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Solving the Source of Your Cat’s Itching and Scratching: Could it Be Acne?

December 09, 2013 | 18,890 views
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By Dr. Becker

Today, I want to discuss feline acne, also called chin acne or kitty acne. It's a condition in cats in which blackheads develop on the chin. The disorder is seen equally in male and female cats of all ages and breeds.

How Kitty Acne Develops

There are a tremendous number of sebaceous glands (oil glands) in the skin of a cat's chin that are connected to hair follicles. In cases of acne, the follicles become clogged with black oily gunk (sebum), forming blackheads.

When a collection of blackheads develops on the chin and lips of a cat, the chin often looks like it has dirt on it – except you can't wash it off. The blackheads can turn into red, itchy bumps, which can progress to pimples, which can progress to abscesses that rupture and become crusty. Once the condition has reached this advanced stage, it's called furunculosis.

In severe cases of chin acne, swelling, hair loss and draining tracts can develop. The area can be very itchy, and cats can cause additional trauma by scratching. Secondary bacterial infections are common with this condition.

Kitties can develop feline acne just once during their lives, or it can become a recurring or even permanent condition.

Causes of Feline Acne

The exact cause of feline acne isn't known, but there seem to be several contributing factors, including hyperactive sebaceous glands, and contact or atopic dermatitis (allergies). Cats "anoint" things with their chins, in other words, they rub things they like with their chins (including people and other animals), so any surface they rub against could in theory cause irritation or inflammation, which is contact dermatitis.

Sensitivity to foods or chemicals in the diet can be a cause, as can reactions to certain medications, hormone imbalances, and poor grooming habits. Acne can also be secondary to an underlying systemic condition like a viral or fungal infection.

Other causes of feline acne include a compromised immune system, and stress.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Skin scrapings or even a biopsy may be needed to rule out similar-appearing conditions like mange, a yeast infection, allergies, ringworm, or eosinophilic granuloma complex.

If a bacterial infection is suspected, a culture and sensitivity test should be performed.

Mild cases of feline acne may not need treatment, but you should keep a close eye on your kitty's chin to make sure the blackheads aren't progressing to something more serious. As tempting as it may be, you should not attempt to squeeze or otherwise extract blackheads from your kitty's chin. Your cat will not appreciate it at all, and it can lead to a more serious skin infection. In many cases of feline acne, the symptoms are significantly more annoying to the cat's owner than the cat.

It's important that any underlying conditions like mange, a yeast infection or allergies are identified and resolved. I find that removing unnecessary grains and carbohydrates from the diet, as well as giving cats a break from both seafood and poultry as protein sources, can make a huge difference in preventing a recurrence of feline acne.

I recommend disinfecting the area with either dilute povidone iodine (Betadine) or any gentle, organic soap every day. At my practice, I also recommend that owners of cats with chin acne also dab on a little colloidal silver, fresh aloe gel, or manuka honey after each disinfecting session. Manuka honey is a special type of therapeutic honey with significant antibiotic properties. You can buy it at any local health food store.

If a kitty has intermittent recurring acne, you can proactively swab her chin with a cotton ball dipped in witch hazel or hydrogen peroxide once a week to prevent or control flare-ups.

If the blackheads progress to open pimples, you should have your cat seen by your holistic veterinarian for further treatment.

If your cat's food or water bowl is plastic, you might also consider switching to a shallow stainless steel or non-toxic ceramic to eliminate a potential plastic or dye allergy as the cause of the acne. I also recommend you evaluate your kitty's diet, her vaccine load, her environmental chemical load, and the water and air quality in your home.