All About Feline Chin Acne

Possible Causes, Signs & Treatment

Ginger cat enjoying a little scratch under his chin.
Getty Images/annfrau

Feline chin acne is a common skin condition in cats. It can appear at any age, any gender, it may wax and wane, or be stubbornly hard to treat. Signs range from barely noticeable comedones (blackheads) to severely inflamed and draining pustules. Some cats are not seemingly bothered, and some are very itchy and painful. Local hair loss and redness are also common.

Many cats first present with a "dirty" chin -- small black dots in between the hair follicles.

That may be it for some cats. For others, this can progress to swollen, red lumps that may or may not rupture and drain.

What Causes Chin Acne?

The short answer is "unknown cause." However, there are several possible contributing factors:

  • stress
  • poor grooming
  • bacterial overload (i.e. from dirty food bowls)
  • abnormal sebum (oily substance) production
  • contact sensitivity/dermatitis
  • suppressed immune system
  • concurrent infection or disease

Plastic food bowls were once considered a possible culprit for causing feline acne (allergic or contact sensitivity), but it is now thought that the bacterial levels found on plastic dishes may be the real problem. Using glass, metal or ceramic dishes will help, as will frequent washing of the dishes.

How Is Chin Acne Diagnosed?

Many times the diagnosis is by your vet's examination. Your vet will also want to rule out other possibilities, such as mites (demodex), fungal and bacterial infections (primary or secondary), fleas and assess general overall health.

Testing methods include fungal and bacterial cultures, skin scrapings, and possibly a skin biopsy in severe cases.

How Is Chin Acne Treated?

Chin acne is usually "managed" rather than cured. Home treatments include gentle washing of the chin once or twice daily with a mild soap, benzoyl peroxide, chlorhexidine or other cleanser recommended by your veterinarian.

For pustules, warm water compresses or tea bag compresses will help soothe and heal.

Use metal, glass or ceramic food and water dishes. Wash dishes daily.

For more severe cases, your veterinarian will likely prescribe additional treatments, such as:

  • antibiotics in the form of pills, liquids or a long-lasting injection in the office
  • topical antibiotics (i.e. mupirocin) - caution must be taken to ensure the cat cannot groom it off and ingest it
  • corticosteroid injection or tablets to calm inflammation
  • prescription-strength shampoo or wash

Additionally, all concurrent infections must also be addressed and treated according to what is found on examination.

What to Do If Your Cat Is Affected

If you suspect that your cat has chin acne, see your veterinarian at the first signs noted. This will reduce or prevent secondary infections and make treatment easier. It will also reduce any trauma-related infections from the cat scratching at the chin for the itchy and painful cases. 

Note: Never use human products or medications on your cat without first checking with your veterinarian. Some products may be fatal for your feline.