually requires some form of treatment. The treatment may be mild to significant depending on the individual case. Some dogs with a deep skin infection (pyoderma) may require several months on medications.

Is dog acne contagious?

Most often dog acne is not contagious. If there is a secondary bacterial or fungal infection, the chance of spreading the infection is minimal.

References

Short Jeanmarie DMV.VINcyclopedia of Diseases. Furunculosis/Folliculitis, Muzzle (Canine). Doerr, Katherine DMV. “Muzzle Folliculitis and Furunculosis (Chin Acne, Muzzle Acne) in Dogs.” Veterinary Partner, 9 June 2020, veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&catId=102899&id=9707008. 

Featured Image: iStock.com/Aladino Gonzalez

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