Originally published June 21, 2017
Unfortunately, blackheads and acne are not just for teenagers—they can turn up on your cat’s chin, too, as they have on Chiggy and Caymus (see videos on this post to see what I mean). If your cat has black stuff on his chin, this is the first sign of cat acne. Fortunately, you can get rid of these black flecks before the turn into full-fledged zits.
There is also treatment for this type of acne and with perseverance, your cat can be zit-free in no time. Here’s everything you need to know about these mysterious black flecks and, most importantly, how and why you should make them go away.
What is Cat Chin Acne?
Cat chin acne is an inflammation of the cat’s skin from the chin area, which is extremely sensitive. It is a seborrheic dermatitis commonly located in the chin area. The main result is an excessive production of sebum.
This is an oily compound normally produced in the skin to protect it from various environmental factors, but in the area affected by dermatitis, the sebum production greatly outweighs the normal amount. As such, this area becomes very oily and black flecks appear on the cat’s fur. This is nothing else than accumulated sebum which has solidified.
The first sign of cat chin acne is the chin area becoming oilier. You may notice that the cat’s hairs are glued together by the sebum, just as you would see your hair if you haven’t washed it for a few days.
However, this usually goes by unnoticed because the differences are subtle and the evolution is quite rapid. What does stand out is the blackheads, which actually aren’t attached to the skin, just to the cat’s fur.
What typically happens is owners notice that there is this black, coffee-grind-like flecks in the cat’s fur. Quite commonly, pet owners sometimes mistake them for flea poop on a cat’s chin, and take their kitties to the vet.
If the black flecks are only present on the cat’s chin, then vets point to acne instead of flea infestation because fleas would not leave poop solely under a cat’s chin.
How to Test if the Black Flecks Are Flea Poop of Acne
There is a simple test that you can do at home to find out if your cat has a flea infestation or chin acne and the answer is in the flecks. It is quite easy to tell the difference between these two types of black flecks since they are very different things.
In the case of acne, the black flecks are dried out sebum. They are dried out oil, which means that when exposed to a bit of heat, they will melt into a more fluid oil. As for flea droppings, these are the fecal matters of a flea, which feeds primarily of blood. These black flecks are digested blood.
The Test to Tell Them Apart
You need a white paper napkin and some warm water. You place the black flecks on the napkin and you fold them in. Then, you apply the warm water and rub the napkin (with the flecks inside) between your palms for about one minute. When you open the napkin, you will have a definitive answer.
If you notice the area around the fleck becoming red or reddish brown, then you are dealing with flea droppings. If the flecks are the result of acne, then you will see the area around them turning light yellow, or very light brown, as the dried out sebum is melting.
The Acne Turns Into Full-on Seborrheic Dermatitis
If you don’t take any measures to treat your cat’s acne, then it will not go away on its own. We will get to the treatment options right away, but first, here’s how the illness progresses.
If left unattended, the black flecks on the cat’s chin become appear in larger and larger numbers. The skin produces so much sebum, that it can’t breathe properly. Moreover, the adherence of the flecks to the fur also damage the hairs.
The result is the inflammation of the skin on the cat’s chin. At first, it becomes pink and it is sensitive to the touch. However, this can quickly develop to the point where the skin is red and extremely sensitive.
It is also itchy, so when the cat scratches the area, it produces lesions. You can notice blood on the cat’s skin and the area with the flecks becoming larger.
At this point, the dermatitis becomes quite serious because the cat is very prone to developing an infection. Its chin has to be cleaned right away and it also needs local antiseptics and even topical antibiotics.
Since the area is extremely sensitive, dermatitis located in the area is quite painful for the cat. The itchiness also persists, which means that your cat could make new lesions when it scratches the next time.
Other possible complications are localized in the pores. Since the sebum production mechanism is affected, the excessive production of the substance could cause a pore to clog up. The large amount of sebum at the mouth of the pore is like a lid keeping it closed.
However, this does not stop sebum production, but since the sebum cannot be externalized, it gathers up inside the pore causing it to swell. This can happen even if the cat does not have acne, but it is located to one or two pores.
In the context of acne, a large number of pores are affected and this makes the inflammation more complicated. Sometimes, clogged pores get unclogged all by themselves in time.
But when a large number of pores is affected, this cannot happen as easily. These pores have to be unclogged manually by the vet, who will use surgical cloth and betadine to wipe the area. The cloth will gently remove the sebum “lids” from the pores, thus evacuating the accumulated substance inside.
Another possible complication is the local infection of these pores. Instead of sebum, they can collect puss. If this is the case, then you will notice whiteheads on your cat’s skin instead of the blackheads.
