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Acne in Cats

By: Dr. Rosanna Marsalla

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Feline acne is a relatively common problem in cats. It is a life-long skin disease limited to the chin and lips. Unlike human acne, it is not limited to puberty.

Feline acne starts at around one year of age and may have periods of remission and periods of exacerbation. It often begins as tiny plugs of dark material, like blackheads, around the hair shafts of the chin and lower lip. These do not bother your cat, although they may progress to red, infected bumps that can be itchy and painful. Hair loss and loss of pigmentation may occur in chronic cases.

The exact cause of feline acne is not known. It is thought to be a disease in which an excessive amount of oil is produced from oil glands that plugs the hair follicles. Since it is seen in both male and female cats, hormones do not seem to play a role.

What to Watch For

The frequency and severity of symptoms vary with each cat.

  • Formation of blackheads on the chin and lower lips
  • Swelling of the chin

    In severely affected cats:

  • Redness
  • Hair loss
  • Pain

    Diagnosis

    The diagnosis of feline acne is mostly based on clinical signs. There are, however, other diseases that may look similar to chin acne. Your veterinarian may do deep skin scrapings and fungal cultures to rule out the possibility of mange and fungal infections.

    Treatment

  • Some topical products used for human acne have been tried in cats with good success. They include topical retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, topical antibiotics and steroids.

  • Many cats develop yeast infections on their chins so topical antifungal creams are commonly recommended. Many of these products are over the counter and include topical miconazole and clotrimazole. These products are very safe in cats and are usually used twice daily for a minimum of two weeks.

  • Oral retinoids can be tried in cats with acne. They are quite expensive and take several weeks to work. Assessment of the efficacy is done after the first month. If your pet responds to this therapy life long treatment is usually required. These drugs may induce liver damage and periodic blood work is recommended to monitor liver function. In addition these drugs are teratogenic (they cause malformation in the fetus), thus should not be used in pregnant animals.

    Home Care

    At home, you may be asked to do daily soaks with Epson salts or apply antibacterial and/or antifungal creams on the chin to disinfect the area. Topical therapy may help promoting the drainage of these lesions. It is important that topical therapy is not too aggressive to avoid trauma in the area and excessive scarring. Clipping of the area may increase the efficacy of topical therapy.

    You may be asked to wash the chin with medicated products once or twice weekly to remove the scabs and the excessive sebum from the skin. A contact time of 10 minutes is recommended.

    In severe cases you may be required to administer systemic drugs. They include oral antibiotics, oral antifungal drugs, oral steroids or oral retinoids. The antibiotics are usually given for several weeks. They may cause stomach irritation and nausea causing loss of appetite (anorexia) and diarrhea. Antifungal drugs have the potential of inducing liver disease, thus any loss of appetite should immediately reported to your veterinarian. Other adverse effects include vomiting and diarrhea.

    You should monitor your cat closely and call your veterinarian is necessary.

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