Does your cat have acne?

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A cat with cat insurance eats from a bowl.

By: Dr. Jane Matheys
Associate Veterinarian
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

One of my cats was outside under my supervision the other day enjoying the sunshine and mild spring temperatures. After he came in, I saw a couple of little black specks on his chin. My first thought was that he had chin acne that I hadn’t noticed before, but I was relieved to find that it was just a little dirt from rolling around on the dusty sidewalk.

Feline acne is a common skin condition seen in cats and can affect cats of any age, breed or sex. It is characterized by tiny black plugs in the skin on a cat’s lips and chin called blackheads or comedones. In many instances there are only a small number of blackheads which are benign and go unnoticed by the owner. However, some cases can evolve into serious, deep, painful infections, so chin acne should never be ignored. Having pet health insurance may help make the best health care more affordable for your cat, as it’s important to take your cat to the veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment if you suspect feline acne.

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A blackhead forms when excess keratin (a protein which is the main component of hair) collects in a hair follicle. Associated sebaceous glands in the skin also produce an oily substance called sebum. Over time, a sufficient collection of keratin and sebaceous debris can plug the hair follicle causing a blackhead. If the plug traps bacteria or yeast down in the hair follicle, secondary infection may result which leads to inflammation (folliculitis) and pus-filled boils under the skin called furuncles. In these severe cases, cats can get very swollen chins with draining pustules that are tender and painful.

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The specific cause or causes of feline acne are poorly understood, but there are several possible explanations. These include dirty, bacteria-laden food and water bowls, allergies, genetic predisposition, poor grooming habits, defects in keratin production and overproduction of sebum.

Plastic food bowls were once considered a possible culprit for causing feline acne. That idea has since been disputed, and it’s recommended that owners keep food bowls spotlessly clean regardless of what they’re made of. It was also thought that cats with sloppy eating habits were at higher risk of acne, but even the most fastidious cats get it. In addition, it has been suggested that stress can cause feline acne. If that was true, you would expect to see a cat that’s showing many other problems associated with chronic, intense stress, but that’s not the case.

Feline acne is most often diagnosed by simple veterinary examination. In severe or chronic, non-responsive cases, your doctor will want to rule out other possibilities such as mites, fungal and bacterial infections. Testing methods include fungal and bacterial cultures, skin scrapings and skin biopsies.

Treatment of feline acne depends on the severity of the condition. In very mild cases with only a few blackheads, sometimes “benign neglect” with simple monitoring is the best option. When blackheads are more numerous, emphasis is usually placed on good hygiene. Gentle cleansing with mild, antibacterial soap or special shampoos can help to remove blackheads and other debris. Topical application of prescription products or over-the-counter products for human use can be very effective.

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Treatment of severe acne can be much more complicated. Your veterinarian may clip the fur around your cat’s chin to enable deep cleaning of the affected area and to allow any topical medications to be better absorbed. Oral antibiotics or oral antifungal medications may be used depending on the source of the infection. Small doses of steroids may also be used for severe inflammation. Always consult your veterinarian if you suspect feline acne, and never treat your cat at home with an anti-acne treatment designed for human use.

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