You may have noticed some raised pink spots and pimples on your puppy’s face. It looks suspiciously like the acne us humans suffer with, but what is it? Read on to find out more about what causes canine acne and how it can be diagnosed and treated. 

What is canine acne?

Canine acne, also known as muzzle folliculitis and furunculosis, is an inflammatory disorder that affects the hair follicles on the chin and lips of young dogs. It usually develops in puppies between the ages of 3 and 12 months old. The underlying cause remains unclear. In humans, acne is caused by hormonal fluctuations which leads to excess sebum production and clogging of pores. However, in dogs, it is thought that localised trauma to the muzzle and genetic predisposition are bigger contributing factors than hormones are. 

Puppies are curious and playful by nature and may cause trauma to their chin or muzzle in ways such as rubbing against hard, rough surfaces or playing with chew toys. When this happens, hair may break off below the skin surface. These short, stiff hairs result in a ‘foreign body’ reaction and follicular inflammation. Eventually, the follicle may end up rupturing and the release of its contents leads to even more inflammation. During early stages of acne development, the inflammation may still be sterile which means no bacteria is present. However, damage to the follicle makes it susceptible to bacterial infection.

Which breeds have a predisposition to canine acne?

Canine acne is most often seen in short-coated breeds, such as Boxers, Dobermans, Great Danes, English bulldogs, Mastiffs and Weimeraners. All breeds can be affected by acne but these are the ones that are genetically predisposed. 

What are the signs of canine acne?

Initially, signs are mild and you will see papules (small red bumps) and pustules (bumps containing pus). The chin and lip margins may be swollen and inflamed, and your puppy may scratch more frequently at their face. As the acne progresses, the lesions become enlarged, ulcerated and bleed or discharge pus, which can be painful for your puppy. 

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How is canine acne diagnosed?

Your vet will make a diagnosis based on the history and clinical signs. Since other skin conditions can cause similar lesions and itchiness, it is important they are ruled out. Your vet may take skin scrapes to check for Demodex mites and hair plucks to test for dermatophytes (a fungal infection). They may try to ascertain whether your puppy has had physical contact with an irritant, resulting in a contact dermatitis. They may also investigate whether your puppy has underlying food or environmental allergies. A skin biopsy may be necessary to confirm a diagnosis of acne. 

How can canine acne be treated?

Mild cases with few, non-infected lesions can be cleaned daily with an antimicrobial shampoo. 

Moderate to severe cases with lesions that are ulcerated, bleeding or discharging pus will need to be treated with a course of oral antibiotics to combat bacterial infection. The primary bacteria involved is usually Staphylococcus. A broad-spectrum antibiotic, such as cephalexin, may be prescribed for a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks and continued until lesions have healed. If there is no improvement or lesions worsen, a sample may need to be sent off for culture and sensitivity in order to find a more specific antibiotic to use. 

Oral corticosteroids, such as prednisolone, may also be prescribed to control inflammation and reduce itchiness. Minimising scratching will prevent further damage to hair follicles and allow the skin to heal. 

Early identification and appropriate treatment are crucial to prevent chronic scarring. There is no quick fix for canine acne and it can take from 4 to 12 weeks to resolve. 

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Should spots be ‘popped’?

It may be tempting to squeeze the pimples on your puppy’s face but it’s important not to do this. Not only will it traumatise the skin and potentially cause further infection, but it also risks internal rupture and subsequent inflammation. 

What about long-term management?

The best news of all is that most dogs will grow out of it!

Overall, the outcomes for canine acne are generally good. We often see permanent resolution when puppies reach adulthood. However, in other cases, the affected dogs may require life long-term topical treatment or oral steroids to prevent recurrence. Your vet will work with you to formulate a management plan that keeps your dog comfortable. As a result, we do not recommend just hoping it will get better on its own.

Trauma and pressure to the muzzle should be reduced. Ways that this can be achieved include stopping your puppy from rubbing their chin on the carpet, scratching their face, and avoiding the use of plastic bowls that can have rough edges and harbour bacteria. 

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