Do Dogs Get Pimples?

Close up of sleeping dog's nose.

John Bryant / Getty Images

Ever wonder if it's possible, or normal, for dogs to get pimples? Yes, dogs can get pimples just like we can get pimples. The reasons behind them, though, aren't always the same as our hormonal zits and a lot of the over-the-counter zit creams and salves you might use for yourself are not safe for your pooch. Learn more about why your dog gets pimples, what underlying issues they could be facing, and when to worry.

Pimples on Dogs

Fur follicles are actually very similar to our own hair follicles in that both possess something called sebaceous glands. The main function of these glands are to produce an oil, called sebum, that protects the hair and keeps the skin resilient. When these follicles become clogged the sebum can't be excreted as it normally is. Instead, it collects in the gland, forming a swelling that may resemble a pimple. Other bumps resembling pimples can form when there is an accumulation of other products from the skin including broken hair shafts, keratin, or pus (a mixture of white blood cells and sometimes bacteria).

Just like us, dogs can get whiteheads, blackheads, and enclosed pimples as well. The most common locations for your dog to break out are the muzzle, chest, belly, and genital area.

Why Do Dogs Get Pimples?

While hormonal change may be the most common reason humans get pimples, it's actually not the most common reason dogs get them (although hormones can be a contributing factor in some conditions). Certain breeds are predisposed to getting pimples, usually due to their short coats or other unique skin features. Boxers, English bulldogs, and Great Danes are some of the breeds that break out a little more frequently and they tend to develop bumps on their muzzles most commonly. The hairless breeds, such as the Chinese crested and Mexican hairless, are also prone to pimples due to their abnormal hair follicles.

Dirt and debris on your dog's skin can also irritate and cause a breakout. Wiping your dog clean, especially in the muzzle, chest, paws, and, yes, nether region, can help prevent pimples forming for this reason. If you are seeing frequent breakouts on your dog's muzzle/chin area, make sure to switch out their food and water bowls for stainless steel or ceramic if they are plastic. Plastic has a tendency to retain dirt and oil, which can exacerbate a pimple problem.

Trauma, whether from a play fighting session or a tussle with another critter in the house, or rubbing against a rug or other rough surface, can cause fur to break off near the follicle. This can result in follicular inflammation. The inflammation can cause clogging of the hair follicle as well as creating a risk of bacterial infection, and, thus, pimple formation.

Many dogs will develop pimple-like skin bumps from underlying medical conditions as well. Common causes for this are allergies to food or environmental allergens, infections including skin mites as well as bacterial or yeast infections, and underlying hormonal problems such as Cushing's Disease. For this reason, it is always a good idea to have your pup examined by your vet if any concerning skin changes occur.

How Can I Help My Pimply Pup?

More often than not, your average, run of the mill canine acne is easily treated with a topical product. Your veterinarian can point you in the right direction of what would be best for your dog. A lot of the products on the market to help with our own acne breakouts may be irritating to your dog's skin or could contain toxic ingredients if ingested, so never use your own skin care product on your dog without first checking with your vet.

There are certain instances where your vet may want to treat your dog's skin with something more than just a topical medication. Depending on the specific diagnosis and whether your pup's skin is inflamed, painful, itchy, or appears infected, your vet may want to prescribe additional medications. These may include shampoos, topical antibiotics, topical steroids, and if the case warrants it, oral medications such as antibiotics, steroids. or other specific treatments for their condition.

Even though your at-home acne treatments may not be the best treatment protocol for your dog, there is one thing that holds true for all pimples, regardless of person or pooch: don't pop them! Popping pimples can cause more inflammation and trauma to the area, which can increase the likelihood of secondary infections, pain, and scarring.

If your dog is getting breakouts in a specific area all the time, try to identify a cause and change up your dog's routine to avoid it. For instance, if your dog is prone to break outs on his muzzle and you've already switched out their bowls for non-plastic, be on the lookout for behaviors such as scratching at the muzzle, rooting around in the dirt, or rubbing against carpet or other rough surfaces. These activities can cause follicular trauma in addition to introducing dirt to your dog's follicles. Some dogs that have frequent skin problems may need a regular skin routine to prevent future breakouts, so discuss this with your vet. This may include regular bathing with a special shampoo, wiping vulnerable areas with medicated wipes, diet changes and/or supplements.

Pimples can be a headache for anyone, but your dog's pimples don't have to be. If your pup is breaking out, contact your vet to help get your dog's skin looking clean and clear in no time.