Multicolored cat making silly face

Key takeaway

Cats can get several skin conditions in their lives, including feline acne. Acne can be caused by several factors, including allergies, stress, poor grooming habits, and more. Learning what cat acne looks like and how to treat it can help you prevent painful infections.

Just like in humans, cat skin conditions are fairly common in cats of all ages. As a cat owner who spends countless hours staring at their cat and watching them play, you might notice bumps on their face from time to time. These bumps can be due to cat skin tags, skin irritation, tumors, and more. However, if those bumps seem to come and go, you might be wondering what they are. If you've ever seen red bumps on your cat's face, they might be suffering from acne.

Feline acne affects the hair follicles, typically around their chins, which become clogged and result in red bumps and even blackheads. This article will teach you that cats can get pimples, the symptoms of feline acne, what you can do about it, and more.

Can Cats Get Acne?

The simple answer is yes; cats can get pimples and acne. Cats can either have a single pimple from time to time or persistent, recurring acne with multiple pimples. Any cat can develop acne, no matter their age, sex, or breed. Unlike human acne, experts don't believe cat acne is related to hormonal changes, so males and females can get acne whether they're neutered or spayed or not.

Feline acne is common and isn't a health concern. Most cats live happy, healthy lives with acne, but it can flare up, and some acne can be painful or irritating. Luckily, cat acne can be treated with medications.

Where Do Cats Get Acne?

Cats typically get acne on or around their chins, lips, and genitals, but they can get acne anywhere there's moisture and hair follicles, also known as pores.1 Feline acne will look similar to human acne and appear as small bumps that might resemble whiteheads or blackheads.

Graphic listing causes of cat acne

What Causes Cat Pimples?

Feline acne causes might be slightly different than the causes of human acne. Acne in cats occurs when the hair follicles are blocked, which can happen for a variety of reasons.

Overproduction of keratin: Keratin is a protein found in the top layer of skin. Cat acne isn't always the result of oily skin like it is in humans; instead, raised, inflamed bumps on your cat's skin may be caused by a disorder of the follicle that causes it to get blocked by keratin.

Cat allergies: Your pet can have all types of allergies, including food, environmental, and cat skin allergies that can impact their hair follicles and cause acne. Allergies can lead to skin irritation, which will cause inflamed bumps on your cat's face. You can soothe your cat's itchy skin, but it's always best to find the underlying cause of skin allergies.

If you don't believe your cat is allergic to their food, consider replacing plastic bowls with steel because your cat might have an allergy to plastic, causing acne.

Stress: Like with humans, cat acne might occur during times of stress, such as a new family member entering the home or a big move. Stress can cause your cat to start acting differently, and many cats will groom themselves for comfort during periods of high stress. However, excessive grooming can irritate the skin and cause cat skin irritation, which can clog their pores and lead to acne.

Anxiety: Anxiety differs from stress in that stress is typically a short-term feeling triggered by something in particular where anxiety is more persistent and can cause excessive worry, even in cats. Again, like in humans, anxiety can impact your cat's hormones and increase cortisol, the stress hormone that can lead to acne.

Hormones: While hormonal changes are not believed to be the cause of acne, hormonal imbalances might be. Cats can have hormonal imbalances due to a number of reasons, including illnesses that impact the thyroid gland like hyperthyroidism.

Food sensitivity: Food sensitivities might give cats acne because they cause inflammation in the body, which might cause their skin to react in a certain way, such as overproducing natural oils.

Infection or disease: Some infections and diseases may also cause cat acne because of the way a cat's body responds to inflammation.

Poor grooming habits: Cats who don't groom themselves often enough can get greasy, oily fur and skin. That oil, even though it's naturally secreted from the skin, can clog your cat's pores and lead to acne. Additionally, poor grooming habits mean your cat isn't removing dead skin cells, bacteria, and other things that can clog the pores and cause red, inflamed bumps.

Dirty food or water bowl: Bowls are breeding grounds for bacteria, so it's important to keep your pet's food and water bowls clean. If your cat is drinking bacteria-filled water, it could reach their skin and cause acne. Additionally, bacteria in water and food bowls can make your cat sick, so you must clean their bowls regularly.

Excessive sebum production: Sebum is a naturally occurring oil that keeps your cat's skin moisturized while protecting it. However, some cats' bodies may overproduce sebum, which can clog pores easily, especially if your cat has poor grooming habits.

Additionally, feline acne might be a symptom of another underlying disease, such as an auto-immune disorder. Your cat could also have mites or mange, causing skin irritation on their bodies.

Feline acne can happen once, or it can be an ongoing problem for your cat that can lead to infection. While you might not be able to determine the reason why your cat has acne, you can try to reduce their breakouts by replacing plastic water and food bowls to prevent allergies or grooming your cat more often if they are older and have poor grooming habits.

