Can Dogs Get Acne?

Posted on
June 14, 2019
a brown and black dog laying on the floor
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Like rebellious teenage humans, teenage dogs can get acne too, but it’s usually “just a phase” for them — perhaps unsightly and a little uncomfortable, but mostly just annoying. Dogs usually get acne at ages between five and eight months which is when their bodies are going through what humans can puberty. The changes they experience during this time can sometimes result in those angry red bumps, usually in the area of the lips and muzzle. So you can help your teenage pup with this problem, we’ll go over:

  • What causes acne in dogs
  • Symptoms of acne
  • How to diagnose acne
  • How to treat acne
A graphic that shows a lab puppy scratching his ear and a human holding a magnifying glass over a flea, indicating that fleas are a common cause of acne and other skin conditions in dogs.
Fleas can be a cause of acne in dogs. Image courtesy of K9 Advisor.

Causes of Canine Acne

So your pup has those sores on her little face, but why exactly are they there? The answer is far from simple — in fact, canine acne has many possible causes. Some of these include:

  • Genetic disposition - this is thought to be the most common cause, and there’s really not much you can do about it
  • Trauma to the skin - this can cause hair follicles to break off near the surface of the skin leading to inflammation and eventual rupture of the hair follicle, which then increases the inflammation
  • Allergies
  • Fleas
  • Breed disposition - short-haired dogs are naturally more likely to get acne
  • Other underlying issues - acne can sometimes be a warning sign of a more serious problem, like autoimmune disease, dermatophytosis, metabolic disease, or other such diseases — if you suspect your pup might be suffering from something more severe than acne, it’s time to make a visit to your vet
A dog's muzzle, which has irritated red bumps
This poor pup has many of the irritated red spots that are characteristic of acne in dogs. Image courtesy of PetWave.

Symptoms of Canine Acne

Acne in dogs closely resembles acne in humans, except that all that fur can sometimes make it difficult to see right away. In general, canine acne will appear as angry-looking red bumps or blackheads. If the acne happens to get infected, there may be swelling in the general area as well as pus-filled lesions. If your pup is rubbing her face on various items, this can also serve as a sign that she might have some of these uncomfortable inflamed spots on her face.

Diagnosis of Acne

Most of the time, if you’re sure that your dog just has acne, it’s nothing to worry about and should go away on its own. However, if you notice acne in conjunction with other issues, like change of appetite, diarrhea, or vomiting, or the acne spreads beyond your pup’s muzzle, it’s a good idea to be safe and pay a visit to your vet. To determine the underlying cause behind your pup’s acne, the vet may go through a few different tests.

A piece of dog hair under the microscope, a beige strand slanting through the center of the screen with a darker core
What normal dog hair looks like under a microscope. Image courtesy of the FBI.

Hair Pluck

Exactly what it sounds like — the vet will pluck a few hairs near your pup’s acne and observe them under the microscope. This is a way to tell if your dog is harboring any parasites, like mites or fleas. The hairs can also be used to check for fungal infection.

Skin Scraping

A small bit of skin is scraped from the affected area to be seen under a microscope or used for cultures. This is also good for looking for skin parasites, bacterial or fungal infection, and most other causes.

Needle Aspirate

If the acne happens to contain pus, the vet may take a sample of this fluid by withdrawing it through a needle. This can then be observed under a microscope to determine the causes of infection.

If these tests don’t yield enough information, your vet may investigate even further by performing a biopsy, blood test, or allergy test. This is usually only necessary if something seems to be seriously wrong, or your pup is not reacting well to her medicine.

How to Treat Acne

Although most of the time it will go away if left alone, acne can be uncomfortable for your dog, and it can become a larger concern if it becomes infected. For these reasons, you might want to consider treating your pup’s acne. Of course, in this case your vet knows best, but we have a few tips for you as well. First and foremost is that you should never, ever try to pop your dog’s pimples, as this can actually rupture the hair follicle further and lead to more irritation and a higher possibility of infection. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s go over the treatments that actually work!

Topical Benzoyl Peroxide

This is an over-the-counter medicine specifically for treating canine acne, though it can sometimes be prescribed by your vet as well. It works by flushing out the hair follicle and washing away the nasty bacteria that may have been convening there. In most cases, this is the only treatment needed, but with some more severe bouts of acne, it may need to be used long-term or combined with other medication. Be careful though — this is one case in which canine acne should not be confused with human acne. Benzoyl peroxide meant for humans is far too strong for your pup’s sensitive face, so make sure to get the treatment that is specifically for use on dogs.

Other Topical Treatments

Though benzoyl peroxide is the most common treatment, there are a variety of other topical canine acne treatments on the market. These can come in many forms, such as ointments, shampoos, cleansers, or wipes, some of which may be messy or smell a bit weird, but all of which are effective. You should just stick to using whatever will make your pup most comfortable.


Steroids have the ability to reduce inflammation in the skin, and can be administered topically or orally. Not every dog will respond favorably to steroids, however, and they should only be used as a short-term solution as they can also cause adrenal suppression, in which case your dog’s body will stop producing adequate amounts of steroid hormones on its own.

Oral Medications

If the acne has some cause related to bacteria or fungi, oral medicine will likely be used in conjunction with topical medicine, most likely antibiotics or antifungals. These usually only need to be taken for two to three weeks, but they can sometimes cause unpleasant side effects, like diarrhea or other digestive issues.

A sad looking golden retriever rests his head on the kitchen floor as he wears an e-collar, known by many as the cone of shame, as he recovers from acne.
Though the E-collar may cause your dog to look this sad, it’s an important part of the healing process. Image courtesy of PetMD.


Affectionately known in my family as “the cone of shame,” an E-collar is that cone-shaped attachment that goes around your poor pup’s neck to stop her from causing further trauma to her face. She may not like it — in fact, she’s almost guaranteed not to like it — but it’s necessary to let the acne heal properly. Fortunately, it can be taken off as soon as everything is all healed up.

Managing Recovery

Acne is nothing if not persistent, and ongoing care is necessary to ensure that your pup makes a full and complete recovery. If the cause of your dog’s acne can’t be determined by initial, it’s likely that you will have to go back to your vet for more involved and detailed testing. Even if the vet has already prescribed an antifungal or antibacterial treatment for your pup, she’ll want to check in and make sure that the treatment is effective and not irritating to the skin.

Acne can be stubborn, and has a tendency to crop back up even after treated once. If the cause has been determined and you have an effective treatment plan, canine acne should only be a minor inconvenience, lasting for a month or so, but in some more severe cases, lifelong treatment is necessary. Though this may sound intimidating, all it means is using some variety of those topical treatments regularly, whether you use anti-acne shampoo whenever you give your dog a bath, or wipe down her chin occasionally with medicated wipes. You can also make lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of recurrence, like switching up diets, using plastic or metal food bowls, or changing grooming patterns — whatever would best eliminate the cause of acne for your dog.

So there you go — dogs certainly can get acne, but the answers to the questions of why and what to do can be a little more complicated. Even though this article can be helpful for owners of pups with those little red spots, the ultimate authority on this matter is your vet. If your dog has acne, take her to the vet and find out the cause. And, whatever you do, resist the urge to pop those pimples!

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Posted on
June 14, 2019

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