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Black spots and scabs on the chin: cat acne and how to get rid of it

Feline acne, also known as follicular keratinisation, is a common skin condition that usually appears on the chin area. For this reason, it is also sometimes referred to as cat chin acne. Some cats will only have mild chin acne, which may pass unnoticed, or you may see some little black spots. Other cats can suffer more severely with it. Even though the exact cause of cat acne is unclear. Our vet explains several things that you can do at home to help get rid of it.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet


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What causes cat acne?

There are two main types of glands found in the skin of the cat – sweat glands and sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands are associated with hair follicles and produce an oily secretion called sebum. Sebum makes the hairs waterproof and keeps the skin supple. However, overactivity of these sebaceous glands leads to the production of excess sebum. Excess sebum together with overproduction of keratin (a protein found in the skin and hair), block the hair follicles. When hair follicles become blocked comedones form, which are also known as “blackheads”. If these then become infected with bacteria, they become inflamed and form papules or pustules, also referred to as “pimples”.

Possible triggers of acne include:

  • Poor grooming - more commonly seen in older cats who may have arthritis or other reasons for reduced mobility

  • Eating and drinking from plastic bowls - scratches in the plastic and an irregular surface make them prone to bacterial contamination

  • Suppressed immune system

  • Stress

  • Food allergies

  • Hormone imbalances

What does cat acne look like?

Cat acne is often mistaken for dirt or flea dirt. You might notice little flecks of black greasy material on your cat’s chin. On closer inspection, you will often find blackheads and/or pimples. In more severe cases, the lips and the chin can become swollen and inflamed, making the skin appear red. There may also be some fur loss and bleeding. Occasionally there are crusty lesions that are painful when touched.

How do you get rid of cat acne?

Treatment of cat acne usually involves cleaning the chin to remove the excess sebum, and reducing the formation of blackheads. However, sometimes other treatment options may also need to be considered:

  • Warm compresses - to reduce swelling and inflammation

  • Antiseborrheic shampoo - to clean the chin and flush out the hair follicles

  • Clipping the fur in the affected area

  • Antimicrobial ointments or gels

  • Antibiotics - topical antibiotic creams and gels are of limited value as they are soon licked or cleaned off by cats. In severe cases where an infection is present, oral antibiotics are usually required. Treatment courses are often prolonged for 4-6 weeks due to the nature of the infection

  • Steroids - short-term treatment with steroids may be needed in severe cases to reduce the inflammation and associated pain

How do you clean a cat’s chin?

A chlorhexidine antimicrobial solution can be used to clean the chin where the cat acne is developing. The solution must be diluted to a 1:10 dilution (1 part antimicrobial solution to 9 parts water). Initially, this can be used two to three times daily, until the breakout subsides and in most mild cases, no further treatment is required.

How do you prevent cat acne?

  • Replace any plastic food and water bowls with nonporous, smooth bowls made from ceramic, glass or stainless steel

  • Wash food and water bowls daily

  • Clean your cat’s chin after each meal

  • Provide a daily omega oil supplement, such as YuDERM Moulting Cat. Natural essential omega oils 3 and 6 in the correct balance are very good for maintaining a healthy skin and coat condition

  • Regular grooming

When to see your vet?

Cat acne will often resolve with improved hygiene. However, if the initial breakout doesn’t respond to cleaning, or you are struggling to manage it on your own, please contact your vet. In some cases cat acne can become a recurring condition. If you find that the breakouts are recurring frequently, it is best to discuss more effective management options with your vet, including any underlying risk factors.

Further reading

Food allergies and itching in cats

Hair loss in cats

Overgrooming in cats

Still have questions?

If you have concerns about your cat and would like more advice please book an online video appointment to have a chat with one of our FirstVet vets.

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