What is Acne?
Unaltered males may suffer from a condition known as “stud tail”, in which blackheads will form near the base of the tail due to the overactivity of the sebaceous glands found there. In rare cases, stud tail can affect spayed females and neutered males. There are no breed, sex, or age predispositions for acne, although Persians are more likely to suffer from a severe form of feline acne known as idiopathic Persian facial dermatitis.
Like acne in humans, acne in cats tends to be a mild condition that clears up on its own. However, in some cases, acne can indicate a severe recurring skin condition. Feline acne is characterized by the appearance of comedones, or “blackheads”. When the blackheads become infected by bacteria, they may turn into pustules (pimples), resulting in a condition known as folliculitis. Acne most often appears on a cat’s chin and lips.
Symptoms of Acne in Cats
Acne is generally a mild condition, but will still cause discomfort for your cat. Consult your vet as soon as possible if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Lesions under the chin or on the lips
- Crusty or pus-filled lesions
- Signs of pain
- Excessive itching or grooming
- Thinning or matted hair
Causes of Acne in Cats
The primary cause of feline acne is overactivity of the sebaceous glands. These glands are responsible for producing an oil, called sebum, that maintains the skin and hair. When the sebaceous glands secrete too much sebum, the excess can cause the hair follicles to become inflamed, resulting in the appearance of acne.
Excessive amounts of keratin, a protein produced by specialized cells in the skin, may also cause acne. This works similarly to the excess production of sebum. Minor, unconfirmed causes of feline acne include eating from colored food dishes, inadequate grooming habits, and poor hygienic conditions.
In unaltered males presenting symptoms of stud tail, testosterone plays a role in the formation of comedones and pustules. In spayed and neutered cats with stud tail, the cause of the condition is usually excess sebum or keratin secretion.
Diagnosis of Acne in Cats
The vet will make a tentative diagnosis based on presentation of symptoms. Be sure to inform your vet of the extent and duration of your cat’s symptoms as well as any skin conditions you know of.
In some cases, physical examination may be sufficient for the vet to make a definitive diagnosis. However, they may also use blood, urine, and skin tests to ensure a definitive diagnosis. If a more serious underlying condition is suspected, the vet may take a biopsy or skin scrapings.
Treatment of Acne in Cats
The primary aim of treatment is to reduce the excess production of sebum or keratin. Treatment of mild cases of feline acne is fairly straightforward and will typically involve an antibacterial topical treatment or shampoo. These treatments will be prescribed by your vet. It is important that you don’t use any treatments or shampoos made for human use (unless specifically instructed by your vet) as these may burn the cat’s skin and worsen the condition.
If there is an accompanying bacterial infection, your vet may prescribe antibiotics. For acne, antibiotics are typically prescribed for four to six weeks rather than the standard six to eight weeks for other conditions.
In cases of stud tail, the same treatment methods apply. For unaltered males and females with stud tail, spaying or neutering may improve the condition. However, this will not necessarily cure it.
Severe cases of acne may be treated with steroids and fatty acid medications. If the condition is recurring, your vet may recommend grooming your cat or clipping the hair short.
Recovery of Acne in Cats
Recovery and prognosis will vary depending on the severity of the condition. Mild cases of acne have a good to excellent prognosis.
Always follow your vet’s post-treatment instructions carefully. Topical medications for acne are typically used two to three time a day until the condition clears up. Your vet will be able to advise you on a treatment duration based on your cat’s specific needs.
Try to ensure that your cat does not lick or ingest the topical medication. In the event that this happens, consult your vet immediately. If your vet has prescribed antibiotics, it is imperative that you administer the medication for the entire recommended duration of treatment. Failure to do so could result in aggressive recurrence.
If the suspected cause of the acne is the use of a colored food dish, your vet will recommend switching to a ceramic, steel, or glass food dish. It is a good idea to keep your cat’s chin and food dish clean after meal times to prevent inflammation and infection in the future.
For mild cases, your vet usually won’t schedule a follow-up appointment to monitor the condition. If the condition recurs, or if treatment does not seem to be helping, consult your vet right away as there may be a more serious underlying cause.