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Cat Acne - black and white cat at looking straight at camera

Cat Acne — How Can You Treat It?

Look, when you live with five cats, there is Always Something going on.

Right now there are actually two Somethings (and trust me, I've got another email brewing about Thing Two), but the topic du jour is...

Cat acne.

Yes, cats (and dogs!) can get acne. Here's the best photo I could get of my Rocky girl, who has a pretty bad case we're working on clearing up:

Rocky's close-up view of her cat acne

See how you can see the pink of her skin in patches? And she looks kinda greasy? That's the aftermath of treatment.

And here are the answers to all the questions popping up in your head in sequential order:

How do I know if my pet has acne?

Check for dirt, black dots, scabs, or even red bumps under their chin and around their mouth. These all indicate acne — though I've mostly only seen it on cats as black dots/scabs. It can be easy to mistake as food crumbs.

If you want to get REALLY, GROSSLY into how cat acne happens: The hair follicles start overproducing keratin, which is a protein that helps form both cat and human skin, hair, and nails. This overproduction plugs the follicles, and boom: acne, irritation, infection, etc.

What causes cat acne?

Great question. In my experience, dirty food bowls or dishes are the primary cause.

In the same way that rubbing bacteria on your own face can cause you to break out, touching a dish that's refilled with food for days or weeks without being changed or washed can cause your kitty to break out.

How to get rid of your pet's acne

Provide them with clean dishes on the regular! Try swapping out food bowls every few days to prevent the grunge from building up and getting transferred to that sweet face you (used to) like to kiss.

For best results, use stainless steel, ceramic, or glass dishes, which tend to hold onto less bacteria than plastic or porous materials.

You can also supplement your cat or dog's diet with omega-3 fatty acids. These lipid molecules promote better skin hydration and a healthier barrier, both of which can protect against acne (not to mention other skin conditions like shedding or flaking, and also heart and brain health).

Paramount Pet Health Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil for Cats and Dogs - 2oz bottle

If your kitty likes smelly, fishy flavors, try Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil for Cats. Or if you want a lower-smell option that you can sneak into their food, give Omega-3 Fish Oil for Cats a try.

Shopping for dogs? Find bigger bottles here.

Are certain cats predisposed to acne?

It sure seems that way. Personally, I've noticed that of my million five cats, Rocky tends to be the sheddiest and flakiest. So it's no surprise that she'd be the one with acne.

(I've fallen off administering her daily fish oil dropper, which is my bad, so you better believe we're about to hop back on that train.)

How to treat and what to put on cat acne

Repeat after me: I WILL NOT PICK AT MY PET'S CHIN.

As with humans (are you sensing a theme?), picking will only make it worse.

Care starts with better hygiene. Try gently wiping down your cat's chin with a water wipe or damp microfiber washcloth every day. Sometimes this is all you need to do! Give this practice a week or so and see if it helps.

If not, you might want to graduate to medicated wipes or washes. These products including antibacterial (and often anti-fungal) ingredients that are safe for cats. Common ingredients are listed here. A gentle wipedown with hydrogen peroxide on a cotton pad may also help.

Search "cat face wipes" and read reviews on Chewy to get a sense of what's out there — but always double-check with your vet before adding anything to your pet's care routine, since some ingredients can actually increase skin sensitivity and make the problem worse.

Super-severe cases that refuse to clear up with improved hygiene treatment might need antibiotics (either topical or oral), steroids, or even Accutane (!). Again, this is where chatting with your vet is key.

What happens if cat or dog acne is left untreated? Is it contagious?

Nope! Neither you nor your other pets can "catch" acne from your cat. But it is pretty nasty, so, like... wash your hands.

To clearer kitty kisses,


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Rose Mary - June 30, 2023

This was very interesting, of all the cats we’ve had none have ever had acne, but I’m a clean freak, I wash their bowls everytime they eat. We wash ours after every meal, why wouldn’t we wash our pets. Thanks for the info. My neice is name Liana too. 😘

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