Canine acne is usually more of a cosmetic distraction for owners of companion dogs than it is a serious medical condition. Most of the time, owners will notice a scattering of raised red bumps, or pimples, on the chin, lips or muzzle of their young dogs. Fortunately, acne is not difficult to diagnose, and there are a number of medical therapies that are quite effective in controlling the condition.
A diagnosis of canine acne usually is made based on the dog’s age, history and clinical presentation, and of course by ruling out other possible causes of the skin lesions. A veterinarian presented with a young dog showing pimple-like lesions, especially on its lips, chin or muzzle, usually will take samples of the affected areas by gently rubbing several of them with a sterile cotton swab. She will then roll the samples from the swabs onto clean glass slides and look at them under a microscope in a process called cytology. The veterinarian will be looking for the presence of inflammatory cells, and especially for infectious bacterial cells. Unfortunately, in the early stages of acne, bacteria usually are difficult to isolate from the acne lesions. As the condition progresses, the papules enlarge, become pustules and ultimately rupture, oozing pus. This condition is called suppurative folliculitis and furunculosis. If severe acne doesn’t respond well to a course of broad spectrum antibiotics, samples of the pus can be sent to a laboratory for bacterial culture and sensitivity, which is a process designed to actually grow the offending organisms in a laboratory and then determine which particular antibiotic or antibiotics will eliminate them most effectively. Bacterial culture and sensitivity may be recommended, especially if the dog does not respond well to empiric antibiotic therapy.
Skin scrapings of deeper skin layers can also be taken and examined microscopically at the veterinary clinic for overgrowth of the canine mange mite known as Demodex canis. While this tiny parasite is normal in the hair follicles in small numbers, it can begin to reproduce uncontrollable, especially during adolescence when young dogs are producing more skin oils. Skin biopsies can be taken and submitted to a laboratory for assessment of possible fungal or other infections, although this is not routinely done in simple cases of canine acne, because bacterial microorganisms are the usual culprits.
Most owners are readily able to identify acne when it affects their dogs’ chin, muzzle and/or lips. It certainly is worth a quick visit to the veterinarian to set up a sound treatment and cleansing protocol, in order to relieve any discomfort that the condition could be causing.