No matter why you see a pimple on your cat, if the hair follicle is plugged as a result, your cat's pimples can become infected if not treated properly.

Graphic listing signs and symptoms of feline acne

What Are Signs and Symptoms of Feline Acne?

Feline acne is something many pet owners are able to see and might be curious about. The most common symptom is that your cat might have what appears to be a dirty chin. A dirty chin is most recognizable in lighter colored and white cats, but you might be able to notice it on any cat. Your cat's chin might appear as though it has dirt on it, and many pet owners make the mistake of trying to clean their cat's chin. However, if nothing could have caused your cat to have dirt on their face, such as they haven't been outside to play in the dirt, then it's likely cat acne and not actual dirt. Therefore, before you wipe your cat's dirty chin, inspect it to determine if there are pimples. Wiping cat acne as though you're cleaning away dirt can cause irritation or pop the pimples and result in infection. Other signs of feline acne include:

  • Blackheads: Your cat's acne might begin as blackheads that look similar to what you'd see on a human, so your cat's chin may appear dirty; those dark specks we talked about earlier could actually be blackheads.
  • Whiteheads: Whiteheads are also common for felines with acne because they're filled with dead skin cells and oil that can be trapped in your cat's pores to produce a white fluid that looks like pus.
  • Lesions: Cat pimples can pop just like human pimples, and those lesions can become infected or spread the infection throughout the rest of the cat's face.
  • Inflammation: No matter what type of pimples your cat has, they can become inflamed, swollen, and infected if you don't treat them.
  • Swelling: Inflammation can cause swelling of your cat's face. Additionally, your cat's face might swell if the acne is caused by some type of allergic reaction.
  • Pain: Pimples can be quite painful for cats, especially since they use their face all day to drink water, play, and eat. Since acne is common around the chin, they can easily bump their chin pimples by rubbing them against their bowls, which can cause more pain.

Graphic explaining what feline acne looks like

How Is Feline Acne Diagnosed?

Even though it might be obvious to you that your cat has pimples, you should still take them to the vet to rule out possible skin conditions, including infections, ringworm, and allergies. Your vet might recommend a biopsy or skin scraping to perform some tests before diagnosing your pet with acne.

However, feline acne can be diagnosed without testing the skin, but if your cat has lesions that look like they're caused by fungal infections or parasites like fleas, your vet will want to run some tests to ensure they can find the cause and treat the problem rather than treating just the symptoms of an underlying problem.

Vets will typically diagnose cat acne based on their response to different treatments. For example, if your doctor prescribes a topical medication, they'll do a checkup a few weeks later to see if there have been any improvements to determine your cat's response to treatment. If your cat does respond to acne treatment, they'll diagnose your cat with acne.

Graphic listing how to treat feline acne

How Do You Treat Cat Acne?

Before you start any feline acne treatment, you should consult a vet who can help you determine if there are any underlying causes of the acne. They'll be able to actually confirm your cat has acne before you begin treatment to ensure treatment can be helpful and effective. As a warning, don't use any human acne products on your cat; many of them contain alcohol and harsh ingredients that can irritate your cat's skin. Here's how your vet might recommend you treat feline acne:

  • Topical antibiotics: Topical antibiotics are one of the easiest ways to get rid of cat acne because you can just wipe some of the antibiotic gel or cream on your cat's acne instead of having to wash their entire body.
  • Antibacterial shampoo: Bathing with a medicated shampoo can help remove oil and dead skin cells that might be causing the acne. Your vet might recommend an antibacterial shampoo to help remove bacteria while cleansing their fur and skin.
  • Steroid injections: Steroids can be used to fight inflammation, but they will likely only be used in severe cases where the acne is affecting your cat's quality of life.
  • Oral antibiotics: Oral antibiotics might be ideal for cats suffering from chronic acne because they can ensure your cat is getting the right amount of medication in their body to fight off acne. Antibiotics can also be used to fight infections that might be caused by lesions.
  • Cleansing the affected area: Cleansing the affected area can help clear up acne by removing dead skin cells, oils, and bacteria that might be causing acne in that one area. Cleansing the area can also help you prevent infections when lesions have formed. If your cat has serious pain and broken skin, cleansing the area will prevent bacteria from entering your cat's pores.
  • Adding certain supplements to their diet: Your cat's diet can impact their overall health and wellness, so your vet might recommend adding certain supplements, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, to their diets to promote healthy skin.
  • Medicated wipes: Medicated wipes are another great idea if you have a difficult time getting your cat in a bath. These wipes allow you to remove oils and dead skin cells that might be causing acne while cleansing the area.
  • Warm compress: Warm compresses can make your cat more comfortable if they're experiencing pain from acne because they can help reduce the swelling and inflammation.

How Can You Prevent Feline Acne?

