|Looking for Information on Schnauzer Bumps?
I was, too, and couldn't find a thorough explanation. So I researched the subject and created this webpage to share what I learned. If you are the type of person that likes to help others, you can do so by sending me an e-mail and sharing what you've learned.
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Schnauzer Bumps aka Schnauzer Comedone Syndrome
Schnauzer bumps are one of the most common health issues affecting Miniature Schnauzers, with estimates as high as 50% of all Miniature Schnauzers being affected. Yet there is much confusion about what they are. In our forum alone, members share that their vets have diagnosed Mange and allergic reactions as Schnauzer bumps.
If you Google images of Schnauzer bumps, you will see all kinds of skin conditions, and most of them have nothing to do with Schnauzer bumps. You will even see one of my dog Muka's allergic reaction to a flea bite!
The technical name given to this condition is Schnauzer Comedone Syndrome. It is most frequently found on the backs of Miniature Schnauzers, and the condition is unique to Schnauzers. They are not contagious, and they are not even a serious health problem unless they become infected.
The following terms will help you understand Comedone Syndrome:
Hair Follicle: an organ of the skin which produces a hair
Sebaceous Gland: a gland that produces an oily, waxy substance called sebum to lubricate and waterproof the skin and hair
The sebaceous glands are located on the sides of the hair follicle, and feed sebum into it.
Keratin: a key component of the dead, outer layer of the skin; skin debris
Comedo: a hair follicle that has become plugged by a thickened secretion consisting of excessive amounts of sebum and keratin
The plural form of comedo is comedones. Comedone only appears in Comedone Syndrome.
Comedone Syndrome: an inherited defect in Miniature Schnauzers resulting in the over-production of sebum and keratin in the hair follicles running along their back sides from their heads to their tails
And here are a few more terms to help you understand treatments for Comedone Syndrome:
Acne: an inflammatory condition in humans that usually includes both comedones and pimples (zits), with the inflammation and development of pus being caused by infection of the comedones
Benzoyl Peroxide: a compound frequently used in products to treat acne in humans by unblocking pores and stimulating new skin growth, it is used for the same purposes in shampoos for dogs
Salicylic Acid: an acid frequently used in products to treat acne in humans by unblocking pores and stimulating new skin growth, it is used for the same purposes in shampoos for dogs
Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are applied directly to the skin in the treatment of acne in humans. However, this is not practical in the treatment of (hairy) dogs, so they are applied in shampoos.
Because the shampoos are washed off rather than being left on the skin, they are usually left on the dog for a period of time, for example 10 minutes. During this time the dog should not be allowed to lick the product.
Seborrhoea: a condition of greasy skin caused by excess secretion of sebum; anti-seborrheic shampoos are designed to help eliminate this condition
What Schnauzer Bumps Look Like
Surely one of the reasons there is so much confusion over Schnauzer bumps is the fact that they can vary so greatly in appearance. The following descriptions cover just a few examples of what they can look like:
1. Comedones: Schnauzer bumps can appear much like the comedones, blackheads and whiteheads, we associate with human complexion problems. Blackheads are created when a comedo opens and the sebum is exposed to air, oxidizes and turns black.
2. Waxy Comedones: These feel like small scabs or grains of sand, but are actually waxy excretions of sebum from comedones. They fall off after a few days, assuming that they don't become infected.
Note that while people often describe these as scabs, they are not scabs at all. Scabs are protective coverings formed over wounds by special blood cells called platelets.
Also, because these excretions can form around hairs, even after they come loose from the skin they may be stuck on the hair. Thus if you remove them, hair may come along with them.
These two waxy comedones could easily be missed, which is why Schnauzer bumps often develop into something greater before they are discovered and treated. But feeling carefully beneath the fur, they felt like small scabs or grains of sand.
This is another waxy comedo on another dog. These are unlike the blackheads you see on a person's face because of the excretions of sebum that rise above them.
3. Cysts: These feel like a hard lump under the skin, and are created as sebum and keratin continue to build behind a plugged hair follicle. They may be deep below the surface at the base of the hair root, or they may enlarge to the point of appearing on the surface.
If they reach the surface, they may open and drain, releasing their pus-like contents, which dries and becomes crusty. Now smaller in size, they will either heal, or close and repeat the cycle.
