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Feline Acne



Feline acne is a condition that is quite common. Acne can vary from mild to severe, with the more severe forms necessitating veterinary intervention.

The milder forms of feline acne are most often characterized by a few small ‘blackheads’ (small black eruptions) on the chin. If there are just a few and the skin does not appear to be red or itchy, there is probably no urgent cause for concern. Owners can monitor for progression (or hopefully self-limiting resolution) at home. However, if there are hundreds of these blackheads, a visit to the veterinarian is in order. As acne worsens, cats become uncomfortable and more aggressive treatment by a veterinarian is likely necessary. Worsening acne is most often characterized by such signs as a swollen chin, furuncles (also known as boils, which indicate a deep bacterial or fungal infection of the hair follicle), hair loss on the chin, and inflamed and often painful, tender, itchy skin in the chin area. In the worst cases, severe acne may cause cats to become lethargic and eat less, and can result in local infection progressing to a systemic illness.

The cause of feline acne remains unknown. There are likely multiple possible causes, and what results in acne in one cat may be different than what causes it in another cat. Despite many beliefs about the cause of acne over the years, there is no one thing that will reliably trigger it. Possible causes include:

  • Dirty food and/or bowls? (The old belief that plastic food and water dishes caused acne is not necessarily true. We now know that any type of food or water bowl can be associated with acne in cats, though the reasons are not fully understood.)
  • Allergies (contact, food, or even seasonal allergies)?
  • External parasites (fleas, mites)?
  • Genetics?
  • Overproduction of skin wax?
  • Defects in keratin production (keratin is a protein that is the main component of hair)?
  • Sloppy eating habits? This is an old wives tale. Feline acne is not limited to cats that are sloppy eaters!

The treatment for kitty acne varies depending on its severity. In the more mild cases, topical treatments are often effective. Topical treatments include various veterinary products (antiseptic washes and shampoos, as well as ointments specifically intended for use in feline acne). Do not use human Stridex pads! Since human skin is more acidic than cat skin, the human products can be irritating to cat skin and compound the acne issue.

For severe acne (furunculosis, or boils), treatment options that your veterinarian might consider include:

  • Antibiotics (may be needed for as long as a month or more, depending on the severity of the infection).
  • Topical treatments as noted above
  • Corticosteroids
  • Pain medication (anti-inflammatories, narcotics)
  • Hot packing the chin
  • Cold laser treatment (light energy at a specific wavelength directed at the affected area to reduce pain and inflammation)

For those kitties that fail to respond to traditional treatments, or seem unusually slow to respond, it is advisable to consider a biopsy of the skin (to confirm that the problem is definitely acne, and not something more serious). A repeat check for skin mites may also be warranted. Additionally, culturing the affected area is ideal to make sure the best antibiotic is selected for treatment. (Unfortunately, Methicillin Resistant Staph, or MRS, is now relatively common, and its presence can limit best antibiotic options affect in affected cats). Additionally, diet trials to rule out a food allergy may be considered. (Cats can develop food allergies spontaneously, and at any age, even without a diet change). Lastly, blood work may rule out other contributing factors such as diabetes.

Feline acne can be annoying at the least, and a source of discomfort for your cat at the worst. Especially in severe cases, response to treatment can take time. Although the skin of cats is typically very durable, don’t ignore your kitty’s acne – or any other skin condition!



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