Chin Acne in Cats
By Ernest Ward, DVM

What is chin acne?

Chin acne in cats is a poorly understood disorder of follicular keratinization. Keratinization refers to the overproduction of keratin, a protein found in the outer layer of skin. If this excess keratin is trapped in the hair follicle, comedones or 'blackheads' form. Pustules or 'pimples' may form if bacteria infect the comedones. Chin acne in cats is similar to the acne that humans get. Cat acne is characterized by the development of folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles) and furunculosis (larger sores similar to 'boils').

What causes chin acne?hair_inflammed_follicle-05

While the exact mechanism is not understood, the abnormal follicular keratinization is thought to be related to a primary seborrheic disease such as seborrhea oleosa, to excessive sebum production (the natural oily 'moisturizer' produced by the skin) or to poor grooming habits. In a significant number of cats, there is an association between using plastic food and water dishes and chin acne. The irregular surface or scratches in the plastic make it more prone to bacterial contamination. Whatever the cause, the result is that the hair follicle becomes 'plugged' and an infection with its accompanying clinical signs results.

What are the clinical signs of chin acne?

The most common clinical sign associated with chin acne is the dirty appearance of the chin. The lesions may appear on the chin, the lower lip and/or the upper lip. Careful examination will reveal the blackheads and infected follicles. The lips and chin may become swollen and inflamed. Chronic cases may have hard, crusty lesions that are sore when touched. If pain is present, furunculosis is most often the cause. Both male and female cats can develop chin acne.

How is chin acne diagnosed?

Diagnosis is generally based on medical history and clinical signs. Occasionally, blood and urine tests, as well as skin cultures and sensitivity tests are required. If the lesions do not have a typical appearance, biopsies or skin scrapings may be recommended to rule out neoplasia, immune-mediated disease, or cancer.

How is feline chin acne treated?'

"Affected cats often benefit from a fatty acid supplement."

Treatment often involves improved hygiene. A benzoyl peroxide facial preparation or an antiseborrheic shampoo is used to cleanse the affected area and flush out the hair follicles. Mupirocin ointment is highly effective in many cases. Clindamycin gel or liquid preparation is also beneficial for many cats. Affected cats often benefit from a fatty acid supplement, especially Omega 3 fatty acids. In some cases, it may be necessary to keep the hair clipped short. Oral antibiotics or isotretinoin may be used in more severe or chronic cases.

Replacing plastic food and water dishes with nonporous, smooth surfaced dishes like glass or stainless steel (and washing them daily) may resolve chin acne in some cats.

What is the prognosis for a cat diagnosed with chin acne?

Most cases respond well to improved hygiene, topical preparations, or to a simple change in food dishes. Owners should closely follow their veterinarian's instructions to ensure success. Refractory cases may require aggressive treatment to control the problem.

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