How do I treat my cat’s acne?

Q: My mostly feral/domestic cat has chin acne very badly. I’ve read stuff online and am now only giving food and water out of glass/porcelain bowls. I’m not seeing any progress. Would Dinovite help? I hesitate to try witch hazel or any other antiseptics.

Dr. Nichol: Your diagnosis is correct. That uncomfortable lumpy swelling results from a complex skin disorder that only affects the underside of cats’ chins. There can be comedones (black heads), papules (little red bumps), crusts, scabs, pustules (white heads), hair loss and, in severe cases, pain. It isn’t pretty. Your cat needs help getting this under control before the holidays.

Feline acne is common. Some cats face only one bout with it, others have recurrent problems. Its underlying cause is not fully understood. The outer “keratinized” skin layers, oil glands, and possibly the local immune system are involved. Several factors can influence the problem. Some cats have an adverse reaction to their food, their stainless steel bowls or to other allergic causes. Mange, yeast, ringworm and bacterial infections can be secondary invaders.

Your cat’s doctor can start with a skin scraping and possibly a fungal culture. Once the diagnosis is clear, her chin (your cat’s, not the veterinarian’s) can be scrubbed with benzoyl peroxide shampoo followed by at-home application of mupirocin ointment. A newer, additional treatment is a spot-on medication called Allerderm intended to replenish skin lipids. If your girl has severe infections, an oral antibiotic will be important.

Human acne remedies can backfire. As we all know, cats are not little people in furry suits. If you squeeze the lesions, the hair follicles can rupture, requiring months for the body to resorb the skin fragments and broken hairs. Stridex pads and witch hazel can irritate a cat’s skin. There is no evidence supporting vitamin supplements.

Management isn’t difficult; most kitties tolerate the attention with good humor. At age 7, Tony, the Nichol family cat, is currently getting over his first occurrence of chin zits. His twice-daily treatments feel like just more chin rubbing to him. Get your kitty’s treatment started soon. Feline acne can get really ugly if it’s neglected, putting a serious damper on an otherwise cool cat’s social life.

Dr. Jeff Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). He cares for the medical needs of pets at the Petroglyph Animal Hospital in Albuquerque (898-8874). Question? Post it on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109. Unpublished questions may not be answered individually.

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