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Feline Acne
Revised: January 04, 2023
Published: November 21, 2019

Feline acne is a skin condition of cats that is seen mostly around the chin and lip margins. Hair follicles on the chin become clogged (also known as comedones). Severely blocked follicles can develop abscesses, which are filled with pus. Surrounding skin can also develop bacterial infections.

What Causes Feline Acne?

We don’t know what causes it.  Studies have shown that multiple cats in the same household can develop chin acne, so there is likely a trigger of sorts as opposed to a genetic or inherited cause. Some research data suggests that a virus, possibly associated with the upper respiratory tract, may make a cat more likely to get chin acne. Other evidence points to increased production of sebum, an oily substance produced in the skin’s sebaceous glands. This overproduction may predispose follicles to become clogged.

Certain diseases also increase the likelihood of feline acne. These include food and environmental allergies; eosinophilic granuloma complex; ringworm; infection with Demodex mites; autoimmune disorders such as pemphigus foliaceous; and contact hypersensitivity (e.g. skin sensitivity to certain materials or chemicals, such as the plastic used in some food bowls).

Courtesy Dr. Alec Martin
Courtesy Dr. Alec Martin

What Are the Signs of Feline Acne?

The skin on the cat’s chin will be thick, red, and crusty. Clogged hair follicles may be visible. These appear as dark lesions or spots under the skin containing thick material. In some cats, discharge or fluid may be seen on or around the chin. Chin acne is not typically itchy or painful unless the case is severe or the cat also has other infections or diseases.  Other clinical signs may come from any ongoing associated diseases. For example, areas of circular, crusty hair loss may be seen with ringworm, a fungal infection.

How Is Feline Acne Treated?

Feline acne is best assessed and treated by a veterinarian. Hair on and around the affected areas can be shaved to allow for better cleaning and treatment. Damaged skin will need to be cleaned with antiseptic solutions. In some cases, comedones or abscesses will need to be lanced and drained to allow for better healing.

Some cats require oral or injectable antibiotics, but mild cases can be improved with topical medicines alone. Topical therapies include antiseptics, antibiotics, and antifungals, depending on additional infections. Sometimes steroids are necessary to decrease inflammation and discomfort. Steroids can be given topically, orally, or as an injection.

Can Feline Acne be Prevented?

Typically, feline acne is a chronic disease. While the initial acne and infection can be healed, additional outbreaks may occur. Some research indicates that cats with acne do not groom as well as normal cats. Helping to keep the cat’s chin and face clean and the surrounding hair brushed may decrease the incidence of comedone outbreaks. Controlling any predisposing issues can also help prevent a recurrence. In cases of contact hypersensitivity, changing food and water bowls from plastic to metal, glass, or ceramic may decrease outbreaks; plastic bowls are porous and scratch easily, and are more likely than other types of materials to develop cracks and crevices that hold unhealthy bacteria.  Shallow bowls may also be more beneficial than deeper bowls as they minimize skin contact with the bowl surface as well as the food fed. Ensure that food and water bowls are cleaned frequently with soap and water. If allergies are an issue, discuss methods for decreasing allergy signs with a veterinarian. Long-term topical therapy, such as cleansers or topical medications, may be also necessary to prevent the recurrence of feline acne. 

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