Feline chin acne is a common skin condition in cats. It can appear at any age and in either gender. It may wax and wane or be stubbornly hard to treat. Signs range from barely noticeable comedones (blackheads) to severely inflamed and draining pustules. Some cats are not bothered, while others find the acne very itchy and painful. Local hair loss and redness are also common.
What Is Feline Chin Acne?
Just like in humans, acne forms when the hair follicles around a cat's oil-producing sebaceous glands become clogged. Cats most frequently develop acne on their chins, even though they also have sebaceous glands on their tails and eyelids. While it's common in all breeds of cat, for some reason Persian are more susceptible to recurrent bouts of chin acne.
Symptoms of Chin Acne in Cats
Many cats first present with a dirty chin with small black dots in between the hair follicles. That may be all that develops for some cats. For others, this can progress to swollen, red lumps that may or may not rupture and drain.
If it progresses, the follicles can become infected with Staphylococcus aureus (a common bacterial species that can normally be found on the surface of the skin). This complication is called bacterial folliculitis. This serious skin infection requires more aggressive treatment. Folliculitis also can lead to secondary fungal infections if not treated properly.
Causes of Feline Chin Acne
There really is no known cause for cat chin acne, but several possible contributing factors may include:
- Poor grooming
- Bacterial overload (i.e. from dirty food bowls)
- Abnormal sebum (oily substance) production
- Contact sensitivity/dermatitis
- Suppressed immune system
- Concurrent infection or disease
Plastic food bowls were once considered a possible culprit for causing feline acne (allergic or contact sensitivity), but it is now thought that the bacterial levels found on plastic dishes may be the real problem. Using glass, metal, or ceramic dishes will help. It's also important to frequently wash the dishes.
You also may consider raising your cat's food and water bowls, so that the fur on its chin doesn't come into contact with whatever's in the dish.
And just like in humans, cats can develop acne due to allergies. Vary your cat's food and treats to make sure there isn't an ingredient in them that's causing an allergic reaction. You'd likely notice other allergic symptoms if this were the case, but not always.
Diagnosing Feline Chin Acne
Many times the diagnosis is by your vet's examination. Your vet will want to rule out other possibilities, such as mites, fungal and bacterial infections (primary or secondary) or fleas and assess the cat's general overall health. Testing methods include fungal and bacterial cultures and skin scrapings.
In severe cases, where the skin is red and sore, a biopsy may be performed. This condition can mimic other more serious conditions that should be ruled out, including ringworm, skin mites, or even a fungal yeast infection. These all should be ruled out before any kind of treatment begins.
Chin acne is usually managed rather than cured. Home treatments include gentle washing of the chin once or twice daily with a mild soap, benzoyl peroxide, chlorhexidine, or other cleanser recommended by your veterinarian.
For pustules, warm water compresses or tea bag compresses will help soothe and heal the acne. Use metal, glass, or ceramic food and water dishes. Wash those dishes daily.
For more severe cases, your veterinarian may prescribe additional treatments, such as:
- Antibiotics in the form of pills, liquids, or a long-lasting injection in the office
- Topical antibiotics, and if so caution must be taken to ensure the cat cannot groom it off and ingest it
- Corticosteroid injection or tablets to calm inflammation
- Prescription-strength shampoo or wash
How to Prevent Feline Chin Acne
If you suspect that your cat has chin acne, see your veterinarian right away to reduce the risk of trauma-related infections from your cat scratching at itchy and painful lesions.
Never use human products or medications on your cat without first checking with your veterinarian. Some products may be fatal for your pet.