In severe cases, these cysts expand to involve other hair follicles, or become infected. Your vet should be aware of all your dog's ailments, and informed of significant changes such as a cyst increasing in size.
If you Google Schnauzer bumps, you will find that many websites have simply copied text from one another. The text reads "Schnauzer bumps is a condition that produces pus filled bumps," as if that's the typical manifestation. But as you are reading, it's only one of many forms Schnauzer bumps can take. And pus filled bumps are not typical.
Pus is found at the site of an infection, while the fatty, semi-fluid material found in and sometimes excreted from these cysts may consist mostly of sebum and keratin.
Lastly, like the acne cysts that occur on humans, these are not really cysts at all and might be better described as deep-rooted acne. True cysts form inside a closed sac or membrane, while these form inside a hair follicle, albeit one that is plugged at the opening.
The areas of the cyst-like bumps appearing in the above two photos were shaved, and appear shiny due to an ointment that was applied. The owner said the bumps feel firm, and do not excrete anything. Her vet said that they are not infected hair follicles, which is consistent with what I have written above.
This cyst-like bump appears as a pink bump on the surface of the skin and looks as if it could open and release its contents.
4. Crusty Growths: These appear as raised, crusty growths, and are likely the result of secondary infections.
Schnauzer bumps like this one feel crusty, unlike the more solid scabs that formed on your elbow or knee when you scraped it as a kid.
5. Mole-Like Growths: These appear as mole-like growths. Their shape can be somewhat like a crinkled pea, and they are often black due to an accumulation of melanin. Watch these bumps for change so you don't miss cancer, an infection, or some other serious ailment that might develop and require medical attention.
This mole-like bump is actually taller than it is wide, though you can't tell from the picture. It was the biggest of 8, and the dog's owner believes that these mole-like bumps began as the waxy comedones that felt like grains of sand.
This mole-like bump is mostly white and has the feeling of chicken cartilage, neither hard like a rock nor soft like a liquid-filled blister. The owner reports that such bumps reduced in size when her dog was put on a raw food diet.
This cauliflower-shaped white bump is on the same dog as in the previous picture. The black you see is where part of the bump was accidently clipped during grooming.
Another reason for all the confusion surrounding Schnauzer bumps is that they can lead to secondary infections. A secondary infection is an infection that sets in during or immediately following treatment for another infection or disease.
People will adamantly state that they know how to rid a dog of Schnauzer bumps, when they are actually talking about a treatment that worked on a secondary infection.
This large, black, tarry scab was the result of a secondary staph infection. It felt like a piece of hardened gum and would eventually be pushed off the skin by the hair as it grew out, only to reveal wet, gray, unhealed skin beneath. A new scab formed and the cycle was repeated until antibiotics were introduced to stop the infection.
What you see in this picture began as sores typical of Schnauzer bumps, but turned into a fungal infection. The problem continued until the fungal infection was diagnosed and treated.
They Vary So, How Do You Know They're Schnauzer Bumps?
When I first started learning about Schnauzer bumps, it appeared that many different skin problems, when found on Schnauzers, we're being incorrectly diagnosed as Schnauzer bumps. And as noted above, vets have been known to make such errors.
But as I learned more, I realized that while Schnauzer bumps are all based on a comedo, they vary greatly in their manifestations. You can see that in the tremendous variation of symptoms in my dogs alone. In fact, I never would have thought them all to be Schnauzer bumps if my vet hadn't pointed out what they had in common.
"If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck." And what about Schnauzer bumps?
1. They Appear on Miniature Schnauzers: That may seem too obvious to need mentioning. But an experienced vet will tell you that they just don't see these manifestations on other breeds.
2. They Appear on Their Backs, and the Top of Their Necks and Heads: This is a significant indicator as most other skin problems can be found anywhere on the body.
3. They Are Chronic: Because they are hereditary, you are likely to see them on a regular basis unless you can find a treatment that is effective in suppressing their development. Or they may come and go repeatedly, and no one knows exactly what triggers outbreaks.
What Triggers an Outbreak?
If Schnauzer bumps are hereditary, if they are in your dog's genes 24/7/365, then why do they only "act out" at certain times?
