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You share many things with your dog. Ever wonder whether you share too much?

You share your time, your snacks (… can dogs eat pineapple?), and your snuggles. But can you share the flu with your dog? Or viruses?

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What about pimples? Does your dog share the same annoying skin issues we humans deal with too? While sharing diseases with your dog is possible, it’s very rare.

However, dogs can, and do, develop pimples. And they’re sort of the same kind we deal with.

But don’t start sharing beauty secrets, pimple remedies, and zit-creams with your BFF–because let’s face it, someone has done it. Instead, read on to find out why dogs get pimples in the first place, what they look like, and why human acne products are not meant for sharing.

Do Dogs Really Get Pimples?

Dog pimplesYes, dogs can actually get pimples. They can be mild or serious.

Dog pimples, or canine acne, is an inflammatory disorder resulting in pimples appearing mainly on the lips and on the skin of the muzzle.

Dogs can develop different types of pimples including:

  1. Pustules
  2. Papules
  3. Comedones

Pustules

Small bumps on the skin filled with pus. Usually caused by infection, most commonly staphylococcus, or pyoderma. Pyoderma, sometimes called impetigo, is an infection caused by bacteria. Pyoderma is most commonly seen in puppies.

Papules

Small red, scaly bumps caused by inflamed skin cells. A flea allergy is a common culprit resulting in papules.

Comedones

A comedo is another name for an acne lesion. It forms when a pore, or hair follicle, becomes clogged with debris. More commonly called acne such as whiteheads and blackheads.

Dog acne can range from mild cases of small, red, non-infected pimples on the skin. Or dog acne can be more serious. Severe dog acne is known as generalized acne. When dogs have serious cases of acne you might notice symptoms that include:

  • Bleeding
  • Scabs
  • Swelling around the lips
  • Swelling around the muzzle
  • Pus

Furthermore, some breeds are more vulnerable to acne breakouts than other breeds. Pimple-prone pooches include:

  • Boxers
  • English Bulldogs
  • Great Danes
  • Hairless breeds
  • German Short-Haired
  • Rottweilers

Whitehead Dog Pimples

Whiteheads are common human acne. Whiteheads are clogged pores, also referred to as closed comedones because the clogs are enclosed by a layer of skin. Whiteheads in humans are essentially pimples that form a white head, essentially the contents of the pimple.

Dogs can get small bumps on their skin that may at first look like whiteheads common to human acne. But what may appear to be several whitehead dog pimples, might actually be sebaceous cysts. Sebaceous cysts are very common in dogs.

Usually, sebaceous cysts aren’t problematic unless they begin to break open. At that point, they’re also open to potential infections and bacteria getting in it.

Sometimes, sebaceous cyst treatment is necessary and usually, surgery is most effective to get rid of it for good. But, removal isn’t always necessary. As they are very slow-growing and can take a long time to reach the point of potential infection. Still, it may be wise to get it checked out by a vet first and then monitor it for any changes.

Why Does My Dog Have Pimples?

Causes of dog pimplesDog acne can form for a variety of reasons and may or may not involve infection. Acne is a physical change in skin tissue, usually caused by:

  1. Physical injury to the skin
  2. Disease

The hair follicles inside pores can become irritated quite easily, for instance, when a dog rubs its face on a scratchy surface to get an itch. Microscopic tears in the skin can result after a dog scratches its face using its claws, much like when humans use abrasive skin exfoliates. When there are tears in the skin, the hair follicle can become inflamed, bacteria or debris can enter the skin, and potentially clog pores that lead to dog acne.

Clogged pores are:

  1. Dead skin cells
  2. Keratin (a protein found in hair, skin, and nails)
  3. Sebum (oil)

Essentially, anything that disrupts the skin’s normal process of moving oil and protein through layers of the skin as per usual, can cause dog acne to form.

Often, pimples go away on their own. But they can also swell and become infected. Pimples that pop, break, or otherwise become enlarged due to the clog are more likely to become infected because bacteria have a way to get in it. While canine acne is considered an inflammatory disorder, dog acne is non-infected. That is, until it becomes infected.

Note that some pimple-like bumps are caused by bacteria, and therefore, are infected. While those bumps may look like acne, their underlying condition is different.

Dog acne can be caused by various factors or underlying conditions. While the causes of dog acne aren’t entirely clear, experts can agree on several things:

  • Dog acne is an inflammatory disorder
  • Other bumps may resemble dog acne
  • Dog acne mostly appears on the dog’s lips and muzzle
  • Dog acne inflammation is initially non-infected

Other bumpy skin conditions would need to be ruled out by a veterinarian.

