Why do dogs and cats develop acne and how to treat it?

Dog hiding face

Believe it or not, acne in pets is as common as in human teenage years. Canine acne is an inflammatory ailment of the sensitive mouth area on the lips, chin, and muzzle skin. 

Acne tends to develop at puberty, from five to eight months and disappears by the time the dog approaches one year of age. Both dogs and cats are susceptive to this condition. 

In mild acne cases, dogs will develop bumps or pimples (zits) on their skin. Dog acne can lead to extended swelling of the lips and muzzle, bleeding scars, or crusts on the face in more severe cases. When left untreated, acne can result in permanent scarring.

Why do dogs, cats, and other pets develop acne?

The underlying condition of dog and cat acne is not fully understood. It was believed to be linked to human acne as induced by the body’s hormonal activity; however, recent studies have implied that this is not the case.

Genetic inheritance, however, plays a significant role in the apparition of acne in dogs. Breeds that are known to show a predisposition to zits include :

  • Boxer
  • Bulldogs
  • Great Danes
  • German Shorthaired Pointer
  • Weimaraners
  • Mastiffs
  • Rottweilers
  • Doberman Pinschers

The prolonged use of muzzles can lead to scratches on the skin’s surface, leading to hair follicle ruptures and inflammation. When the hair follicle breaks, its contents go into the skin, building further inflammation within the skin. Bacteria will now quickly colonize the broken skin leading to infection.

Dog acne can also be associated with other underlying skin conditions. A visit to the vet will ensure that these causes are found, and the right treatment is given to reduce the unpleasant effects of skin inflammation and even treat the disease from its root.

Allergies to food or environmental factors could also trigger acne’s apparition, and managing the allergies may decrease acne. 

Key Takeaways

  • Acne in dogs and cats typically develops around puberty when hormones, genetics, and skin changes make them prone to clogged pores and infection.
  • Look for reddened bumps, pimples, or scaly skin on the lips, muzzle, and chin as common signs of acne in pets.
  • While usually not serious, severe acne can be painful and leave scars, so should be addressed.
  • Work with your vet to rule out underlying allergies, infections, or skin disorders that may be causing flare-ups.
  • Gently cleanse the face daily, avoid squeezing pimples, use medicated shampoos, and maintain a healthy diet and environment to help prevent acne.
  • Most pet acne will spontaneously resolve within 1-2 years with diligent care but seek prompt veterinary guidance if you have any concerns with your pet’s skin condition.

Dog acne symptoms

Dog and cat owners can easily diagnose acne by sight due to the presence of red bumps or whiteheads. It may seem more cosmetic to owners as it’s typically not painful and will fade over time; however, owners should take them to a vet if it causes pain to a pet.

Dogs may experience intense pain and itching.

Typical symptoms of acne in dogs :

  • Red bumps or whiteheads will appear on the skin
  • Your pet might start scratching its face against carpets or furniture to get relief from itchiness
  • The lumps could swell and become sore
Cat hiding face

Cat zits symptoms:

In cats, acne can develop at any age due to excess skin oil that seals pores. The development of lumps may also result from allergies (diet changes, environmental) or underlying epidermis conditions. Excess keratin can also block the pores and induce acne.

Cat acne ordinarily appears on the sides of the lips or underneath the mandible.

If your pet has developed acne, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are ill. In most cases, the symptoms and lesions will disappear with time without needing a veterinarian-prescribed treatment by simply managing the situation at home through a high standard of cleanliness.

Preventing Acne in Dogs and Cats

Acne can be an unpleasant nuisance for both pets and their owners. Though acne will often resolve on its own, there are simple steps you can take to help prevent and minimize breakouts in your furry friend.

By being proactive, you can reduce the likelihood of recurring flare-ups and keep your pet’s skin healthier long-term. Focus on diet, hygiene, environment, close monitoring, and proper grooming to help nip acne in the bud.


Feeding your pet a high-quality diet formulated for their specific age and breed can help minimize allergy risks that may contribute to acne. Avoid lower-quality foods with fillers and by-products. Limit treats and table scraps, which can irritate the skin. Keep food and water bowls clean to reduce bacteria exposure.


Gently wiping your pet’s face and chin daily with a warm, damp washcloth can help keep pores clean and prevent dirt, oil and dead skin cells buildup. Hard plastic food and water bowls can harbour bacteria, so use stainless steel or ceramic instead. Change bedding frequently and keep their living areas clean.


Reduce stressors like introducing new pets, loud noises, or changes in routine that may worsen underlying skin conditions. Keep litter boxes extremely clean and avoid scented litter. Plastic e-collars for injuries can rub and cause chin acne, so use soft alternatives.


Check for early signs of acne, like reddened skin or small bumps. Catching it early allows for the treatment of potential underlying causes. Keep an eye on areas prone to acne, like lips, muzzle and chin.


Being gentle around affected areas can help prevent further irritation and infection. Never squeeze, pop or puncture acne pimples/spots, as this forces bacteria deeper into the skin.

Combining these preventative measures with prompt veterinary guidance can help nip acne in the bud and potentially decrease recurrence. But if flare-ups occur, rest assured, acne is rarely serious and often resolves independently.

How to treat dog and cat acne

First of all, owners should avoid the temptation of squeezing the spots, as this can increase the level of bacterial infection and inflammation and cause long-term skin lesions.

A vet or a veterinarian pharmacist may recommend the use of benzoyl peroxide, a topical treatment that reduces the spread of bacteria. The benzoyl peroxide can be presented as a shampoo or cream.

If the inflammation is severe, the vet might recommend steroids to decrease it. In the worst cases, the use of antibiotics could also be prescribed by the doctor.

Unlike people, pets won’t feel embarrassed by blemishes, but that doesn’t mean you should pay less attention to acne. Practice good hygiene by shampooing your pet regularly. Pat dry its skin to avoid excess humidity that rapidly can become a thriving environment for bacteria.

Remember that any treatment should be given according to a doctor’s advice, and most definitely, the use of products made for human skin is to be avoided. Consult a vet if your pet shows signs of distress and the acne seems to expand. 


What causes acne in pets?

The exact cause is unknown but likely involves hormones, genetics, underlying skin conditions, allergies, blocked pores, and bacterial infection. Puberty and stress can trigger breakouts.

Can acne spread between pets?

No, acne is not contagious between animals. It results from each pet’s unique factors like genetics, hormones, and skin flora.

Is acne painful for dogs and cats?

Mild acne may not be painful, but more severe cases with big sores or cysts can cause discomfort. Dogs may scratch and cats may hide due to pain.

How is pet acne diagnosed?

Vets diagnose acne by visually examining the skin bumps and may take samples to test for the underlying infection. Bloodwork checks for systemic issues.

What breeds get acne the most?

Breeds prone to acne include Boxers, Bulldogs, Great Danes, German Shorthaired Pointers, Weimaraners, Mastiffs, Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers.

Can my pet’s acne scars go away?

Yes, scars typically fade over time as the skin renews itself. But deep scars may remain hairless and need veterinary treatment.

Is acne a sign of an underlying disease?

It can be. The vet may examine for mites, ringworm, autoimmune disorders, Cushing’s disease, or food allergies as potential acne causes.

Can I pop my pet’s pimples?

Never pop or puncture acne sores, as this worsens the infection. Gently wash with a vet-recommended cleanser instead.

How can I prevent recurring acne in my pet?

Use medicated shampoos, keep skin clean, avoid plastic bowls, use gentle e-collars, feed a high-quality diet, reduce stress, and keep bedding/housing clean.