These whiteheads are actually on the cat’s skin and they can turn into zits, which are really painful for a kitty. This requires local treatment with antiseptics and topical antibiotics.
The Causes of Cat Acne
What causes cat acne? Well, there are plenty of possible causes for this and it is up to your vet to figure out which. The cat’s medical history will be very important to make the final diagnosis. Here are the main causes:
Exposure to plastic—plastic feeding bowls or other plastic around the house. If your cat has a sensitivity to plastic, then it may develop chin acne due to the repeated contact of that area and its bowls. For this reason, it’s good to either get rid of plastic feeding bowls or rotate them with other bowls like ceramic or metal.
Stress – The link between stress and dermatological issues in cats is well-known. If your cat is going through a particularly stressful period, then it might develop dermatological issues and chin acne is one of the many possibilities.
A Weakened Immune System – If your cat is dealing with other illnesses, or has just been through a difficult treatment, then its immune system is weakened. This makes it easier for certain illnesses to develop, since its body can’t fight them off as it normally does. This is one of the main reasons why your cat may need supplements to straighten its immune system if it its dealing with chin acne.
Local Trauma – If your cat has had local trauma on its chin, such as cuts, scratches, or bruises, then the area is quite sensitive throughout the recovery period, during which an acne outbreak could occur. If treated promptly, it can all end there.
Bacterial Contamination – It’s worth noting that cracks in ceramic bowls can lead to acne-causing bacteria, and stainless steel bowls can react with wet food and cause acne. It is very important to keep your cat’s food and water bowls clean at all times and to replace them periodically.
Viral Diseases – The contamination with certain viruses such as calicivirus or the herpes virus that leave the cat with some sensitivities even after they do not show any more symptoms of the viral disease. The chin acne could be a sign that the cat has had one of these viral diseases.
Allergies – Skin allergies can make the chin area more prone to developing acne. So, if your cat has dermatological allergic reactions to food, for instance, then it might also develop chin acne at some point.
That said, Other causes could be hormonal, genetic, allergy related, or the result of an Omega-3 deficiency.
Cat Acne Treatment
If your cat has chin acne, then you should be patient with the treatment plan because it is something you have to commit to for a while. The first step is to remove the cause of the blackheads by replacing plastic food bowls or water fountains.
Next, remove the existing blackheads from your cat’s chin. You can do this just with your fingernails (be sure to wash your hands), or with a toothbrush, comb, or warm saltwater and a towel. Lastly, you have to provide your cat with better skin care.
Step 1 – Removing the cause
Depending on the cause of the skin acne, removing it might be as easy as replacing its bowl. The vet will help you determine the likeliest cause for the black flecks and you can work on removing it from there on.
Step 2 – Local Treatment
Your aim is to keep the chin area free of flecks so that the skin can breathe properly and so that the hairs are not damaged. The most important part is removing the black flecks. If there aren’t too many of them, you can use your hands, but is easier to use towel and warm saline. This will make them easier to come off the hairs as well.
Keep the area clean until the flecks stop forming.
If the chin area is very oily, then you can apply a bit of baby powder to absorb the sebum. This will keep the chin dry. If the skin is inflamed, then your doctor will prescribe you local treatment with an anti-inflammatory and an antiseptic substance.
Step 3 – General Treatment
Aside from treating the cause and symptoms, it is very important to also help the skin regenerate. There are various supplements that your vet can prescribe for your cat’s skin, also according to your cat’s medical history.
The most important substances are Vitamins A, D, and E, and Omega-3, 6, and 9. These can also be found in special diet food for skin care, which the vet can recommend. Please note that you should administer these supplements for an extended time for them to have the desired effect.
It is very important to do all three of the steps to make sure that your cat’s chin acne is cured for good. However, you should keep in mind that if your cat is prone to developing this type of acne, it might appear again in the future when it is dealing with other diseases.
Is cat acne contagious? If one cat has it, do all of them get it?
The answer depends heavily on the cause of the acne. If the cause is the same (plastic exposure, stress, allergies, omega-3 deficiency), then the acne could develop in more than one cat in the household. Since the cause of the acne is not an infection, but a sebum hypersecretion, cat acne is not contagious on its own.
However, if the acne becomes complicated with a bacterial infection located in the chin area, then this can be contagious to the other cats in the household, especially if they groom each other or drink and eat from the same bowls.
For a more complete explanation of causes and treatments or cat acne, check out our post “Cat Zits: Feline Chin Acne”.
How do you treat blackheads on your cat’s chin?