Experts can also agree about several possible reasons why dogs develop acne. While some reasons are less common than others, they include:

  • Hormones
  • Skin trauma
  • Allergies
  • Parasites
  • Infection
  • Genetics

Skin Trauma

This is the most common cause of dog acne. Skin trauma can happen for a number of reasons. When dogs play rough, scratch, or use their muzzle to explore everything in their environment, they increase their risk of damaging the outermost layer of skin and causing inflammation to pores and hair follicles.

Allergies

Dog acne can pop up due to allergies. A dog may rub its face on surfaces to relieve itchiness which can cause the area to become irritated, making it easier for debris, irritants, and bacteria to enter the pores. Types of allergies that can lead to dog acne or breaking out in an acne-like rash are

  1. Contact
  2. Environmental
  3. Food

Like dog flu food allergies are not common in dogs, as only 5% of cases are allergy-related. But when they occur, dogs may experience a host of symptoms that look like dog acne including

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Red bumps (hives)

Parasites

Fleas and mites can make dogs itch to the point of breaking the skin and irritating hair follicles leading to dog acne. Moreover, fleas and mites can cause small, red bumps that resemble dog acne.

Oily Skin

Hormone disrupting disorders like Cushing’s disease or other thyroid-disrupting issues can create hormonal imbalances. Hormonal dysregulation can lead to the skin overproducing oil.  Excessive oil production can clog pores resulting in dog acne when it mixes with other pore-clogging debris like dead skin cells and keratin.

Infection

Infections can also lead to dog acne, or acne-like lesions, on a dog’s skin. Dog pimple culprits may be:

  1. Viral
  2. Fungal
  3. Bacterial

Bacteria

The most common acne-causing bacteria found in dogs is called Staphylococcus. Bacteria can find their way into pores through inflamed follicles, or through micro-tears on the skin. Pores that are already clogged, in the case of blackheads and whiteheads, for example, can become infected when bacteria enter the pore and become stuck among the clogged debris.

Folliculitis

When short hairs are pushed underneath the skin’s surface, a condition known as folliculitis can occur. The impacted follicle becomes inflamed and the formation of small bumps that resemble acne can form. But unlike dog acne lesions that may be inflamed but not infected, folliculitis is caused by an infected hair follicle, most commonly due to bacteria.

So, while dog acne and folliculitis may look similar their causes are different. Also, dog acne is usually found on a dog’s lips and muzzle. On the other hand, folliculitis can appear anywhere.

Other infections or diseases that can lead to folliculitis:

  • Parasites
  • systemic disease
  • Immune system disorders
  • Trauma
  • Endocrine problems

Understanding the difference between dog acne (blocked pore) and folliculitis (infected hair follicle) is important for getting dogs the right treatment.

Genetics

Certain breeds are more vulnerable to developing dog acne due to their genes. Short-haired breeds are particularly susceptible because their skin is more exposed, like hairless breeds for instance. Also, short-haired breeds often have coarse fur closer to the skin’s surface, making it easier for it to become impacted.

Other conditions that can resemble dog acne but may be more serious or contagious, include

  • Demodicosis: a type of mange (mites) transmitted from mother to puppy that may resemble whiteheads.
  • Ringworm: a type of fungus that resembles acne in its early stages and can be spread from dogs to humans.
  • Puppy Strangles: a potentially fatal non-contagious skin condition resembling acne-like blisters and scabs, diagnosed in puppies and young dogs.

Where Canine Acne Can Appear

Canine acneDog Acne is most commonly found around the mouth area, specifically, the chin, lips, and muzzle. A pimple may form as an individual comedo or may appear in clusters. If dog acne becomes infected, the vet may test for the type of bacteria, virus, or parasite causing the infection. Doing so will tell you what type of treatment is needed.

Dog Acne on Chin

The chin is one of the most common areas for dogs to develop acne. There are several reasons for this.

Muzzle Folliculitis

This is caused when short, coarse hair commonly found on a dog’s chin is easily impacted which can cause inflammation and lead to acne.

Muzzle Furunculosis

When the broken or impacted hair causes injury to the hair follicle below the surface of the skin, it can lead to inflammation and infection. Often the infected hair follicle contains pus. When a hair follicle becomes impacted and inflamed, bacteria can find a way in resulting in infected acne lesions.

Dog Pimple on Lip

The lips are a common area for dog acne to form as well. There are several causes for pimples that form on a dog’s lips.

Mouth Bacteria

So, are dogs mouths cleaner than humans? Poor dental hygiene is unfortunately common in dogs. Dogs frequently suffer from gum disease, cavities, and oral bacteria. When a dog doesn’t receive proper dental care via regular visits to the dentist or daily teeth cleaning, bad bacteria move in. If left untreated, it’s possible for bacteria to find their way to a dog’s lips and mouth and cause dog acne.

