How to Treat Feline Acne Effectively

Everyone knows what acne is. It’s something that has plagued many of us during the start of puberty and sometimes continued up until our late 20s. What most people don’t know is that cats can get acne too – and it’s not pretty.

Feline acne, also known as chin acne, is a skin condition that occurs in cats when hair follicles connected to sebaceous glands become clogged with oil and keratin, forming blackheads. 

Visually, it appears as a cluster of black dots on a cat’s chin or upper lip. It might actually look like dirt at first, but you’ll notice that it doesn’t wipe or wash off.

skinny back cat seated

These blackheads are mostly harmless. However, they can potentially become irritated and cause an uncomfortable and itching sensation which a cat is prone to scratch. If the irritated blackheads are bothered, they could swell and develop infections which will ultimately create pustules. If left untreated, it can cause the cat’s health to rapidly deteriorate as well as give it an extremely unsightly appearance.

Causes of Feline Acne

It’s currently one of the top five most common skin conditions in kitties that veterinarians diagnose and treat. Feline acne can afflict cats of any size, age, sex, and breed. It can be a one-time problem or recurring throughout their lives. In some cases, it can become permanent!

Doctors still haven’t found the exact reason as to why cats get acne but they do have some knowledge on possible causes. Here are some of them:

  • Hyperactive sebaceous glands are believed to produce more oil than necessary which mixes with keratin and serves to clog up pores.
  • Poor hygiene can be a major factor in the build-up of sebum in the facial region.
  • Let’s not rule out stress. It can cause a variety of reactions in both humans and animals.
  • Acne that suddenly appears can be an indication of an underlying fungal, viral, or bacterial infection.
  • Your cat might be allergic to medication that it took recently and the acne outbreak is a secondary reaction. Specific brands of dog food can also trigger such allergies.
  • Cats can also be allergic to certain materials in their eating/drinking bowl such as plastic.
  • Demodicosis or mange, is another skin disease caused by masses of parasitic mites. If your cat has mange, it might not be a coincidence that the blackheads showed up.
  • If a cat’s immune system is failing, it opens up avenues for bacteria to attack and it’s not impossible for acne to appear as a result.
  • When hair follicles malfunction or act improperly, the resulting irritation on the skin can close up pores.
  • One of cat’s most common territorial moves is the “cheek rub” or “chin rub”. Rubbing of the chin, cheek, or face to display affection or mark territory on hundreds of non-sanitized household items can invite dirt and bacteria for a permanent stay. Additionally, it can serve to further irritate the skin and cause dermatitis.
  • Just like in humans, cats can also experience hormonal imbalance. The endocrine system is a complex collection of glands in a cat’s body that controls important body functions. When something in the system is thrown out of whack, safeguards that protect against bacterial infection can break down.
  • Other cats in the household that have feline acne can act as carriers; passing along the skin disease through physical contact.

Treatment of Feline Acne

There are some simple steps you can take to treat feline acne as you try to discover what caused it, how to remove it, and how to prevent it from happening again. Continue reading to discover ways for you to save your kitty from the horrible disease and restore its confidence. Kitties have feelings too and having a chin full of acne isn’t exactly helping their image while strutting around.

  • For mild cases, try applying a warm compress on the affected area. The heat will loosen the skin, open up the pores, and allow the dirt and oil to flow out freely. It can also help to alleviate any discomfort the cat might be feeling.
  • To remove the acne, you can try using a flea comb or old toothbrush to brush the cat’s chin. This could help to loosen up the blackheads and remove the debris.
  • Use a cleansing pad to rub salicylic acid on the area and allow it to air dry to dissolve the oil which is clogged inside the pores.
  • If your cat is clearly agitated due to the itchiness, you can try using Epsom-salt compress twice a day on the affected area. It will help relieve the inflammation, control the itchiness, and allow your cat to take a breather.
  • If the pores have become infected, there might not be anything else you can do on your own, and veterinary treatment will be required. What they can do to help is to drain the pustules and prescribe oral antibiotics.
  • Never attempt to squeeze or extract blackheads from a cat’s chin. As tempting as it may be, it can cause more irritation and damage to the skin. This could lead to a skin infection or worse. Trust us, your cat won’t appreciate it either.
  • Other disinfectants that have been proven to be effective are fresh aloe gel and manuka honey. These two products both contain powerful antibiotic agents instrumental in controlling the feline acne. Chlorhexidine is another medicinal soapy liquid which can be used to wipe and clean a cat’s chin.

