Feline chin acne is a fairly common skin condition in cats, and can be a one-time occurrence, occasional flare, or chronic issue. There appears to be no rhyme or reason regarding age, breed, or sex of cats affected by chin acne, but some sources say it is more common in cats between two and four years old because of hormones. While this condition is mostly unsightly to look at, it can progress to painful, draining pustules that are itchy and irritating to the cat.
What Is Chin Acne in Cats?
Like in people, acne forms when the hair follicles around a cat’s oil-producing sebaceous glands become clogged. Besides knowing that the follicles become blocked, little is understood about this condition. Research has shown that chin acne develops because of follicular keratinization, but not what causes the excess production of keratin. If the extra keratin—a protein found in the outer layer of skin—is trapped in the hair follicles, comedones, or blackheads, form. Pustules, or pimples, may form if bacteria infect the comedones, appearing similar to acne in people.
Signs of Feline Chin Acne
The most common sign of feline chin acne is the appearance of a dirty chin, especially noted in light-colored or white cats. The small black specks are comedones, and careful examination will reveal the blackheads and inflamed hair follicles. Although most commonly appearing on the chin, acne can also pop up on the upper and lower lips. If the blackheads become infected, swollen, inflamed bumps can appear, which may rupture and drain. Cats with chronic cases of acne may have hard, crusty lesions that are painful to the touch.
Causes of Feline Chin Acne
Although this disease is poorly understood, several potential factors may contribute to unsightly blackheads, including:
- Poor grooming habits
- Hyperactive sebaceous glands
- Hormone imbalances
- Sensitivity to foods or chemicals
- Poor immune system
- Contact or atopic dermatitis from allergies
- Concurrent infection or disease
A distinct correlation has appeared between feline chin acne and the use of plastic food and water dishes. It was originally thought that a contact allergy to the plastic material caused acne, but now it is believed that an excessive amount of bacteria resides on plastic dishes, leading to acne development. Plastic is much more difficult to clean by hand than glass, ceramic, or stainless steel, as tiny abrasions easily trap bacteria. Avoid this potential issue by switching your cat’s dishes to an impermeable material and washing frequently if she is prone to developing comedones on her chin.
Allergies appear to be another common culprit for chin acne development. Pets’ allergies tend to manifest in their skin, rather than in the typical hay fever signs that people have. If your cat is allergic to an ingredient in her diet or a substance in her environment, you may notice chin acne, in addition to inflamed skin, itching, licking, chewing, ear infections, and hair loss.
How to Diagnose Feline Chin Acne
If your cat has developed blackheads or sores on her chin, a veterinary visit is necessary for treatment to prevent further progression. At your cat’s appointment, your veterinarian will likely rule out a variety of potential issues, such as mange mites, fleas, fungal infections, allergies, and bacterial infections. Besides a thorough physical exam, your veterinarian may perform a skin scraping to check for mites, a skin cytology to search for bacteria or yeast, or a dermatophyte culture to rule out ringworm.
If the sores appear suspicious and do not have a typical chin-acne appearance, your veterinarian will likely recommend a biopsy to check for immune-mediated diseases or neoplastic causes.
How to Treat Feline Chin Acne
Most feline chin acne treatments revolve around improved hygiene to manage the condition, rather than curing it. Besides swapping out plastic dishes for a non-porous material and washing daily, there are other home remedies you can try to help clear up your cat’s chin acne, such as:
- Gentle cleansing of the affected area twice daily with a mild soap, benzoyl peroxide, chlorhexidine, or antiseborrheic shampoo, which will help flush out the hair follicles.
- Add a fatty acid supplement with omega-3 fatty acids to help improve skin health.
- Soothe pustule inflammation with warm water compresses to help promote healing.
- If your cat’s acne has progressed to the point of veterinary intervention, your pet may receive a variety of medications to battle bacteria-filled blackheads, including:
- Systemic antibiotics in the form of capsules, tablets, liquid, or a long-lasting injection
- Topical antibiotics to apply to the affected area
- Steroid injection or tablets to calm inflammation
- Antibacterial and antifungal shampoo, wipes, or cleanser with a soothing steroid
How to Prevent Feline Chin Acne
As mentioned, one of the best ways to prevent feline chin acne is to switch from plastic bowls to ceramic, glass, or stainless steel. Take steps to minimize your cat’s stress and ensure good grooming occurs to help promote healthy skin and fur, which will decrease the chances for clogged hair follicles.
Although feline chin acne is a puzzling condition that can be difficult to eradicate, good hygiene habits and prompt intervention can help clear up your kitty’s blackheads. Speak with your veterinarian before beginning any home care regimen, though, as some human products are toxic to cats.
Ward, Ernest. Chin Acne in Cats. VCA Animal Hospitals.
Scott, D. and Miller, W. Feline Acne: A Retrospective Study of 74 Cases. The Japanese Journal of Veterinary Dermatology, doi:10.2736/jjvd.16.203