Oral Papillomas

Papillomas are warts caused by a virus and are spreadable between dogs. They may look like big pimples located around the mouth and lips. Mostly common among puppies, oral papillomas may not require treatment because they normally go away on their own and typically aren’t harmful.

Infected Dog Acne

Dog acne can become infected when bacteria enter the clogged pore and get trapped. Infected dog acne results from debris and oil blocking the opening of a hair follicle. An infected dog pimple is called a pustule and is filled with pus and bacteria.

Symptoms of infected dog acne may present with symptoms like

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Whiteheads
  • Pus
  • Bleeding
  • Scabbing

Dog Pimples on Back

A pimple on a dog’s back can resemble acne but may actually be a sebaceous cyst. A sebaceous cyst is a clogged oil gland that is often much larger than a typical acne pimple. Sebaceous cysts can form when a dog’s body is producing too much sebum and causes its pores to become clogged with excess oil. Usually, the cysts aren’t harmful and treatment may not be needed.

Dog Pimples on Belly

A condition called pyoderma can cause a pimple-like rash to form on a dog’s underside. The rash may look a lot like dog acne. Pyoderma may be caused by yeast, bacteria, or fungus and presents with symptoms such as

  • Pustules
  • Red bumps
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Crusty skin

Pimple on Dog Eyelid

A stye on a dog’s eyelid can look like a pimple. A stye, also known as a hordeolum, forms on the eyelid and may cause temporary swelling. The culprit that causes a stye to form is a bacteria of the oil gland called Staphylococcus aureus. The swelling is due to the pus inside, but unless the dog scratches the area and causes it to burst, a stye will usually heal on its own.

Pimple on Dog Paw

Dogs can develop a pimple-like abscess on their paw, commonly developing on the webbing between the dog’s toes. The lesion is similar to a large, pus-filled pimple and is known as interdigital furuncles. It’s similar to folliculitis that can develop on a dog’s chin. The primary cause is hair follicles impacting the surrounding skin, causing inflammation. Bacterial infection is then common due to the pore becoming enlarged.

Dog Ear Pimple

Usually, sebaceous cysts can form on a dog’s ear and be mistaken for dog acne. Sebaceous cysts may appear anywhere on a dog’s body, any size, and may resemble a whitehead. Additionally, small bumps on the outer ear may be due to mites or other parasites that burrow under the surface of the skin, causing bumps to form.

Dog Whisker Pimple

Whiskers are essentially fur follicles except much deeper. And like the rest of a dog’s follicles, whisker follicles are susceptible to folliculitis and infection. A dog can develop a pimple on its muzzle that starts as an ingrown whisker.

Find the table below for a quick dog pimple reference guide.

Dog Pimple LocationPossible Explanation
ChinMuzzle folliculitis or Muzzle furunculosis
LipsAcne lesions or small warts known as oral papillomas
BackA sebaceous cyst
BellyPyoderma, an infection caused by yeast, bacteria, or fungus.
EyelidA hordeolum, or stye, caused by bacteria.
PawInterdigital furuncles, a pus-filled lesion caused by bacteria.
EarTiny mites or another parasite that burrows beneath the skin’s surface.
WhiskersAn infected ingrown whisker or folliculitis that has formed a pimple.

Dog Acne Treatment

Dog acne treatmentTreatment #1 Anti-Inflammatory

Veterinarians may use an anti-inflammatory to treat dog acne. The most common anti-inflammatory medications include

  1. Oral steroids
  2. Topical steroids

Treatment #2 Antibiotics

Antibiotics can be used to treat dog acne when a bacterial infection is present. Antibiotics reduce the number of bacteria that are present on the surface of the skin and within acne lesions. A veterinarian may prescribe

  1. Topical antibiotics
  2. Oral antibiotics

Treatment #3 Antifungal

Pyoderma causes lesions on a dog’s skin that look a lot like acne. Pyoderma bumps look like small, red bumps on the skin and may be caused by bacteria or fungus. When the condition is caused by a fungus, your veterinarian may prescribe treatment, like

  1. Antifungal shampoo
  2. Topical antifungal medication
  3. Oral antifungal medication
  4. Oral antibiotics

Dog Acne Home Remedies

Home remedies for dog acneIf you feel that your pup’s particular case of dog zits doesn’t warrant a trip to the vet then you might want to know how to treat dog acne at home. There are some at-home dog acne remedies you can try.

Hydrogen Peroxide for Dog Acne

Avoid using hydrogen peroxide to treat dog acne. Because dog acne may be considered open wounds, hydrogen peroxide may be harmful to a dog’s skin and cause further irritation. Hydrogen peroxide is toxic to dogs and can make them vomit if ingested, even in less-concentrated solutions.