In all cases, if your cat’s chin is already oozing, red or inflamed, and has open sores, it’s time to stop home treatment and call the vet.

Some of the possible solutions which may be presented to you are skin scrapings, bacterial and fungal culture, a biopsy and histopathology to rule out mange or other debilitating skin diseases, and a skin cytology.

Prevention of Feline Acne

As previously mentioned, feline acne can be a recurring disease and therefore it’s compulsory for responsible owners to focus on prevention of future cases. It’s recommended to visit a vet who can perform a visual examination of your cat. If, however, you’d like to try some home remedies, please consider the following:

  • One of the simplest ways to treat a case of feline acne is also one of the most basic for humans: an antibiotic soap and warm water bath. Maintaining good hygiene is the key to preventing feline acne in most cases. Don’t neglect your daily or weekly grooming rituals!
  • Water bowls can be breeding grounds for bacteria and dirt. And your cat dips its chin in it many times a day! Make sure to keep the bowl clean and refill it with fresh water as necessary. Also, you can try using a shallow dish rather than a deeper one to minimize the amount of wetness on the face.
  • Some pets are allergic to plastic bowls – cats included. An allergic cat eating from a plastic bowl can experience reactions on the face that resemble acne. Bacteria can also get trapped in cracks of the plastic. If you suspect your cat of being allergic, try switching to a heavy ceramic, stainless steel, or glass bowl.
  • Food allergies can also trigger acne. Besides acne, other symptoms related to food allergies are vomiting, diarrhea, runny eyes or nose, and constant sneezing or coughing. Cats can also be allergic to certain dyes present in the artificial coloring of low-cost cat foods.

Some types of feed also contain grain or plant-based protein which many cats are allergic to. Dairy products are another culprit – cats are lactose intolerant. Try using a different brand of cat food and see if it makes any difference.

  • Benzoyl peroxide is a topical medication used to treat acne. Gently massage a small portion of it into the affected area and wash it off afterward as it can help prevent future outbreaks. Your veterinarian will let you know which cleansers are recommended for your kitty.
  • If the acne seems to be recurring, you can dab the cat’s chin with a bit of hydrogen peroxide or witch hazel to stop it from flaring back up.
  • Pheromones are odorless messages that are released from a cat’s body as a form of communication. Cats can either send out happy, harmonious, or territorial messages to other cats using these pheromones.

Synthetic variants of this are available for purchase at most pet stores and can be sprayed on vertical objects to reduce cat’s chin-rubbing exercise. Feliway is an example of a commercial cat pheromone dispenser.

Having feline acne isn’t fun and neither is treating it. Doctor visits, blood tests, and constant application of ointments on the cats’ face can be quite stressful for them. The most important thing to remember is that just like acne or pimples that humans get, kitty chin acne isn’t life threatening but it needs to be maintained to prevent it from turning into something worse that could sprout secondary bacterial infections.

Keep an eye out for any swelling or redness in the affected areas. Good observation and cleanliness will go a long way in ensuring that your cat’s first acne outbreak (if it happens) is handled correctly.

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Kathy Hills
Kathy Hills

I have been an animal lover since I was a small child. My mother sold Watkins products in a small town in North Dakota and when delivering the product to people who lived on farms I would get out of the car first to distract the dog (most farms had at least one dog) for my mother (she was afraid of dogs) as she went to the door. I was her "dog decoy." I have worked with animals my entire adult life, mainly as a VET.

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