Goals of Treating Canine Acne
The goals of treating acne in dogs are to resolve the dog’s discomfort if any, eliminate any contributing primary or secondary bacterial, fungal or other infections and to control recurrent break-outs. It usually is not possible to determine the precise underlying cause of canine acne, especially in the early stages of the condition.
The choice of treatment for acne depends on how severe and chronic the condition is in any given animal. It is important to minimize trauma to the muzzle, chin or lips, including that which may result from rough treatment, scratching, hunting, playing with other dogs or toys or otherwise. For example, if the dog is rubbing his chin on the carpet or chewing on toys or bones that cause excess salivation, the owner should take steps to prevent those behaviors. Excess moisture can set up a great environment for bacterial multiplication. Clipping the area can improve the effectiveness of topical acne treatments, as long as it is done carefully and doesn’t cause further trauma or rupture of the sores.
Mild cases of acne can benefit from gentle cleansing with a benzoyl peroxide shampoo or gel once a day until the acne is resolved, and then once a week thereafter or as necessary and recommended by the dog’s doctor. However, benzoyl peroxide can be mildly irritating, especially if the acne wounds are open to the environment. It can also bleach or stain furniture, fabrics and carpeting, so be careful when applying it.
The veterinarian can recommend or prescribe certain creams, lotions or ointments that can be applied to the affected skin area topically, in addition to or instead of benzoyl peroxide washes. Some of these topical treatments can be drying, greasy or irritating to the skin. Glucocorticoid anti-inflammatory medications can also be applied to areas affected by acne topically. Most veterinarians recommend using these to reduce inflammation after secondary bacterial infections have been resolved, because steroids tend to suppress the immune system. Long-term use of steroids can have adverse side effects, such as adrenal gland suppression and local skin atrophy.
Systemic treatment with oral antibiotics for one to two months may be appropriate if particularly stubborn antibiotic-resistant bacteria are causing the infection. Sometimes, the veterinarian will start a dog with mild to moderate cases of acne on a broad-spectrum oral antibiotic to see if the condition resolves. This is called “empiric antibiotic treatment.” If empiric treatment is not effective, a swab or biopsy sample of several affected areas can be taken and sent to a laboratory, where skilled pathologists will perform a culture and sensitivity to identify the exact bacterial organism involved in the infection and determine the most effective antibiotic to treat the condition.
Most dogs with acne have a good to excellent prognosis for full recovery. Many times, acne in dogs will resolve spontaneously when they reaches maturity. Some animals may require life-long treatment with topical lotions, creams, ointments or gels, but this is non-invasive and quite easy for most owners to administer. Owners should discuss the potential side effects of all treatment protocols with their dog’s veterinarian.