Sophie is a healthy 4-year-old domestic shorthair cat with a lush coat, a soothing purr, and bright eyes. Unlike many cats that visit our hospital, Sophie will let you pet her and cuddle her as long as you want to… unless you touch her on the chin.
Why is Sophie’s chin sensitive?
Sophie is protective of her chin because this area is very sensitive due to a common skin condition of cats called “feline acne.”
Like acne in teenagers, feline acne involves hair follicles that become clogged. Here’s what happens, and what you can do about it.
- An overproduction of keratin protein (normally found in the outer layer of healthy skin) accumulates in the hair follicles and blocks them up.
- As the hair follicle becomes plugged up, inflammation develops.
- When the infection rises to the top of the follicle, the debris from inside the hair follicle forms a “pimple”.
- When the pimples “pop”, crusty scabs appear and the area is covered with dirty-looking black specks.
The most common location for feline acne is the chin. This progressive inflammation of the hair follicles can be painful, so Sophie instinctively prefers that we not touch her chin.
What causes feline chin acne?
Mother Nature attempts to moisturize the coat by having the skin produce oils, but sometimes an excess of sebum occurs. Most cats will groom themselves and distribute the natural oils all over their body as Mother Nature intended; however, if an overabundance of sebum and keratin accumulates in the hair follicles in a specific area, acne results.
In general, cats of any age may have feline chin acne or occurrences on other parts of the body.
Some cats simply don’t groom themselves as well as they should and some cats simply can’t. Young cats that prefer to play rather than groom may develop acne, and old cats that cannot manipulate themselves due to arthritis pain may develop acne, too. It’s difficult for an elderly cat to assume the various positions necessary to give himself a thorough bath!
Localized chin irritation due to specific sensitivities may also result in feline acne. Very often, cats are sensitive to the chemicals in plastic food bowl or toys. Since these items are in close contact with the mouth and face, the resulting irritation causes acne lesions on the chin.
What does feline acne look like?
Feline acne looks just like human acne. The chin area may be red and inflamed. Swelling may occur around the pimples. As the pimples rupture, a dark scab may cover the lesion. The entire area may be covered with tiny black specks and appear dirty.
In fact, many pet owners report that they keep cleaning the cat’s chin and it repeatedly gets dirty again. Sophie’s owner was getting frustrated that her beautiful cat had a nasty looking chin no matter how often she cleaned it.
Feline acne remedy: a few suggestions
Like human acne, the affected area needs to be cleansed with a product designed for cats. A product that deep-cleans the hair follicles works best, so your veterinarian will likely prescribe a benzoyl peroxide or anti-seborrheic shampoo.
If the infection is bad enough, oral or injectable antibiotics may be advised. Some cases even require steroid therapy. You’ll want to talk with your veterinarian about the best solution for your pet.
At home, you can also keep the hair clipped short on the chin and keep the area clean, especially after your cat eats. Food collected on the chin just makes feline acne worse, so after-meal clean ups are crucial. Wiping your kitty’s chin with a moist paper towel or face cloth should do the trick.
For more difficult cases, topical antibiotics are sometimes used, but most cats rub them off as soon as they’re applied, so you should monitor your cat after topical applications.
Owners should also replace plastic food and water bowls with products made of glass or stainless steel. Plastic toys should be avoided as well. Find toys that can be laundered regularly and wash food and water bowls frequently.
Unlike human acne, there is no “accutane” for cats. Luckily, the simple measures described above clear up feline acne nicely. That means Sophie and her owner will both feel better soon.
Have you ever heard of feline acne or treated it in your cat? Tell us what worked for you.