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Feline Acne - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

What is feline acne?

feline acneFeline acne is a common skin disorder characterised by the presence of blackheads on the cat's chin and lips. It can affect cats of any age, sex or breed.

Sebaceous glands secrete oils (known as sebum) which lubricates the skin, preventing dryness and irritation. The sebaceous glands are mostly found in dorsal, eyelids, chin, surface of the base of the tail, lips, scrotum and prepuce. They are connected to the hair follicles.

These glands also play a role in territorial marking and any observant cat owner will have seen their cat rubbing it's face and chin along objects. Over time this rubbing will leave greasy patches.

In acne, the follicles become blocked with black sebaceous material, resulting in blackheads. These blackheads may become irritated, swollen and infected, leading to pustules.

What causes feline acne?

The exact cause of feline acne isn't known. There are several possible causes however including

  • Stress - Stress triggers the release of various hormones which lead to the sebaceous glands producing more sebum.
  • The use of plastic food bowls is commonly discouraged, especially in cats with feline acne. This is because they are porous and trap bacteria, which is then transferred to the cat's chin. It has also been suggested that an allergic reaction to the plastic food bowl is a cause.
  • Poor grooming, the chin is a rather difficult area on cats to clean.
  • Over active sebaceous glands.
  • There have been suggestions that it may be linked to hormones.

What are the symptoms of feline acne?

  • The chin and possibly lips have black spots (comedones) on it, which look like dirt.
  • Secondary infection may lead to  swollen, red, pustules, leading to bleeding due to irritation.
  • Advanced cases may lead to itching, inflammation and a raw/angry appearance.

How is feline acne diagnosed:

Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your cat and tentative diagnosis is usually made based on the appearance of comedones on the chin.

As there are other conditions with similar symptoms to feline acne (bacterial pyoderma, contact dermatitis, food hypersensitivity, Malassezia, eosinophilic granuloma), your veterinarian may wish to perform skin scrapings and perform a fungal and bacterial culture to rule out other causes.

How is feline acne treated?

Treatment of feline acne depends on the severity of the condition. Removing excess sebum is the aim. Some treatments include:

  • If the condition is mild, with only a few comedones, topical treatment may be all that is required. Gentle cleansing with an antibiotic soap, witch hazel, iodine (Betadine) or Epsom salts.
  • In more severe cases, cleansing the skin with an ointment or gel containing benzoyl peroxide (such as OxyDex) or chlorhexidine may be of use.
  • Topical glucocorticoids to reduce inflammation.

It helps if you apply a warm, damp cloth to the chin for 30 seconds prior to applying treatments.

Severe acne:

  • The fur around the chin may be clipped by your veterinarian to enable deep cleaning of the affected area.
  • Oral antibiotics if secondary infection is present.
  • Oral glucocorticoids such as prednisone for severe inflammation.  

Treatment may be lifelong. Always consult your veterinarian if you suspect feline acne and never treat your cat at home with an anti-acne treatment designed for humans.

Is there anything I can do to prevent feline acne?

  • Switch from plastic to glass, ceramic or metal food bowls.
  • Wash food and water bowls daily.
  • Washing the cat's chin after eating, if he is prone to acne.

Special thanks to Tara for the use of her photos.

Also see:

Stud tail   Lumps and bumps on cats