Q. My dog has what looks like acne on his chin. What’s going on?
A. You may have thought you were beyond the teenage years with your kids or didn’t have to deal with them for a few years yet. Then, you got a puppy.
Guess what! Just like human teenagers, adolescent dogs go through some challenging behavioral and physical changes. They start to break the rules, want to do their own thing and, yes, they get acne.
Causes of Acne
The body’s oil glands can become super-active during adolescence. Starting when your dog is five to eight months old, he may produce too much sebum, an oily liquid. The sebum flows out through the hair follicles, which also shed dead skin cells (dander). The excess oil, combined with dander and dirt, plugs up the hair follicles, forming blackheads, red bumps, or scabs on the chin, lips and muzzle. Acne can also be caused by trauma to the hairs or skin on the chin or muzzle.
We see this most commonly in shorthaired dogs, but it can affect any breed. For instance, hairless dogs are extremely prone to acne and not just on the face. They can have pimples all over their bodies. Talk about an adolescent nightmare!
Certain breeds appear to have a genetic predisposition to conditions, such as allergic skin disease, which may make them more susceptible to acne. It’s best not to breed dogs who develop chronic cases.
There are also some other possible causes of acne in dogs. They include allergies to plastic food bowls or other contact and airborne allergies, food allergies or just plain poor grooming. The latter might be the case in breeds such as Bulldogs or Pugs, if their wrinkles aren’t cleaned thoroughly or regularly. Autoimmune or metabolic diseases, such as hypothyroidism, may also be culprits. Some of these conditions cause itchiness on top of the acne. The resultant scratching can only make the acne worse and may lead to secondary bacterial infections, which can be painful.
Now, most of the time, cases of acne in dogs are mild and usually disappear by the time the dog is a year old. Mild cases usually don’t need any treatment and clear up on their own in time.
Some dogs develop severe cases or repeated secondary bacterial infections, which can cause pain and itching. Suspect a secondary bacterial infection if your dog frequently paws at his face or rubs it on the carpet or upholstered furniture. In these cases, your veterinarian will usually prescribe an oral or injectable antibiotic.
If your dog’s acne worsens or becomes persistent, your veterinarian will need to dig deep to find the source of the problem. Diagnostics that may be helpful include a bacterial culture and antimicrobial sensitivity testing, skin scraping or biopsy and a fungal culture or Wood’s lamp examination. Your vet may also suggest allergy testing. These tests can help differentiate acne from other conditions that resemble it, such as mange or ringworm, or help determine an underlying cause.
Depending on the cause and severity of the acne, your veterinarian may suggest the following solutions:
- A change in diet
- Switching from plastic to stainless steel or ceramic food and water dishes, and washing them daily in hot, soapy water
- Washing and drying your dog’s face thoroughly after meals
- Treatment with special cleansers, chlorhexidine wipes or medicated shampoos
- A multiweek course of oral or topical antibiotics, or both
If necessary, your veterinarian may prescribe gels or shampoos containing benzoyl peroxide, the same thing you might use on your own skin. While it might seem like a simple solution, don’t apply your own acne medication to your dog’s face. The products you use are too strong and can make the situation worse.
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