Often people first notice Schnauzer bumps after a grooming, so you frequently hear that it's the irritation of the razor that's the cause. Others say nonsense, believing that the shorter hair only makes the bumps visible. In fact, with different dogs, both could be true.
I used to think that my dogs were getting puncture wounds from rough play, as it was only after rough play that the bumps would appear. But when my vet diagnosed them as Schnauzer bumps, she suggested that while they were not puncture wounds, the irritation caused by "mouthing" during rough play could have been the cause of the outbreak.
I have heard from people whose dogs are bump-free as long at they are giving them fish oil, but the bumps return when the fish oil runs out. Others say the same thing happens with their dog's food. If they run out of the "good stuff," the bumps return.
The point then is that what causes one dog to have an outbreak may be different from what causes another dog to have an outbreak. So the solution may be different, too.
Treatments for Schnauzer Bumps
Because Schnauzer bumps are hereditary, there is no cure. But this is not to say that you can't eliminate their appearance through proper care. Or at the very least, minimize the symptoms.
If you are not able to find a vet who is experienced in working with Miniature Schnauzers and Schnauzer bumps, you may be able to provide your vet with information yourself. Just be sure you don't attempt any of the treatments listed here without first discussing them with your vet.
I have not yet heard of a treatment for mole-like Schnauzer bumps, other than surgical removal if they become a problem or become unsightly. But the following treatments may be helpful for all of the others forms:
1. Diet: In humans, diet can worsen acne, but is not considered to be a primary cause. Diet is not commonly considered to be the primary cause of Schnauzer bumps, either. However, Schnauzer owners have reported cases where diet has had an effect on Schnauzer bumps.
Miniature Schnauzer owners have reported that their Schnauzer's bumps have come and gone depending on whether or not they were feeding their Schnauzer a particular food.
2. Fish Oil: Many owners have reported that fish oil completely eliminated their Schnauzer's bumps.
Miniature Schnauzer owners have reported that their Schnauzer's bumps have come and gone depending on whether or not they were giving their Schnauzer fish oil supplements.
Case Study: A Miniature Schnauzer had bumps that felt like BBs under its skin. Over time, they increased and decreased in size as they would build up and then excrete fluid, which would crust on the surface. For treatment, the family vet recommended fish oil with Omega-3.
For dogs up to 20 lb, the vet recommended 500 mg a day. But it's really expensive to buy 500 mg capsules because most people take larger doses. So the family settled on 1000 mg capsules, one every other day. Then to make things even easier, they decided to just give them to their Schnauzer on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
After a few months the Schnauzer bumps completely disappeared.
3. Retin-A: Retin-A may be prescribed by your vet to help Schnauzer bumps heal.
4. Benzoyl Peroxide Shampoos: The most frequently recommended active ingredient for treating Schnauzer bumps I've found on the web is benzoyl peroxide. It is a follicular flushing agent, meaning simply that it acts in flushing out the hair follicles and helping to prevent the formation of Schnauzer bumps.
The most common recommendation I've found is to use DermaBenSs shampoo by DermaPet twice a week. It contains 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, 1% sodium thiosulfate and 1% salicylic acid. The recommendation is to wet the affected area, then apply the shampoo and let it sit for 10 minutes. You also need to keep it away from the eyes and mucous membranes.
5. Salicylic Acid Shampoos: Selsun Blue is an anti-seborrheic shampoo that has been recommended by many of our forum members. However, Selsun Blue makes products with three different active ingredients [source], so you have to be careful which product you purchase.
Case Study: For a Miniature Schnauzer with both bumps under the skin and waxy comedones, a vet recommended the Selsun Blue products with salicylic acid as the active ingredient. She also recommended that only the basic product be purchased so as not to introduce conditioners and other factors into the equation.
She recommended that the product be used every 7 to 10 days, and that it be applied only to the back or affected area, left for 10 minutes, then rinsed well.
The owner purchased Selsun Blue Deep Cleansing Micro-Bead Scrub Dandruff Shampoo with 3% salicylic acid, and bathed their dog as instructed. However, they did it twice weekly until the outbreak cleared up.
After a month the Schnauzer bumps completely disappeared.
