Cat Acne: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

feline acne hero

Like braces, acne is one of those conditions many teenagers (and some grown-ups) must endure, seemingly as a rite of passage on the road to adulthood. It may seem like a uniquely human experience but we’re not alone; cats can get acne, too.

While felines may not share our fears about the appearance of blackheads and whiteheads, pimples can be irritating to our pets (depending on their location, they can interfere with mealtime). Even if your cat hardly notices them, though, they’re still worth your attention.

Here’s what you should know about cat acne.

Cat Acne Symptoms

Feline acne usually looks like small, black spots. It’s almost always located on the underside of your cat’s chin or on the edge of the lips. (This is why it’s sometimes referred to as “cat chin acne.”)

Some owners can mistake acne for dirt. Given that pimples also clear up on their own in many instances, it’s easy to see why.

In more severe cases, cats might have a large break out of pimples and experience hair loss, irritated skin and even bleeding.

As with humans, some acne can be uncomfortable and even painful for cats. This may affect your cat’s health, as their chin is in a vulnerable area. If it rubs against their food bowl, they may start eating less, which could potentially cause weight loss.

What Causes Feline Acne?

The causes of acne in cats are not fully understood, but the following factors can play a role:

  • Sebaceous glands. Your cat has sebaceous glands under their chin that help lubricate the skin and are useful in territorial marking. Just like in humans, these glands secrete oil that can block hair follicles, causing a comedone—or blackhead—on the surface of your cat’s skin. Whiteheads and pimples may also appear. In some cases, these blocked follicles can cause discomfort and even secondary infections.
  • Bacteria. Plastic and ceramic food and water dishes, which are porous, may harbor bacteria. Your cat can be exposed to it while eating and drinking.
  • Stress. Heightened stress may trigger the appearance of blackheads and whiteheads.
  • Grooming habits. Without proper, regular grooming, dirt and debris can build up in fur over time.
  • Allergic reactions. Medications, rubber toys and dishes may cause breakouts on your feline’s chin.

Can All Cats Get Acne?

Acne is a skin condition that can affect all breeds, although it’s more common in felines with skin folds and long hair.

Treatment for Your Cat’s Chin Acne

When treating your cat’s acne, you want to remove the sebum (the oily substance produced by sebaceous glands) and dead cells from plugged-up hair follicles. Treatment can also reduce sebaceous gland activity, as well as alleviate pain and inflammation.

It’s a good idea to have your veterinarian take a look at your cat’s acne, even in mild cases. More serious conditions, like ringworm and skin mites, can have a similar appearance.

For severe or recurring cases, a prescription may be required. For mild cases, however, there are a few treatments you can try at home:

  • Apply a compress of lukewarm water and cotton balls, twice a day, to the affected area and press gently. Don’t rub—that will only cause further irritation.
  • Ask your veterinarian about cleaning the acne breakout with benzoyl peroxide wipes designed for cats.
  • Using stainless steel food and water dishes is a good idea, as it’s a non-porous material. No matter what your dishes are made of, though, be sure to wash them every day in hot water.
  • As a preventative step, clipping the nearby fur around the chin can also reduce the amount of bacteria that’s able to accrue.
  • Avoid picking at your cat’s acne. It may cause pain and prolong the breakout.

Are Human Acne Products Safe for My Cat?

There are a variety of products designed for treating acne. While some may be safe for your cat, not all of them are appropriate. Rather than guessing, ask your veterinarian.

Whether it’s a product made for people or specifically developed for use in animal medicine, your veterinarian will help you choose a solution that’s right for your cat.

For more cat health tips, learn what our experts have to say on our Pet Expertise page.

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