Cat Acne: Why It Pops Up and What You Can Do About It
Most kitties welcome a few scritches under the chin, but if your cuddlepuss drops his head or bats you away, there might be a problem. Cat acne doesn't happen often, and when it does, there's usually a more serious health or psychological cause.
Melissa Hall, DVM, a consultant for Dutch, is a board-certified veterinary dermatologist and an associate with Animal Dermatology Clinic. "Feline chin acne may affect cats of any breed or gender and is unrelated to age," she says. "Often, it's more detectable and apparent with the hairless breeds, since there is less hair to hide pimples and blackheads."
Ew. Takes you right back to 7th grade, doesn't it?
What Causes Cat Acne?
Hall says cat acne is an uncommon skin condition that can occur for many different reasons. "Some cats will only have one episode and it goes away never to come back, while others constantly have a degree of skin lesions for their entire lifetime," she says. "The variability of length and severity of this condition is because there are several different triggers."
These often include:
- Food or environmental allergies
- Stress, such as moving, being rehomed, or a new kitten entering his domain
- Poor grooming habits, especially with senior cats
- Bacterial overload, especially from dirty water and food bowls
- Viral infections, particularly those affecting the respiratory system
- Abnormal oil or sebum production, which clogs hair follicles
According to Veterinary Partner (VP), some diseases might present with cat acne symptoms too, such as ringworm, contact hypersensitivity, an autoimmune disorder, and Demodectic mite infection, also known as mange.
Additionally, "studies have shown that multiple cats in the same household can develop chin acne, so there is likely a trigger of sorts as opposed to a genetic or inherited cause," VP indicates.
What Do Signs of Cat Acne Look Like?
Bad cat acne looks just like bad human acne. "Some cases have a large amount of dark black crusts or scabs. Others develop blackheads or comedones [small white bumps]," Hall says. "Some cats have large red bumps and pimples. Once pimples are present, these areas often develop secondary bacterial infections."
Cat chin acne is most common, but sometimes the lower and upper lips may be affected. In severe cases which have been going on for a long time, she adds, the skin and lips thicken and become swollen as cats often rub or scratch their chins on furniture or other rough surfaces. Poor kitty!
Popping Cat Acne: Is It a Good Idea?
No. Just—no. Ick.
"No matter how tempting, I don't recommend popping the pimples!" Hall says. "You don't want that infected material to pop inward and create deeper infection. Also, the larger pimples can be quite painful."
Instead, if kitty allows it, she suggests placing a warm compress on the chin to soothe the skin and help loosen and remove scabs.
Cat Acne Treatment and Home Remedies
Hall says one of the best home remedies for cat acne is to change from plastic food and water bowls to glass, ceramic, or steel. Porous plastic scratches and cracks too easily, creating a nasty little playground for bacteria.
"I also strongly recommend cleaning bowls daily with hot water and soap," she adds. This is also a sure-fire method to prevent future flare-ups. For hairless kitties, she tells pet parents to frequently clean their skin with medicated wipes to remove excessive oil and debris.
At-home cat acne treatments of benzoyl peroxide are usually too harsh for kitty's skin, so follow your veterinarian's guidelines for using over-the-counter products. Generally, it's best not to apply typical human pimple medications to treat cat acne unless your vet advises it. However, it's possible that in mild cases, once the underlying cause is identified, they might suggest dabbing a bit of witch hazel onto the surface area.
More than likely, your vet will recommend using specially-formulated antiseptic/antifungal pet wipes that not only clean the area but also treat bacterial infection.
If your sweet furball has a more severe case of feline chin acne, such as large pimples, swelling, or bleeding, it's time for professional treatment. After a thorough exam (remember, most cats hide discomfort really well, so it's important to know what's really going on), your vet will gain a clearer picture of his condition, how to treat your cat's acne, and the reason for it.
"Sometimes we'll prescribe an antibiotic ointment or even systemic (oral or injectable) antibiotics if there's significant disease present," Hall says. VP notes that professional treatment might also include shaving the affected area for better cleaning, then lancing and draining abscesses or comedones.
Then, your vet will establish a plan to address the underlying trigger for cat acne to hopefully prevent it from becoming a chronic condition.