Q: I noticed some bumps on my cat’s chin and near her lower lips. They resemble pimples, and she seems irritated by it (she paws at it). Can cats get acne?

A: The lesions described could be pustules, and the condition is commonly known as feline chin acne—a common skin condition that can affect cats of any age, breed, and gender. It may wax and wane, and can be recurring. It can range from small black spots (blackheads) to badly inflamed and draining pustules. Some cats find it very itchy and painful, and local hair loss and redness are also common. 

These lesions usually appear as a cluster of raised, red bumps; many containing pus, which is yellow and sticky. The chin has many small sebaceous glands that secrete a kind of oil to lubricate the skin. This oil is also used to mark territory and these sebaceous glands are connected to hair follicles. Infection occurs when these follicles become blocked with the oily secretions, leading to irritation, swelling, and pus. The affected cat may feel discomfort and/or itch, and scratch the area, resulting in bleeding, hair loss and ulceration. The cause of feline chin acne is unknown, but there are a few possible contributing factors. Over-active sebaceous glands due to hormonal imbalances or stress result in production of excessive sebum. Contact or atopic allergies, hypersensitivity to certain medications, poor grooming habits, dirty feeding bowls, a suppressed immune system or a weakened immune system due to other concurrent health issues are also possible factors. The use of plastic bowls is usually discouraged in cats with recurring feline chin acne, as they are suspected to harbour bacteria. Choose glass, metal or ceramic dishes instead, and always clean the bowls thoroughly with soap and water.

Additionally, you can clean the affected area with an antiseptic solution and apply some topical antiseptic powder. This is sufficient in most mild cases of feline acne. The more severe or recurring cases should be brought to the attention of the vet. The affected areas are usually shaved and cleaned thoroughly. Sometimes, minor surgical trimming of the affected area to remove dead or necrotic tissues is done. Injectable and/ or oral antibiotics are usually prescribed. Further diagnostic investigations are needed to determine any underlying issues such as mange, fungal infection, feline leprosy, allergies, or skin tumours.