by Dr David Brooks
Everyone knows of acne as a human condition suffered by unfortunate teenagers during adolescence, but canine acne is in fact quite common in certain breeds of dog too.
The most susceptible breeds are young adult boxers, English bulldogs, Doberman pinschers, Great Danes and Rottweilers. The condition starts at puberty around 5 to 8 months of age. Most dogs improve with age and the condition typically resolves after one year of age, though some dogs can develop chronic acne.
Dogs with canine acne develop multiple comedones (blackheads) on their chin, lips, and muzzle. Plugs of debris made of natural substances such as keratin and sebum block the hair follicles, causing focal swellings which can rupture to form scabs.
Dogs with this condition have swellings, scabs and blackheads on their lips, chin and muzzle. These usually do not bother the dog unless a secondary bacterial skin infection develops. This can cause pain and itching, leading the dog to scratch at his/her face or rub it along the carpet.
Diagnosis is usually straight forward - the characteristic appearance described above, in one of the known susceptible breeds is usually sufficient. Your vet may decide to take a skin biopsy for confirmation, which can be done under sedation, local or general anaesthetic and then sent off to a histopathologist for analysis.
Canine acne cannot really be cured, but can be controlled. Mild cases are usually not treated. The first step is always to rule out other conditions such as demodecosis (a mite infestation), ringworm and puppy strangles.
The latter also causes anorexia and depression so if your dog is bright with a good appetite, it is unlikely to be this. Also important is to uncover any predisposing factors such as underlying allergies.
Some of the breeds mentioned above, such as Boxers, are particularly susceptible to food allergy. Regular cleaning with anti-acne products (eg benzoyl peroxide) or mild anti-seborrheic shampoos will be required to decrease the bacterial load of the skin and remove cellular debris which could contribute to blocking the pores.
If pustules have ruptured and a secondary bacterial infection develops, your dog will need to take antibiotics for 3 or 4 weeks. Most broad spectrum antibiotics are effective, but to avoid any resistance problems a bacteriology swab is advisable so that a suitable antibiotic can be chosen with certain efficacy against the bacterium in question.
If a dog is scratching at his/her face a lot, an anti-inflammatory drug such as a one off steroid injection is probably indicated to alleviate the discomfort.
Refractory and recurrent cases can sometimes respond to retinoid therapy - similar to the human drug Roaccutane, which essentially stops the sebaceous glands in the skin from producing sebum. This however requires a veterinary specialists consent.