6. Coal Tar Shampoos: Therapeutic Denorex is a coal tar shampoo designed to treat stubborn dandruff and serious scalp conditions in humans. As with the Selsun Blue products described above, you have to be careful which Denorex product you use as different products contain different active ingredients. And even within the products that contain coal tar, the amount of the active ingredient can vary.
Case Study: These pictures are the most amazing "before and after" pictures I have seen.
The drastic improvement you see above was the result of shampooing the affected areas on the back with a strong-smelling Denorex shampoo with a 7.5% coal tar solution twice a week for two weeks, then weekly until the areas completely cleared. The remainder of the body was shampooed with a regular shampoo.
7. The Best Active Ingredient: So which is it? Benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, coal tar, or one of the many other active ingredients you'll find has been used to treat Schnauzer bumps if you Google as much as I have?
What I have noticed about all the treatments I have read is that they are given once or sometimes even twice a week. And that got me wondering if perhaps the most significant factor is not the active ingredient in the shampoo, but the frequency of bathing.
My dogs are therapy dogs, and must be bathed at least weekly. But frequent bathing alone can cause skin problems for some dogs, so I am careful not to use harsh, drying shampoos containing soaps or detergents. I use Reliq dog shampoo and my dogs have both remained Schnauzer bump free for a very long time.
I was using Reliq when one of my dogs had its last minor outbreak, lots of little waxy comedones, so I can't say it's a cure-all. I treated the outbreak with Selsun Blue as described above.
But should I experience another outbreak, my course of action will simply be to bathe my dog twice weekly, using a great deal of the Reliq shampoo and letting it sit for 10 minutes, just as I did with the Selsun Blue.
This should tell me if the harsh active ingredients of these shampoos are really necessary, or if it's simply the act of thorough and frequent bathing that's clearing up the outbreaks.
8. Antibiotic Pills and Ointment, and Antibacterial Shampoos: These products do not hamper the development of Schnauzer bumps. However, your vet may prescribe them to combat secondary infection. Just as with people, these products should be used only when necessary, and exactly as prescribed.
Case Study: A Miniature Schnauzer had a chronic problem, though varying in severity, of a dozen or so Schnauzer bumps. Most were like the waxy comedones described above, though a few were raised areas. They didn't bother him, and so they wouldn't have been much of a problem if he weren't so prone to infection.
When the owner couldn't get an outbreak under control quickly enough, the little waxy excretions grew into large, black, tarry scabs that felt like hardened pieces of gum. They were eventually pushed off the skin by the hair as it grew out, only to reveal wet, gray, unhealed skin beneath. A new scab formed and the cycle was repeated.
The owner's vet did a scraping, and diagnosed the black, tarry scabs as staph infections, I suppose "opportunistic" as staph is normally carried on the body. She prescribed an antibiotic pill to fight the infections, saying that it was less messy than using an antibiotic ointment. And she prescribed an antibacterial shampoo to keep more of the little waxy excretions from becoming infected. It took about three weeks for all the infections to clear up.
Over the next few months when the little waxy excretions got worse the owner used an antibacterial shampoo, and treated any spots that looked like they were getting out-of-hand with an antibiotic ointment. The problem was that while the Schnauzer bumps never bothered the Schnauzer, the feeling of the ointment did and he would constantly lick it. For weeks on end the Schnauzer lived in an e-collar or onesie.
The owner found a solution to the problem in switching from the antibiotic ointment to a skin care product by Reliq called Skin Solution. It is non-toxic, and yet kills staph bacteria. And it's just like water, so dogs have no desire to lick it. The owner now treats problematic bumps by applying the solution to the affected areas in the morning and at bedtime.
Collecting Information at the Annual Schnauzer Walk
I set up a booth for Pet Partners, the therapy dog organization I work with, at the Portland Miniature Schnauzer Club's annual Schnauzer Walk in Oregon. And while Schnauzer bumps had nothing to do with the subject of the booth, I made use of the opportunity to see what I could learn about Schnauzer bumps.
What I learned was that Schnauzer bumps are quite common, and that most people have no idea that they can appear in forms other than what they have found on their Schnauzer. And frequently they are convinced that whatever treatment helped their Schnauzer will help all Schnauzers.
If it were only that simple!