It doesn’t matter if you are two-legged or four, having acne is no fun! Whether it is a single pimple or several, no one wants them around and that includes your cat. While people can get acne everywhere, cats tend to get acne on their cute little chins.
What is 'Chin Acne'?
This disease is called cat acne or, more formally, follicular keratinization. The medical name just tells us that our cat’s hair follicles are blocked by an excessive production of keratin. Keratin is a protein found in the outer layer of skin. When the keratin is "trapped" in the hair follicle it creates an appearance of a dirty chin on your cat. But it actually is blackheads (also called comedones) or whiteheads. Bacteria can invade the comedones and result in pustules (aka pimples). When cases become severe, your cat’s chin may lose hair, become red, and even bleed. The hair follicles become more inflamed (folliculitis) and large sores that resemble boils can form (this is referred to as furunculosis – one of my favorite words!). Once furunculosis occurs, the area can be painful.
As with people, there is more than one potential cause. The disease is poorly understood but the following is a list of some possible contributing factors:
- Overactive sebaceous glands (oil glands in the skin)
- Food and chemical sensitivities
- Poor immune system
- Hormonal imbalances such as with pregnancy, lactation, or hyperthyroidism
- Allergy induced contact or atopic dermatitis
- Concurrent infections or diseases such as bacterial or fungal skin infections
- Poor grooming habits due to age or illness.
Plastic Cat Bowls
The above list of causes of acne could be the same for people! But one factor that is unique to cats is the correlation between chin acne and the use of plastic food and water bowls. A significant number of cats that have acne also use plastic dishes. The first theory was chin acne was due to a contact allergy caused by plastic. Now, the thought is because plastic harbors excessive amounts of bacteria since it scratches easier – even with proper cleaning – this leads to cat acne. Therefore, it is recommended, especially for cats that have had acne, to switch to glass, ceramic or stainless steel bowls. These types of dishes don’t trap bacteria in tiny scratches and they are easier to clean/disinfect. Check out some of our cat bowl recommendations.
Another prime culprit in the development of chin acne is allergies. Allergies in pets generally are more evident in skin as compared to people who normally get signs of sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes. If your cat suffers from food or environmental allergies, they may have chin acne but you may also notice that their skin is inflamed and itchy as well as missing patches of fur. They may spend more time licking, chewing, and scratching. Often, in addition to these symptoms, they will have ear infections.
How Is Chin Acne Diagnosed?
If you notice that your cat’s chin is not its cute fuzzy self but instead you see blackheads and sores, a visit to your veterinarian may be necessary. It is important that your veterinarian diagnose the potential cause of the acne as well as rule out any other issues such as mites, fleas, allergies, and/or bacterial/fungal skin infections.
Following a complete physical examination, your veterinarian may need to perform tests such as:
- skin scrapes, skin or ear cytologies – taking swab samples to look at under the microscope
- cultures – a sterile swab is rubbed over the affected areas and analyzed in a vial) to look for ringworm
- additionally, other tests might be needed:
- complete blood counts, chemistries, thyroid panels, and allergy testing may be recommended.
- in some cases, if your veterinarian doesn’t feel that ‘chin acne’ has its normal appearance, they may want to biopsy the tissue by taking a small piece of skin to have the cells analyzed under a microscope
How to Treat Chin Acne?
Once it has been confirmed that your cat has ‘chin acne,’ it is time for treatment.
If your veterinarian has prescribed medications and made recommendations on treatment to care for the area, it is important to follow their directions carefully. Your veterinarian may prescribe or recommend:
- Cleansing the area with special cleaning pads
- Medicated shampoo
- Antimicrobial gel, cream, or ointment
- Severe cases may require steroids
- Cold laser therapy, which helps reduce inflammation
Cleaning Your Cat's Face
Apply a warm compress to the site – dampen a facecloth with warm water and place it on your cat's chin for a few minutes. This is most helpful with mild acne and may reduce swelling.
Talk to your veterinarian about pet-safe acne pads or cleaners to gently clean your cat’s chin. Use a product (like the ones below) with Benzoyl Peroxide or Chlorhexidine as the active ingredient.
Warning: Avoid products containing Salicylic Acid – which is in most of the over-the-counter human acne pads – as salicylic acid can be toxic to cats and their chin is an area they often lick.Here are a few cleaning pads I recommend. They're great to have on-hand for minor abrasions, cleaning ear canal openings, between digits on the paws, and other skin folds.
Antiseptic and moisturizing cleaning pads that can be used to clean the chin, outer ear canals, nose/lip/tail folds, and paws on cats and dogs.
Antibacterial, antifungal, and degreasing wipes used to clean folds on the face and lips, chins, anal areas, and hot spots on cats and dogs.
Keep your cat’s chin clean and dry, taking care to wipe their chin following their meals or after drinking if they’re particularly messy eaters or drinkers.
Preventing Chin Acne in Cats
Choice of Cat Bowls and their Care
- Switch from plastic feeding and drinking bowls to ones made of stainless steel or glass. The plastic bowls have a higher likelihood of irritating your cat’s skin and/or harboring bacteria when they get scratched up and damaged during normal everyday use and cleaning.
- Wash your cat’s feeding and water bowls daily, even the stainless, ceramic, and glass ones.
Help Keep Your Cat's Allergies Under Control
- If your cat has known environmental allergies, keep them indoors with the windows closed, especially during pollen season
- Use air purifiers and HEPA filters for your air conditioning
- Sweep, vacuum, and dust regularly (ideally daily) to cut down allergens. Cats hang out closer to the floor and furniture, and they breathe very deeply, so inhaling allergens such as dust mites (those buggers are everywhere all the time) and pollen that settles on the floors, creates more chances of reactions when not removed daily.
- Wash cat bedding regularly in hypoallergenic laundry detergent and cover with dust mite covers
- Cool mist humidifiers help in dry climates
- If your cat has food allergies, be strict with what they eat and follow the advice of your veterinarian with regards to feeding recommendations
Other Helpful Prevention Tips
- Having your cat regularly groomed helps in the prevention of chin acne as well as other potential skin issues. If bathing at home, use a hypoallergenic shampoo such as Hylyt
- Skin support supplements such as pre-and probiotics and fish oil, like this one from Nordic Naturals, specifically formulated for cats and small dog breeds
- Take measures to control stress with calming products, such as VetriScience Composure Treats or Feliway pheromone wall diffuser or spray, for use on bedding
In ancient times, cats were worshipped as gods and they have never forgotten this. They want to always look their best, and chin acne prevents this. So help them maintain good hygiene and monitor their skin routinely to help prevent and treat their acne.