Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
The presence of what may look like dog blackheads often causes dog owners to scratch their heads, wondering whether their canine companions may also have to deal with the unsightly blemishes and acne so commonly observed in humans.
Can dogs really get blackheads? And if so, what do blackheads in dogs look like? And how are dog blackheads treated?
Before envisioning adorable puppy face masks and exfoliating treatments for an at-home spa day with your pooch, let’s first make sure you have all the facts about what may or may not be going on beneath your pup’s fluffy locks.
Because unsightly blackheads—usually a sign of a clogged hair follicle—are very different beasts in dogs versus humans.
Also, you don’t want to assume your pup has one thing and mistreat it or make their problem worse! So as always, if you aren’t sure what might be going on with your dog’s health, consult with your vet. After all, it’s their job to make sure your fur baby is happy and healthy.
First Off, What Are Blackheads?
Blackheads, medically known as comedones, are nothing more than clogged hair follicles. Hair follicles compose the skin and are known to grow hair. Attached to the hair follicles, right underneath, is a sebaceous gland (oil-producing gland).
Now, when everything proceeds well, the oil glands produce normal amounts of oil (sebum) that do not cause any problems. This oil is meant to keep the skin soft.
Problems start though when the oil production increases, leading to the accumulation of sebum and dead skin cells in the opening of the hair follicles with the end result of clogging them.
What Do Dog Blackheads Look Like?
When these dead skin cells and sebum are exposed to the air, they turn black, forming a blackhead. Blackheads at this point are often easy to spot is that they present as dark small spots on the dog's skin. Of course, they are easier to spot in dogs with little hair, to begin with, or in areas where dogs lack hair such as the dog's belly.
In dogs, blackheads may be caused by a variety of underlying problems, but once again, it's important to precise that not everything that looks like blackheads are really blackheads.
Can Dogs Get Acne?
If dogs can get blackheads, one may then wonder whether dogs can get acne too. The answer is yes, and the ugly pimples are often found on a dog's chin and lower lip. Sometimes they may affect the dog's nose.
When it affects the dog's chin, the acne is medically referred to as muzzle folliculitis to depict the inflammation of the hair follicles found on the dog's muzzle area. When the hair follicles become impacted with sebaceous material, the hair follicles may overfill and rupture progressing into a case of furunculosis.
Muzzle folliculitis mostly involves the harsher chin hairs which become impacted and prone to inflammation often due to the repeated friction from the dog's chin touching the bowl. In many cases, the trigger is a plastic bowl. Ingrown impacted hairs are also known to stir trouble.
This condition creates unsightly pimples, pustules or nodules that may irritate your pooch and certainly don’t look attractive.
As unattractive as canine acne may appear, before you go trying to treat your dog's acne with products made for humans, stop and think about that decision. The base ingredient (benzoyl peroxide) may be the same in medications meant to treat acne in pups and people, but a human dose is far too strong for your pup’s sensitive skin.
You should absolutely pay your vet a visit if you have concerns about your pup developing acne. Remember to let them know if your pup has been on any other medications like steroids as these can throw your pup’s body chemistry out of whack, leading to more problems.
In severe cases, your vet may prescribe additional medications like a steroid or an antibiotic to knock out the blackheads if they’re stubborn, but for light cases, you may find that using a cleanser on a more routine basis helps keep the acne and blackheads at bay.
"Acne is most common in short coated breeds with Boxers, Great Danes and Doberman pinschers being especially prone. Lesions include comedones, papules, pustules, nodules and furuncles on the chin, lips and muzzle."
— Wayne Rosenkrantz, veterinary dermatologist
If your pup is getting blackheads on other parts of their body, they may be overproducing sebaceous glands. These odd-sounding glands produce oils on the skin to keep it lubricated. Sometimes though, like in humans, they go a little haywire and do more than they should. This leads to painful acne on your pup’s back and belly areas most frequently.
If left untreated, these blackheads can also become infected, and sometimes they may be a symptom of a larger skin infection that needs antibiotic treatment.
Be sure to pay your vet a visit to get prescribed the right type of medication to help calm the inflamed follicles and clear up that skin irritation for your pooch.
A Problem With Schnauzers
If your fur baby is a member of this breed, they may be susceptible to what are known as “schnauzer bumps" or " Schnauzer comedone syndrome." These are blackheads that tend to appear on the neck, back and rump of Schnauzers and are likely to be found on young to middle-aged miniature schnauzers.
In severe cases, there may be accompanying signs such as secondary bacterial infections featuring crusts, pimples, hair loss and itching.
Now, if you have a reputable breeder who is very selective about which dogs they breed, you have less chance of running into this issue as some experts believe the condition is hereditary.
Unsure if your pup has developed this condition? You have better luck if your schnauzer has recently been to the groomers' for a nice bath and haircut because this condition is easier to spot with less fur (and we all know Schnauzers are in ample supply of luscious locks).
You may, therefore, notice your dog’s skin is extra oily or irritated. This would be the time you ring up your vet for a quick consult and a trip to the pharmacy.
Blackheads in Hairless Dogs
Hairless dogs can get blackheads too. According to a study, Mexican hairless dogs with a large number of blackheads showed remarkably high skin sebum scores. Most blackheads were distributed throughout the skin on the dog's back, with clusters of lesions mainly found in the limbs and prepuces.
Blackheads in the skin of hairless dogs were also found to be quite similar to the juvenile acne observed in human beings. Interestingly, hairless dogs may, therefore, become a predictive model for evaluating the efficacy of antiacne agents used for acne treatments.
Hairless dog breeds on top of the Mexican hairless, include the Chinese Crested Dog, Inca Hairless dog, and American Hairless terrier.
