If your furry feline defies the stereotype that cats are fastidious groomers and instead is a bit lazy in the personal hygiene department, you may have noticed red bumps or black heads on your cat’s chin. This may very well be what we call acne in cats. You read correctly; acne is not just limited to hormonal teenagers. In fact, feline chin acne is similar to the acne that humans get.
Feline acne can be a problem that many cats face and is essentially an obstruction of the hair follicles on the chin. The cause of feline chin acne is less straightforward. We know it is a disorder related to the overproduction of keratin, a key structure that makes up the outer layer of skin. This excess keratin may become trapped in the hair follicle causing blackheads, known as comedones by the medical community, to form. When these comedones become infected with bacteria they form pustules that look similar to what you and I know as pimples. This is believed to be associated with poor grooming, excessive oil production, or the skin’s immune-barrier function. Regardless of the underlying mechanism, the end result is that the hair follicle becomes “plugged” and an infection, with its accompanying clinical signs, often results.
Some cats have a single outbreak of acne; for others it may be a life-long recurring problem. The frequency and severity of each occurrence varies with each patient. Unlike the association of acne with puberty in human adolescents, cats of all ages can develop acne. Additionally, feline acne can affect both sexes, all breeds, and neutered and intact cats.
The most common clinical sign associated with feline acne is a dirty appearing chin. The cat may look like it has been rubbing its chin in the soil outside. It may also appear as mild red pimples. The lesions, pustules and comedones appear on the chin most frequently, but are also found on the lower and upper lip. Chronic or severely affected cats may develop hard, crusty, or swollen lesions that are sore when touched. After time, the pimples can get larger and cause the hair follicles to rupture, which leads to discomfort, bloody drainage and hair loss.
Diagnosis is based upon the presence of clinical signs, medical history, and the elimination of other possible skin conditions. Occasionally, blood and urine tests, skin culture and sensitivity tests, biopsy, and skin scraping will be performed to rule out other causes. The diseases your veterinarian will want to rule out include but are not limited to the following:
Various neoplasms (tumors)
Eosinophilic granuloma complex
Initially, treatment will involve the use of antibiotics and topical shampoos. If the cat’s skin begins to clear, the shampoos and topical treatments can gradually be tapered; if the outbreaks reoccur, your veterinarian will help develop an appropriate maintenance program to keep your cat’s chin as clear as possible. Maintenance cleansing with gentle scrubbing has been used with success for many patients to extend the period of time between episodes and treatment.
For most patients, improved hygiene is core to the treatment plan. Cleaning with benzoyl peroxide may be advised but you will want to get one specifically for cats as benzyol peroxide available for humans with strong fragrances are inappropriate for cats. Clipping the nearby hair may help as fur harbors a significant amount of bacteria. Cleaning water and food dishes with increased frequency and a switch to stainless steel, glass, or ceramic dishes may help with some patients as well.
If your cat is affected with chin acne, it is important to remember this is often a superficial problem and not one to fret over. Most cases are relatively mild and respond well with improved hygiene. When the lesions swell, scab, or bleed is when the condition is considered to be uncomfortable and more aggressive treatment is required.