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What Is Cat Acne?

If you’ve ever noticed red bumps, black dots, or dirt on your cat’s chin, your cat may struggle with feline acne, often called chin acne.  

At its basic definition, cat acne is a disease in which the hair follicles—usually ones on a cat’s chin—produce too much keratin and become plugged. This results in red bumps, blackheads, and infected pimple-like lesions.

Cats can have a single, isolated bout of chin acne, or it may be a chronic struggle.

Cats of all ages can develop acne, as it is not believed to be related to sex hormones. Additionally, feline acne affects males and females of all breeds, as well as both and neutered and intact cats.

Symptoms of Cat Acne

The most common clinical sign associated with feline acne is a chin that looks dirty, hence the name “feline chin acne.” Your cat’s chin may look like it has specks of dirt all over it—you may even be tempted to try to wipe their chin to clean it.

Cat acne may also appear as red pimples or pustules with a head like pimples before they pop.

The lesions can also be found on your cat’s upper and lower lips.

Chronic Acne in Cats

Chronic or severely affected cats may have so many plugged follicles that they fuse together and form swollen, painful crusts. As the lesions get bigger, the follicles are more prone to rupture, which is a very sore (and messy) experience. It can also lead to chronic hair loss in the affected area.

Causes of Cat Acne

Feline acne is a poorly understood disorder that’s related to the overproduction of keratin—a key structure that makes up the outer layer of skin.

For a variety of reasons, this excess keratin becomes trapped, causing the formation of blackheads, or comedones. When these blackheads become infected with bacteria, they form pustules that look like quite similar to what you would recognize to be pimples.

Cat acne is believed to be associated with:

  • Poor grooming

  • Excessive sebum (oil) and keratin production

  • The skin’s immune-barrier function

Regardless of the underlying mechanism, the result is that the hair follicle becomes “plugged,” and an infection often results.

How Vets Diagnose Cat Acne

Your veterinarian will diagnose feline acne based upon clinical findings, your cat’s medical history, and the elimination of other possible skin conditions.

A skin scraping and cytology may be needed to help rule out other causes, such as mange, various skin tumors, and a condition called eosinophilic granuloma complex.

Treatment for Cat Acne

NEVER pick at your cat’s acne. Picking will only worsen the condition and potentially cause more pain and even infection.

Initially, treatment may involve the use of oral or injectable antibiotics and topical shampoo or wipes.

If your cat’s skin begins to clear, the shampoos and topical treatments can gradually be stopped, but if the outbreaks reoccur, your veterinarian will help develop an appropriate maintenance routine to keep your cat’s chin as clear as possible.

Maintenance cleansing with gentle scrubbing has been successful for many cats because it extends the amount of time between episodes and treatment.

Tips for Cleaning Your Cat’s Face If They Have Acne

For most patients, improved hygiene is core to the treatment plan; in other words, you are going to need to start washing your cat’s face.

Your vet may recommend cleaning their face with benzoyl peroxide facial wipes, but you need to get wipes specifically made for cats, as human wipes are too strong.

Clipping the nearby fur can also cut down the amount of bacteria.

Cleaning water and food dishes with increased frequency and a switch to stainless steel, glass, or ceramic dishes may also help for some cats.

Recovery and Management of Cat Acne

If your cat is plagued with chin acne, remember this is usually only a superficial problem and not one that will have serious impacts on your cat’s overall health.

Most cases of feline chin acne are relatively harmless and respond well with improved hygiene.

The condition does become painful if it reaches the point where lesions swell and/or scab, so this is the point where more aggressive treatment is required to manage your cat’s acne.

Cat Acne FAQs

How do I get rid of my cat’s chin acne?

Improved hygiene is central to clearing up cat acne. This can include daily medicated wipes made for cats, topical shampoos made for cats, and systemic antibiotics when an infection has developed.

Is cat acne contagious to other cats?

Feline acne is not contagious. Cat acne is essentially plugged hair follicles related to the overproduction of keratin.

Should I pick my cat's acne?

You should NEVER pick your cat’s acne. This will only worsen the condition and cause an infection if one isn’t yet present.

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