Key Points

  • Feline chin acne is a skin disease that occurs when a cat’s hair follicles become plugged.
  • The exact cause is unknown, but may involve allergies, dirty food dishes, stress, viral infections, genetic abnormalities, and immunosuppression.
  • Treatment involves regular cleaning of the affected skin and application of topical antibiotics, antifungals and steroids.

Does your cat have a dirty-looking chin? Or maybe it looks swollen and sore. 

It could be a form of skin disease called feline acne. You probably thought teenage boys and girls were the only victims of this annoying problem. Surprise! Kitties can get pimples on their chins, too.

Cat chin acne is a skin condition that occurs when a cat’s hair follicles get clogged. Most cat acne lesions occur on the chin and corners of the lips. Some cats develop swelling, sores and infections as a result of their acne.

In this article, we’ll discuss the causes, symptoms and treatment of feline chin acne. After reading it, you’ll understand which treatments work and which to avoid. 


To understand what cat acne is, we must discuss the basic structure of their skin. What you can see is the outer skin (epidermis) with hairs sticking out. Underneath, the deep layer contains hair follicles and oil glands that empty into the follicles.

Hair follicles have cells that create a special protein, keratin, that forms hair. Acne occurs when keratin to builds up and plugs the cat’s hair follicle. When the follicle becomes plugged it prevents the normal oils from exiting to the outer skin surface. This is the classic “blackhead.”

More and more oil and keratin build up in the plugged follicle and may cause it to rupture. That leads to inflammation and sometimes bacterial infection in the surrounding tissue. 


Scientists don’t know exactly what causes this disease. Unproven theories about the causes of cat acne include

  • Allergy
  • Dirty food dishes
  • Stress
  • Viral infection
  • Genetic abnormalities
  • Immunosuppression

Risk Factors

All ages, sexes and breeds of cats can get chin acne. According to Jazic et al. in the journal Veterinary Dermatology, “teenaged” cats have no higher risk than any other age of cat.

Is the condition common?

Feline acne is a common finding in cats. In a 2013 Cornell University study of more than 1400 cats with skin problems, acne was one of the most common diagnoses.

cat chin acne diagram-hair follicle cross section illustration


In many cases, cat acne causes only mild symptoms that don’t cause any problems. The classic symptoms are listed below from mild to severe. 

  • Black, dirty-looking chin
  • Dark flecks on chin and/or lips
  • Blackheads 
  • Itchy chin
  • Pimples/whiteheads 
  • Red skin with bumps/rash
  • Swelling of the chin
  • Hair loss
  • Sores, scabs and bleeding skin
  • Pain

It’s not unusual for these symptoms to come and go. Please remember that other diseases can cause similar symptoms, so don’t assume it’s acne based solely on appearance.


Your vet will evaluate your cat’s history and consider the appearance of the affected skin. Other tests may be necessary to rule out other causes of similar symptoms. Tests done to diagnose chin acne include

  • Cytology–sample of cells examined microscopically
  • Skin scrape/hair pluck for mites
  • Dental radiographs for tooth root abscess
  • Biopsy for cases that don’t respond to acne treatment
  • Blood panels to establish a baseline especially if steroids will be used
  • Fungal culture for ringworm
  • Bacterial culture and sensitivity in cases that don’t respond to acne treatment

What else can cause similar symptoms?

There are many other diseases that can cause swelling, bumps and sores on a cat’s chin and lips. Testing can help rule out the following

  • Eosinophilic granuloma complex (EGC)
  • Yeast dermatitis
  • Demodex and other mites
  • Dermatophytosis (ringworm fungus)
  • Lower canine tooth root abscess
  • Skin cancer
cat's lip is swollen

Learn more about why cats get lip inflammation


Cats with only blackheads in their skin may not need any treatment at all. Instead, their owners can monitor for signs of inflammation. 

Basic treatment of cat acne requires cleaning the affected skin with an anti-bacterial solution and applying topical medication daily. Sometimes it helps to clip the fur on your cat’s chin so the area is easier to clean. 

Vets often prescribe medicated wipes for acne that contain antiseptic solutions such as Douxo S3 Pyo® pads.

Editor’s Note: is supported by readers and may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Recommendations are based on personal experience and the criteria outlined in the article.

Douxo S3 PYO Pads 30 Count
Antiseptic wipes for cat and dog skin.

What medication can help?

2.5% benzoyl peroxide cream is sometimes used for its follicle-clearing action but it is sometimes too irritating. Some vets prescribe a weaker benzoyl peroxide shampoo instead.

SD White et al. reported that a 2% mupirocin topical antibiotic was very effective for infected acne lesions but is only available only by prescription. Some vets have better results with prescription topicals containing steroids, antibiotics and antifungals such as Posatex®.

Systemic medications are helpful for cats with more inflamed skin. Your vet can prescribe oral or injectable steroids, antibiotics and/or antifungals if necessary.

Demodex gatoi mites can cause similar symptoms to chin acne and are hard to diagnose. Your vet may recommend a trial treatment with Revolution®, a spot-on antiparasitic because it kills Demodex gatoi. There is some evidence that Bravecto® spot-on for cats also kills the mites.

A drug called isotretinoin may be recommended for severe symptoms that haven’t responded to standard acne treatments. Isotretinoin decreases oil production in the skin. This is not a standard cat medication and should be carefully monitored by a veterinarian.

Is there a special food that can help?

Some veterinarians report improvement in some cats with chin dermatitis when they eat a hypoallergenic diet. It’s best to use a prescription product and feed it exclusively for several months to see if symptoms recur. 

Gray cat with hand scratching chin and overlayed illustration (cat chin acne)

Prognosis & Prevention

Most cases of feline acne can improve to the point of remission with proper care. However, it’s not unusual for the problem to come back from time to time.

There are many unproven theories about ways to prevent feline acne including avoiding plastic food dishes, sanitizing food/water dishes, avoiding stress, etc. None of these theories have proven their worth when studied objectively. 

The standard preventive approach veterinarians recommend for cats with mild to moderate chin acne is daily cleaning with an antibacterial/antifungal solution or pads. Close observation can alert you that your cat is about to flare up and you can increase your cleaning regimen.

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  1. Jazic, E., Coyner, K. S., Loeffler, D. G., & Lewis, T. P. (2006). An evaluation of the clinical, cytological, infectious and histopathological features of feline acne. Veterinary Dermatology, 17(2), 134-140.
  2. Scott, D. W., Miller, W. H., & Erb, H. N. (2013). Feline dermatology at Cornell University: 1407 cases (1988–2003). Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 15(4), 307-316.
  3. White S D, Bordeau P B, Blumstein P, et al: Feline acne and results of treatment with mupirocin in an open clinical trial – 25 cases (1994-1996). Vet Dermtol 1997 Vol 8 (3) pp. 157-64.

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