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Do you remember the days of blackheads? (Or perhaps you still get them.) Those annoying black spots that were a guilty pleasure to squeeze. Now, as a responsible dog owner with a job and rent to pay, you thought those spotty days were behind you. But as a dog owner, maybe they aren't…
In people, blackheads are the result of natural oils, shed cells, or dirt building up within the hair follicle. Those with a perfect skin are blessed with easy-clean follicles, whilst those with blackheads are all too prone to blockages.
In people, it's unusual for blackheads to be the result of clinical disease. However, read on to learn that in dogs, having blackheads can be an important pointer to disease elsewhere in the body.
Can Dogs Get Blackheads?
However, be aware the dog generates the blackhead himself and hasn't caught it from a person! Just like people, in dogs it's a case of clogged pores….it's just that dog follicles get bunged up for different reasons.
Does My Dog have Blackheads?
Blackheads in dogs aren't difficult to diagnose - as long as you can see their skin. (It can be more tricky in a very hairy dog!) The most common places for blackheads to develop are:
Under the chin
On the soft skin of the belly
Along the backline
Blackheads (or more correctly 'comedones') are easily visible with the naked eye. They look pretty much like those ones you saw in the bathroom mirror - a black swelling breaking out on the surface of the skin.
Whilst it is easy to diagnose the dog has blackheads, what can be tricky is working out the reason why. This could involve skin scrapes (looking for demodex) or blood tests (for Cushing's disease). Or you dog may just have a greasy skin!
How are Blackheads in Dogs Treated?
Straightforward, uncomplicated blackheads are treated with a 'follicle flushing' shampoo. This is a shampoo containing the ingredient, benzoyl peroxide. The latter is great at getting deep into the follicle and getting rid of the gunk.
When the blackheads are secondary to another condition, then it's important to treat this in order to improve the skin condition.
Seborrhea: There is often a genetic factor involved, which means the dog has a tendency to produce too much oil. This is controlled with shampoos, supplements of essential fatty acids, and other oral medications.
Demodectic mange: Treated with follicle flushing shampoos to wash the mites out of the follicle. In addition, parasiticide washes or spot on treatment are required to kill the mites.
Cushing's Disease: This is usually treated with an oral medication that normalizes the level of natural steroid in the bloodstream. Occasionally, surgery is appropriate to remove an adrenal tumor that is producing too much hormone.
How are Blackheads in Dogs Different than Blackheads in People?
Blackheads are a symptom, rather than a diagnosis in their own right. But in dogs, the underlying causes that tend to be different, such as the skin mite demodex.
Demodex is a canine parasite, rather than a human one. The mite is common in young pups, and likes to snuggle down deep in the hair follicles. However, this is like putting a cork in a bottle, and dams back the natural oils, causing a blackhead to form.
Likewise, Cushing's disease is much more common in dogs than in people. The hormone imbalance weakens the dog's immune system and causes the skin to thin. Just one of the resulting pathologies are blackheads.
How are Blackheads in Dogs Similar to Blackheads in People?
Whilst acne is uncommon in dogs, it's not unheard of. Indeed, some dogs do get blackheads on their chins (which is a hotspot for blackheads in people), which they then grow out of.
Again, a blackhead is a backlog of sebum and cells in the follicle, just as it is in people. So poor skin hygiene, such as a dog with a dirty chin, can lead to blackhead formation.
A typical case would be an elderly dog that visits the clinic because he is drinking a lot and his belly has changed shape. A history and clinical examination shows the dog lacks energy, has a poor coat, a pot belly, and thin skin.
The skin itself is peppered with blackheads, especially on the belly. There are also some firm, gritty granules within the skin (which are calcium deposits.)
The vet runs screening blood tests looking for kidney disease and diabetes, but the dog is normal. Next, is to test the dog's thyroid function (which is normal) and then run a blood test looking for Cushing's disease.
The latter comes back positive. The vet then scans the dog's abdomen to check for a tumor affecting the adrenal gland, and when this is normal, the dog is started on medication to correct the Cushing's disease.
Two to three months down the line, the dog has rediscovered his mojo, stopped drinking excessively and has beautiful baby soft skin again!