How to Treat Pimples on Dogs

Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Fawn & White Boxer Puppy Looking Up & Off Camera

Getty Images - Richard Bailey

Pimples aren't just a problem for people. Dogs can struggle with them, too. Certain breeds are predisposed to them, and if left untreated, they can lead to secondary bacterial infections in a dog's skin.

What are Pimples?

Pimples, or pustules as is their medical term, are raised, pus-filled bumps. They're the result of canine acne, an inflammatory condition, and are often on the lips and muzzle of an affected dog but can also be found elsewhere on the body.

Symptoms of Pimples in Dogs

Technically pimples are themselves considered to be a symptom of the larger encompassing canine acne, there are other clinical symptoms you may see in conjunction with them.


Local Alopecia (Hair Loss)


Scabbing on the Face/Muzzle

Swelling of the Lips/Muzzle

Acne Scars

Facial Rubbing

Because pimples are the result of an inflammatory process, you might notice symptoms associated with this. Swelling can come from this, as can facial rubbing. Inflamed areas can be itchy, resulting in rubbing and scratching that can lead to open sores. Scabbing can derive from this self-trauma. Scars can then develop once these scabbed areas heal as well.

Causes of Pimples

Pimples in dogs aren't caused by hormone imbalances like they are in people. They're either from a genetic predisposition or through trauma to the hair follicles. Boxers, pit bulls, Great Danes, Rottweilers, and Weimaraners are some dog breeds that are more likely to get pimples. Trauma to the skin around a dog's muzzle and lips, whether it's from rooting around in the dirt, scooting bowls and toys along the floor, etc. can cause the short hairs on the muzzle to break off near the follicle. This, in turn, can cause irritation and further inflammation. In these early stages, the irritated lesions aren't usually infected, but bacteria can seep into the areas over time.

Diagnosing Pimples in Dogs

Since all the symptoms of pimples in dogs concern the skin, diagnosing them can be relatively straightforward. Oftentimes simply visualizing the pimples is diagnostic enough. A vet might want to take something called a tape prep to check for a secondary bacterial infection, a yeast infection, or mange. This involves pressing a piece of clear tape over a lesion and squeezing the area to pick up surface skin cells and some of the contents of the pustules. This is then stained and looked at under a microscope to see what organisms are present.

If your dog's acne is persistent, additional tests may be warranted. This may include skin scrapes to check for mites that can cause demodectic or sarcoptic mange as well as biopsies for any neoplastic or cancerous origins. If deep lesions are present and not healing, a bacterial culture and sensitivity may be performed to definitively determine which bacteria are present and see what antibiotic would would best against them.


As with a lot of skin disorders, treatment usually involves both topical and systemic, or oral, medications. Your vet may prescribe a topical antiseptic such as chlorhexidine or benzoyl peroxide to clean around the affected areas. Both of these solutions are available over-the-counter, but some human preparations may be more concentrated and, thus, more irritating to your dog's skin. So check with your veterinarian before using any OTC products.

Oral antibiotics may also be prescribed. For deep infections, a long course of 4 weeks or more may be needed to fully resolve the problem.

Your vet may also prescribe a short course of steroids. These are to help diminish any swelling and inflammation. Your vet may opt for a topical steroid, but they may also choose an oral preparation. Oral steroids cannot be stopped abruptly, so be sure to follow your veterinarian's instructions. They also have to be used cautiously with some medications, including diuretics like furosemide and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, such as Rimadyl (carprofen) and Deramaxx (deracoxib). Be sure to let your vet know all the medications your dog is currently taking, including vitamins and supplements.

Prognosis for Dogs with Pimples

Pimples are a commonly benign problem, so the prognosis is usually good. Although this is not usually an urgent condition, make sure you seek veterinary attention before more serious potential symptoms set in.

How to Prevent Pimples

There are things you can do to try and diminish your dog's risk of breaking out in pimples. Wiping your dog's face and face folds can help keep out dirt and grime that can cause irritation to the skin and hair. There are veterinary-specific wipes that are anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, but often baby wipes work just as well. Using stainless steel or ceramic food and water bowls as opposed to plastic can also help because some dogs may have a contact allergy to the plastic.

Pimples can be a nuisance for your dog, but rest assured that they likely aren't a serious condition and can clear up with simple treatments.