Pet Talk | Animals and acne

Pet Talk | Animals and acne

UI College of Veterinary Medicine

Acne plagues many teenagers and even adults, but did you know that animals get pimples too? Dr. Jason Pieper, a board-certified veterinary dermatologist at the UI Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, sees a few cases of pet acne every year.

Acne occurs when a hair follicle becomes plugged. Hair follicles lie within the skin. They cradle the root of a hair shaft, which grows out of the middle of the follicle, and supply the hair with protective oils from attached glands.

Acne most common on chins

"It is possible for any animal to get acne," Pieper said, "although we see it most commonly in cats and dogs." There isn't a particular breed or sex that is predisposed to acne. Unlike humans, who are acne-prone in their teens, animals typically develop acne in middle age.

The chin is the most common location for acne in dogs and cats. Sometimes the acne can be seen around the lips and muzzle. It may appear red, brown or black (like a blackhead), or it may look like pustules (pimples).

"Hair follicles sometimes become infected. If the plugged follicle is irritating, the animal may scratch and rub the area, introducing bacteria into the pores," Pieper said.

Once infected, the acne may have a white or yellowish color.

Cause unknown

"The main difference between acne in humans and pets is we don't know what causes acne in pets," Pieper said.

One theory is that the acne is a result of damage to the hair follicle, for example, when the pet drinks water from its bowl and repeatedly bumps its chin. A damaged hair follicle may become plugged with oils.

Veterinarians diagnose pet acne by looking at the area and asking the owner questions about how long the acne has been visible and whether it is irritating to the animal.

"A biopsy of the acne is the only true way to know if it's acne," Pieper said.

A biopsy involves removing a hair follicle and examining it with a microscope. If the hair follicle is swollen from increased oil, that's acne.

Acne prevention

To treat acne, it is important to keep the area clean and dry. The chin and muzzle area are often wet from drinking, which can predispose that area to reoccurring acne. Pet owners can use a washcloth to gently clean the area.

"If there is infection of the area, we need to determine what sort of bacteria is causing that and treat the infection," Pieper said.

Once the infection is treated, the acne should clear up on its own.

"Owners can help prevent acne by keeping bowls used for eating and drinking clean by washing them regularly," Pieper said.

Toys should also be washed regularly.

Pet owners should see their veterinarian when the acne is irritating to the animal or looks infected, red and inflamed. The veterinarian will be able to decide the best course of action to get the acne cleared up.

An archive of pet columns from the UI College of Veterinary Medicine is available at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy at

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