Unfortunately, you can't completely prevent your cat from getting a pimple, but there are ways you can ensure they have healthy skin and their pimples don't get out of control. Here's how you can prevent feline acne.

  • Monitor your cat's skin for any changes: You know your cat best, and you should always check their teeth, ears, and skin for signs of changes to catch any potential problems before they become major health concerns. Checking your cat's skin for changes can help you not only notice any skin bumps, but it can help you monitor their size to provide your vet with as much information as possible about when the bumps started and how much they've grown over time.
  • Swap out plastic food and water bowls for stainless steel or glass bowls: As we've mentioned, many cats have a plastic allergy, which might cause skin irritation and other skin issues like acne. Changing out any plastic bowls for stainless steel or glass bowls might help clear up any signs of allergies, such as strange bumps on your cat's chin.
  • Wipe your cat's chin and mouth after eating: Food and water introduce moisture and particles to your cat's skin that can result in clogged pores. By wiping your cat's face and chin after they eat, you can ensure their food crumbs won't attract dirt, bacteria, or mites that might contribute to feline acne.
  • Do not pick at your cat's skin: If you notice any lumps or bumps on your cat's skin, it's always best not to pick at it. While it might be scary to notice a bump on your cat's face, you should never try to remove it on your own; only a vet who can help prevent infection should remove any bumps on your cat's skin. Additionally, if you believe your cat's chin is dirty, it's best to try to remove it gently. If what you believed was dirt doesn't come off, it could indicate that your cat has blackheads instead, so it's best not to rub their chin vigorously even if it looks dirty.
  • Regularly clean your cat's food and water bowl: Food and water bowls are full of bacteria, so it's best to keep them clean for the health and wellness of your pet. You don't want them drinking bacteria, but you also don't want it getting onto their fur and skin because it can cause acne.
  • Decrease stress: Since stress may also be a cause of feline acne, it's best to decrease the amount of stress your pet deals with on a daily basis. Reducing stress is good for their overall health, but it can also improve their skin health.

Cat Acne Frequently Asked Questions

How do you clean your cat's skin?

You can clean your cat's skin in several ways, including cleaning only the affected area or washing their entire body with a medicated shampoo. If you just want to clean the affected area, you can put your cat near a sink of running water and wash their face with a medicated shampoo, or you can put benzoyl peroxide designed for cats on a damp cloth and wash their face gently over a bowl of water. Make sure to remove all of the medicated wash from their face before drying it. It's important to never use human-grade acne treatments on your cat,[2] as these are harsher and can irritate your cat's skin.

Is cat acne painful?

For the most part, a single pimple on your cat won't be painful. However, if your cat's acne becomes inflamed or infected, it can become painful, especially if your cat is scratching at their face.

Is feline acne contagious?

Cat acne is not contagious, especially to humans. However, you still shouldn't rub up against your cat while they have acne, as you could cause the pimples to rupture and cause lesions and infections.

What can feline acne be confused with?

Feline acne can be confused with several other types of cat skin problems, such as skin tags, fleas, allergic reactions and hives, and infections. Blackheads can also be confused with dirt, so you mustn't try to treat your cat's lumps and bumps without the advice of a licensed veterinarian who can diagnose your cat and come up with the best treatment plan.

How long does feline acne last?

Some forms of cat acne may disappear on their own, especially if it's a one-time occurrence or occasional flare-ups. However, it can also be chronic, and if left untreated, it can last months. On the other hand, with the right treatment, feline acne can be gone in a few weeks.

Can human acne treatment work on cats?

You should never use human products on cats, such as topical creams, wipes, or pills, as they're often too strong for cats.

Hand petting cat’s head

Final Notes

Finding lumps and bumps on your cat can be scary. Acne is not a life-threatening illness for cats, but it can be painful if the pimples rupture and cause lesions or get infected. Knowing the signs of cat acne, such as blackheads and whiteheads, can help you know when to take your cat to the vet for treatment. Your vet will first need to diagnose your cat with acne before deciding on a treatment plan. Your cat's treatment plan may consist of medicated shampoo, wipes, or medication. However your vet decides to treat your cat, ensure you follow their instructions to improve your chances of clearing up your cat's acne quickly.

If you believe your cat has acne, talk to a licensed Dutch veterinarian who can help you determine the best course of treatment. Dutch provides telemedicine for pets to make visiting the vet more convenient for pets and their owners. Not only that, but many pets get stressed when going to the vet, and stress can cause acne in cats. By reducing the amount of stress your cat has to deal with and talking to a vet online, you can improve their quality of life and overall health.

References

  1. “Cat Acne? It's Real-and Here's How You Can Treat It.” PETA, 4 Feb. 2022, https://www.peta.org/living/animal-companions/preventing-treating-cat-acne/

  2. “Managing Feline Acne.” CVMBS News, 11 Mar. 2022, https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/managing-feline-acne/