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So Your Dog Has Pimples: What Causes Canine Acne & How To Treat It

Our pups are like us in many ways. But they’re different from us in many ways as well, of course; for one thing, most of them are covered with fur. With all that hair covering their body, it may be surprising to learn that the bane of many an adolescent human — pimples — is something that even dogs sometimes have to deal with. If you've ever wondered "Why does my dog have pimples?," read on to learn what the signs of canine acne are, what causes it, and what you should do to treat it.

What Does Canine Acne Look Like?

According to Dr. Catherine Barnette of the VCA Hospital, pimples on dogs take the form of red bumps or pustules around the mouth and lips. If the hair follicle breaks off, this can lead to a rupture of the follicle, which will subsequently cause inflammation. If left untreated, this rupture can also become infected by bacteria and ultimately lead to infection. In severe cases, this can lead to swelling, bleeding, scabbing, and sometimes even permanent scarring.

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The good news is that if the acne is mild, your dog will have little discomfort. More severe cases, however, may be painful or itchy to your pup and will warrant a trip to your vet for treatment. Acne usually pops up when the whiskers or hairs near your pup’s mouth gets irritated.

What Causes Dog Pimples?

What causes canine acne isn’t clear — initially it was thought to be caused by hormonal changes (just like with us!) though more recent studies seem to dispute that. “Canine acne is a deep skin infection usually caused by an underlying allergy from a contact, food, or environmental allergen,” Dr. Deirdre Frey, founder of Vet at Your Door, a house call veterinary practice, explains. “Contact allergy or irritation can include plastic or porcelain food bowls that can harbor bacteria, or from digging in the dirt outside. Food allergens are usually due to a type of protein, such as chicken or beef. Environmental allergens really could be anything.”

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Whatever the cause of canine acne, however, one thing is clear: certain breeds are more susceptible to dog pimples than others, and Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Boxers, English Bulldogs, German Shorthaired Pointers, Mastiffs, and Rottweilers are more likely to be afflicted.

How Can I Treat Canine Acne?

Your veterinarian can usually make a diagnosis after making a visual inspection of your dog. Your vet, however, may also decide to take a skin scraping, fungal or bacterial cultures, and/or do lab tests in order to rule out underlying causes of your dog’s pimples, such as parasites, mange, or a fungal infection.

Once diagnosed, your veterinarian will likely prescribe a series of topical and oral medications to help clear up your pup’s skin. “Treatment for this deep skin infection often includes topical and oral antibiotics to treat the infection, anti-inflammatories to help healing and comfort, and immune system modulators to minimize the initial allergic response,” Dr. Frey explains. Sometimes, a topical benzoyl peroxide ointment is also recommended for ongoing care, and if your dog has a serious case, your vet may also decide to prescribe oral steroids like prednisone.

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You can also try to mitigate the factors causing your dog’s acne at home by refraining from popping any pimples they may have (this makes them more prone to infection) and, if the acne is caused by a specific allergy, working to lessen your pup’s exposure to it. “A good start is to use clean stainless steel food and water bowls,” Dr. Frey recommends. “Your veterinarian can also guide you through a good elimination trial, as well as test for environmental allergen sensitivities.”

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