The problem with these breeds is that their hair follicles are abnormal and therefore fail to grow hair shafts. This abnormality leads to the accumulation of debris making them predisposed to blackheads. Nodules known as follicular cysts may also develop according to Animal Dermatology Referral Clinic.
A Hormonal Issue
In some cases, the appearance of blackheads in dogs may be due to issues with hormones. Cushing's disease in dogs, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, is known for being caused by excessive production of the steroid hormone cortisol in the body.
Affected dogs tend to be generally middle-aged and older and tend to develop the following signs: increased drinking and urination, hair loss, weight gain, panting, skin changes, lowered immunity, lowered energy and abdominal swelling.
Another condition known to impact dogs is hypothyroidism, which takes place when a dog has lower levels of thyroid hormones. Affected dogs may develop the following signs weight gain without an increase in appetite, lethargy, cold intolerance, dry, dull hair and shedding and darkening of the skin.
According to board-certified veterinary dermatologist Dr. Rosanna Marsella, both Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism can trigger demodectic mange, secondary bacteria and yeast skin infections, and hair loss in the dog's trunk area with the appearance of comedones (blackheads).
Both of these conditions can be diagnosed with blood testing.
Demodicosis in Dogs
Demodicosis is a medical term used to depict the proliferation of the mange mite Demodex in a dog's hair follicles. This condition can be transmitted by mother dogs to their puppies as early as their first few days as the puppies nurse.
Most dogs have some level of mites living in their hair follicles without any problems. Problems start when the dog's immune system lowers, fostering their numbers to increase and take over.
Affected dogs develop the following signs:
- hair loss
- red bumps
The presence of scabs may be suggestive of secondary infections.
When adult dogs develop this condition it may be indicative of a lowered immune system resulting from underlying conditions such as Cushing's disease, hypothyroidism, cancer or the use of immunosuppressive drugs.
Sorting Out the Issue
Taking your dog to the vet should help ruling out other skin conditions known to mimic blackheads in their appearance or your vet may actually confirm that you are dealing with the real deal, an actual cases of canine blackheads.
The process usually starts by your veterinarian taking a careful assessment through a physical exam, followed then by a close inspection of the affected area. Your vet may ask questions about your dog's diet, whether he is itching and scratching along with other pertinent questions about his health.
Next, he may perform some basic testing such as doing a skin scrape, and possibly, a cytology (the microscopic examination of the dog's skin looking for abnormal numbers of bacteria and yeast).
Treatment for Blackheads in Dogs
By now, you may have guessed that if you ever are uncertain about what is going on with your pup, you need to consult your vet. They are the trained experts and are far more equipped to spot any peculiarities than Dr. Google!
Because so many skin-related conditions can appear similar to the untrained eye, it’s important to make sure your pup is getting the right treatment at the right time to avoid unnecessary extra trips.
In general, true blackheads are treated topically using anti-seborrheic shampoos containing sulfur/salicylic acids or in severe cases, benzoyl peroxide.
Of course, the benzoyl peroxide is in doggie strength. Once again, benzoyl peroxide preparations labeled for humans should be avoided as they are often too concentrated and can make matters worse. You want to alleviate the discomfort, not overdose, so consult with your vet for products marketed specifically for dogs.
In the case of blackheads, or groups of blackheads that become infected, you may need to treat with a good skin antibiotic.
Underlying causes of blackheads may of course need to be properly addressed. Always, no matter what, consult your vet if you have questions or are unsure which category your pup may fall into. Trust the experts in the field for diagnosis and proper treatment.
Last But Not Least: Should I Squeeze My Dog's Blackheads?
Sure, it may be tempting for some folks! Hence, why there are so many videos of people squeezing zits and dog pustules just for the simple pleasure, but this practice is generally not recommended.
Firstly, because, unless your dog has seen a vet, your don't know if what you are dealing with are truly blackheads, and secondly because any damage to your dog's skin may result in bacterial colonization leading to an infection which can spread all over your dog's skin.
- Clinicians' Brief, Skin Clues to Canine Endocrine Disease, Rosanna Marsella, DVM, DACVD University of Florida
- DVM360, Localized keratinization syndromes (Proceedings)
October 1, 2008 Wayne Rosenkrantz, DVM, DACVD
- Animal Dermatology Referral Clinic, Pet Case Study: Frankie
- Spontaneous Comedones on the Skin of Hairless Descendants of Mexican Hairless Dogs T Kimura 1, K Doi
Abscesses Between the Toes (Interdigital Furunculosis) in Dogs
By Karen A. Moriello DVM, DACVD, Department of Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2020 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 19, 2020:
Hi Peggy, its so true that dogs and humans share several conditions and blackheads being one of them. One condition though dogs may never get is appendicitis for the simple fact they don't have one!
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 18, 2020:
When we had dogs, I never noticed such a problem. It is incredible how many of the same issues our pets can have that can also happen in people. Thanks for another informative article.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 11, 2020:
Hi Devika, as tempting as it may be to squeeze dog blackheads, vets advise not to for the simple fact that we may be dealing with something different and we may cause infection.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 11, 2020:
Hi Linda, preparedness is always good! I must admit after writing this, now every dog I encounter, I must check the dogs' belly for blackheads!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 11, 2020:
Hi Pamela, it is surprising how many conditions dogs and humans share and blackheads are one of them, although some conditions may have different causes.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on June 02, 2020:
I never thought of dogs having blackheads. Information that en-lights us on dogs issues. I like that you informed me in detail and so interesting to know how to squeeze the blackheads.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 31, 2020:
This is another very useful article. I haven't encounted the problems that you describe with my dogs, but I like to be prepared for possible events. Thanks for sharing the information, Adrienne.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 31, 2020:
I don't even have a dog at this time but I've had several over the years. I never knew a dog could get all of the problems you listed. This is an interesting article.