Written by: Dr. Chip Coombs
Cats that suffer from what is commonly known as Feline Acne or Chin Acne are suffering from exactly the same problem that can plague their owners. Hollywood actors that are facing an important film shoot or event will pay large sums of money for an “emergency” treatment to deal with a sudden flare-up of facial acne. However, cats don’t have that luxury.
Cats have scent glands in their skin known as sebaceous glands which produce an oily secretion that, amongst other important needs, they use to mark their territory by constantly rubbing against objects. There are a large number of these glands located in the chin area and they are connected to the base of hair follicles. The chin is also in contact with just about anything the cat comes in contact with – floors, grass, food, water, drool, etc. Consequently, the sebaceous gland secretions can clog the pores of the hair follicles, particularly when they come into contact with bacteria and yeast that are so prevalent in our environment. When these pores become clogged, they form blackheads (just as in people) which are also called comodomes.
The actual causes of feline chin acne are not fully understood, even the process is unknown. Potentially a cat of any age, sex or breed can be affected, although Persians seem to be over-represented. The chin is likely the primary target because it is a pendant area and is in constant contact with potentially infected surfaces. Canned food can become attached to the hair, and the chin is often moist from drinking or saliva. There are also a large number of oily sebaceous glands in the chin. Some speculate that one probable cause might be hyperactive glands; allergies may be a factor; stress; even contact sensitivity (an example would be plastic food dishes). In intact males, who develop “stud tail”, the condition is very similar to chin acne and presumably related to high testosterone levels in these cases.
The comodomes can remain relatively benign, few in number and require no treatment. Or, they can become significantly irritated, itchy and infected becoming seeping pustules that are very irritating to the affected cat. Hence, in mild cases, an owner may not even be aware that their cat has an issue, or perhaps they just thought that the chin was dirty. However, when it has progressed to an advanced stage, a veterinary intervention will be necessary.
Treatment varies with the severity. If your cat only has a few blackheads, careful observation may be all that is necessary. However, if the problem worsens or you notice the chin is becoming nasty looking, then a prompt visit to your veterinarian would be appropriate. Usually, the area is shaved and cleaned and then antibiotics – orally or topically – could well be dispensed.
If the chin acne appears to be an isolated event, then worrying about prevention may not be an issue. The gentle cleaning of the chin with an antibacterial soap and cotton ball, followed by a gentle rinse may keep the blackheads under control. However, if the condition becomes more frequent or chronic, then food allergies, contact sensitivities, and other predisposing factors have to be examined and eliminated when possible. Your veterinarian sees this condition commonly and would be an excellent resource as to what preventive regimes would be appropriate for your cat.
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