Benzoyl Peroxide for Dog Acne

Benzoyl Peroxide seems to be one of the most common and effective at-home dog acne treatments. Shampoo or face wash containing benzoyl peroxide can effectively clean a dog’s pores by removing excess oil and debris. A topical benzoyl peroxide application such as a medicated shampoo or gel may be used once a week to treat dog acne at home.

Use Hypoallergenic Wipes

You can help manage dog acne by keeping their face clean. This is especially important if your particular breed has lots of folds and wrinkles where dirt and bacteria can hide. You can use hypoallergenic wipes daily to help keep your dog’s face clean and control dog acne from spreading.

Check out the following table showing how to get rid of dog acne and what to avoid.

ProfessionalAt-HomeAvoid
Anti-inflammatory:

Oral or topical steroids like Prednisone or prednisolone.

Benzoyl Peroxide:

It seems to be the most common and effective at-home treatment.

Coconut Oil:

Coconut oil is comedogenic meaning it clogs pores and may lead to more acne.

Anti-fungal:

Oral or topical medications like chlorhexidine or ketoconazole.

Hypoallergenic face wipes:

Helps to stop the spread of acne and bacteria, especially in wrinkly dogs.

Aloe Vera and Apple Cider Vinegar:

While aloe vera may soothe a painful acne lesion, it does not treat dog acne.

Apple cider vinegar may irritate open dog acne lesions.

Antibiotics:

Topical or oral medications may be prescribed, like mupirocin to decrease bacteria count or oral antibiotics for infected cases. Oral antibiotics are usually given for 4-8 weeks.

Daily oral hygiene regimen:

Brushing the dog’s teeth to keep bacteria from spreading to the lips and chin is helpful for preventing dog acne.

Hydrogen Peroxide:

Toxic to dogs if ingested even in small amounts and may cause further irritation to a dog’s skin.

Tips on Preventing Dog Acne

Preventing dog acneDog acne might be inevitable but thankfully not as serious as pneumonia in dogs or kennel cough. Still, there are ways to help your dog from developing more, or more serious, acne. Just follow a few tips.

Resist Popping Dog Acne

Prevention is so easy if only resisting temptation were easy too. While not everyone has made pimple-popping a hobby, some folks just find it fascinating. Nobody can stop you from popping the pimples on your face. But do the dog a favor and resist the urge to pop theirs. Popping your dog’s pimples can cause pain, inflammation, and more acne. And nobody wants that.

Oral Hygiene for Dog Acne on Chin

Have you brushed your dog’s teeth today? If you haven’t gotten into the habit yet you might be surprised how much brushing can benefit your dog’s oral health. It may prevent acne from forming around the mouth too.

Clean Dog Bowls and Toys

Occasionally cleaning the things your dog puts in its mouth can keep dog acne away. While you can’t prevent everything from getting into your dog’s mouth, you can do your part in making sure their food bowls and squeaky toys are free from harmful bacteria. Considering bacteria can live longest on surfaces made of plastic or stainless steel, occasionally cleaning dog bowls and chew toys is a good idea.

Acne-causing bacteria is bad enough, now how long does kennel couch live on surfaces?

FAQ

Frequently asked questionsHow to Get Rid of Dog Acne?

Topical remedies are best. Shampoo, face wash, or topical gels containing benzoyl peroxide are most effective for treating dog acne. Avoid using human acne products on dogs as the active ingredients they contain are too harsh and may be harmful.

What Does Dog Acne Look Like?

Most common on a dog’s chin, lips, and muzzle, dog acne usually looks like red or white bumps. Dog zits may be big or small. They may resemble common pimples like whiteheads and contain pus if infected.

Can I Treat Dog Pimples Naturally?

While some claim coconut oil, aloe vera, and apple cider vinegar are effective for treating dog acne, it’s best to steer clear without first talking to a vet. Coconut oil can clog pores and make acne worse. Aloe vera might be toxic to dogs if ingested and will not clear-up dog acne.

However, it may be used as a topical solution to relieve painful acne spots. Apple cider vinegar, when diluted, may be used to treat acne spots but shouldn’t be used on open wounds so it’s best avoided on broken dog acne.

Conclusion

Even though dog acne is caused by benign material like dead skin cells and excess oil, pores may be more vulnerable to harmful material like bacteria. When this happens, dog acne can become infected. So, while dog acne isn’t necessarily serious, it can become a bigger issue if it isn’t treated or managed. Use this guide to help you, as some conditions only resemble acne, so it’s always best to get any strange lump or bump also checked out by a vet.