Chin Acne in Cats

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Ernest Ward, DVM

What is chin acne in cats?

Chin acne in cats is a poorly understood disorder of follicular keratinization (the overproduction of keratin, a protein found in the outer layer of skin). If this excess keratin is trapped in the hair follicle, comedones (blackheads) form. Pustules (pimples) may form if bacteria infect the comedones. 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?

While the exact mechanism is not understood, the abnormal follicular keratinization is thought to be related to a primary seborrheic disease such as excessive sebum production (natural oil produced by the skin). Stress, viral infection, immunosuppression, allergies, or poor grooming habits may also play a role. Unfortunately, none of these conditions have been proven to be the cause of feline acne. There may be an association between using plastic food and water dishes and chin acne, as the irregular surface or scratches in the plastic make it more prone to bacterial contamination.

"There may be an association between using plastic food and water dishes and chin acne..."

Whatever the cause, the result is that the hair follicle becomes 'plugged' and 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.

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, skin cytology (looking for bacteria/yeast or unusual cells), and culture and sensitivity tests are required. If the lesions do not have a typical appearance, biopsies or skin scrapings may be recommended to rule out cancer or immune-mediated disease. Sometimes dental x-rays may be taken, as an infected tooth root can mimic the clinical appearance of chin acne.

How is feline chin acne treated?

Treatment often involves improved hygiene. A benzoyl peroxide facial preparation or an anti-seborrheic shampoo is used to cleanse the affected area and flush out the hair follicles. An antibiotic ointment containing mupirocin (Muricin®) is highly effective in many cases. Clindamycin gel or liquid preparation (Antirobe®, Cleocin®, ClinDrops®) 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, corticosteroids (to reduce inflammation), or isotretinoin (the human acne drug, Accutane®) may be used in more severe or chronic cases.

"Treatment often involves improved hygiene."

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

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

Most cases respond well to improved hygiene along with topical preparations or systemic medications. Owners should closely follow their veterinarian's instructions to ensure success. Stubborn cases may require aggressive treatment to control the problem.

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