Feline Acne

Feline acne may be ugly, causing your cat to have low self-esteem, and while it can be a benign, self-limiting problem in other cases it can be more problematic and cause your cat irritation and discomfort.

Why do some cats have pimples and some do not? No one really knows. Some researchers believe it is due to stress, inadequate grooming, hormones, or an overproduction of oil that plugs the hair follicles. Additionally, food

or underlying allergies (environmental or food) may cause your friend to have a “pizza face.”

Red bumps and blackheads are often found on the chin and lips of cats. Sometimes, they can become infected and filled with pus, causing your cat to seek relief by rubbing her face against things like the beige dining room rug or your favorite recliner—leaving unsightly, greasy stains.

While acne is usually more of and irritant eyesore than anything else, it can look similar to other diseases that should be ruled out by your veterinarian. Tests to rule out the possibility of mange or fungal infections, secondary bacterial infection and/or underlying allergies, may be necessary.

Once your veterinarian has diagnosed your cat with acne, she or he will prescribe a safe treatment, which could include a topical ointment or cream and oral medications.

Depending on the cause of your cat’s acne and presence of any underlying causes or secondary complications, your veterinarian may have additional recommendations including a change of diet, allergy testing, a course of antibiotics and removing any materials that may continue to cause irritation. Changing your pet’s bowls from plastic to metal or porcelain and cleaning them daily might also be recommended.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed by:

Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM

Managing Feline Acne

Acne may be most common with teenagers, but many cats also develop this skin condition on the chin and lips. Fortunately, feline acne is usually minor and easy to treat.

Brandi Miller, a veterinary student at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has advice for managing cat acne and avoiding infections.

Cat acne can occur for many reasons, though the specific cause is usually unknown. Typically, the hair follicles on the chin produce too much oil, causing lesions and other bumps.

“The severity and painfulness of the lesions vary,” Miller said. “Most commonly, owners will see comedones, or ‘blackheads,’ on the chin and lips, and the cat may be itchy and want to rub its chin on furniture.”

Though this condition sounds rather unpleasant, it really is no worse than an average case of human acne. Miller said feline acne tends to need lifelong management but is usually treatable with over-the-counter medications.

“This condition is often cosmetic and does not affect the quality of life of the animal, as long as there is no infection,” Miller said. “Daily topical wipes, gels, and shampoos may help manage the lesions, but it is important to avoid alcohol and peroxide-based products, as these may be irritating to the skin and make matters worse.”

Miller said that human acne medicines should also be avoided, as they can be very harmful to animals. Sometimes one of the best treatment options is simply cleaning the cat’s chin on a regular basis.

“Popping zits is the absolute worst thing you can do—it causes a lot of pain and irritation, disrupts the structure of the hair follicle, and can spread the infection to other parts of the chin,” she said.

Miller recommends being careful when treating cats, as some may try to bite and scratch if they are in pain.

Consulting with your veterinarian is always recommended, because while feline acne is usually minor, it can become a larger issue if infections occur. Infected lesions can develop into painful bruises if left untreated.

“We don’t always know why this occurs,” Miller said. “However, plastic food dishes tend to harbor microbes, so we recommend that owners switch to metallic dishes and clean them daily.”

If a cat is prone to infections, its veterinarian may want to test for other skin conditions or parasites that could be causing the acne.

Treatment for feline acne can easily be incorporated into a daily routine, and usually takes only a minute or two. If properly cared for, cats with acne should be able to live the same pain-free life as any other cat.


Plastic food dishes have long been suspected as a culprit in chin acne. Plastic is a magnet for bacteria and dirt that work their way into scratches and nicks, reinfecting your cat and/or spreading bacteria to other cats in the household. Veterinarians and other feline experts recommend using only glass or metal food bowls, and daily washing of those, in order to help prevent this common condition.

It has been my experience that the hard plastic-like containers of automatic water fountains do not scratch, and I have never heard of one causing kitty acne. Still, they should be routinely cleaned according to the manufacturers' recommendations.

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Treatment of cases of feline acne and stud tail involves removal of excess sebum and hence prevention of comedone formation and secondary infection.

An antibacterial wash, such as chlorhexidine, can be used for this purpose, initially two or three times daily. In mild cases no further treatment is necessary, but in cases showing extensive secondary infection, antibiotic therapy (best selected on the basis of bacterial culture and sensitivity tests) will be required. Occasionally, fungal infections (yeasts or dermatophytes/ringworm) may also be involved.

Topical preparations are of very limited value for severe cases, as they are soon licked or cleaned off by cats, and oral antibiotics are usually required for 4-6 weeks. Severe cases may also need short-term treatment with steroids to reduce the inflammation.

Keeping the acne at bay may require clipping of the hair and daily application of topical medications including:

  • Chlorhexidine washes
  • Mupirocin
  • Retinoids
  • Use of ceramic (or metal) rather than plastic food bowls have been reported to help in some cases
  • Keeping the chin clean after feeding may also help to reduce the problem

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