Feline acne is always concerning, but it can be particularly worrying if you have more than one cat in your household. Understandably, you’ll want to stop acne spreading between your cats.
It would be quite rare for one cat to catch acne from another, but it does sometimes happen – especially in shelters and catteries. However, scientists have failed to determine exactly how cat acne is contracted. What’s more, feline acne can look very similar to other contractible conditions such as flea and mite infestations.
Although feline acne is not usually contagious, cats with acne sometimes develop secondary bacterial infections that can be extremely contagious. To stop this from happening, it’s important to treat feline acne as soon as it arises and find ways to prevent it from returning. We’ll show you how to manage feline acne effectively in a multi-cat household.
What Is Feline Acne?
Feline acne has been defined as a “follicular keratinization disorder.” Essentially, this means that the cat’s hair follicles are functioning abnormally. Here’s what happens in most cases of feline acne:
- In a healthy hair follicle, the dead cells lining the follicle will be pushed out of the follicle when a new hair grows through. In cats with acne, these dead cells do not shed at a standard rate. Instead, they linger in the hair follicle and start to build up.
- These dead cells bond with keratin (the protein substance in hair) in the cat’s hair follicle.
- If there is a buildup of dead cells and keratin, the hair follicle can become blocked – leading to keratosis pilaris. If the buildup blocks the sebaceous glands, this leads to acne.
Most cases of cat acne develop in this way, but many different factors can trigger these follicular changes.
What Does Cat Acne Look Like?
Feline acne does not look the same in all cats. Acne under the chin is very common, but it may also develop on the tail, eyelids, or elsewhere on your cat’s body. The symptoms to look out for include:
- Black Stuff on Chin – If the black stuff does not wash off with water, it could be blackheads. Run a flea comb gently through the ends of the fur to check it is not flea dirt.
- Papules/Comedones – Papules are small bumps on the cat’s skin; comedones are skin-colored bumps.
- Crusts – Crusty skin will sometimes develop around the blackheads and comedones.
- Pruritus (Excessive Scratching) – In some cases, your cat might not seem too bothered by the acne. However, in many cases, cats will excessively scratch the patches of acne – which can lead to weeping and bleeding.
- Alopecia (Hair Loss) – Feline acne can cause alopecia – perhaps due to overgrooming. Indeed, cat acne on the tail often leads to some hair loss. This is sometimes referred to as stud tail.
What Causes Cat Acne?
As mentioned, acne usually develops when something triggers the hair follicles to behave abnormally. These triggers could include:
- Poor Grooming Habits – Kittens and older cats are a bit more prone to acne as they’re less able to groom themselves thoroughly. The same goes for overweight cats.
- Stress – We don’t know for sure if/how stress triggers cat acne.
- Hormonal Changes – These may trigger changes to the hair follicle.
- Genetics – Certain breeds are more prone to acne, perhaps because they find it harder to groom themselves, but also because they may produce more keratin or sebum than others.
- Viral infections – Some viral infections can cause acne lesions to develop.
- Allergies – Allergies can cause a variety of skin changes (papules, crusts, alopecia). Some cats may be allergic to the plastic in food bowls.
- A Weakened Immune System – This can negatively impact the health of the follicles and leave your cat prone to secondary bacterial infections. Studies have shown that the following bacteria are often present in severe cases of cat acne: Pasteurella multocida, beta-haemolytic streptococci, and coagulase-positive Staphylococcus.
Which Breeds of Cats Are Most at Risk of Acne?
Although any cat can develop acne, those who have long fur or folds in their skin are most at risk. This may be because grooming is more challenging for them. Persian cats have long hair and folds in their skin so they should be checked regularly for any signs of acne.
One study found that de-sexed males are more likely to get feline acne that spayed females. However, the sample size was pretty small, so we can’t say for sure if there is a difference between the sexes.
Is Cat Acne Contagious to Other Cats?
Human acne is not contagious, so it seems reasonable to assume that cat acne would not be either. While it is true that most forms of cat acne are not contagious – some cases have been reported.
Although the mechanism is not fully understood, it’s thought that some contagious viral infections may be responsible for the spread or feline acne (this may include feline calicivirus- FCV, but further studies are required to confirm this).
Nevertheless, even if your cats aren’t contracting acne from each other, there are reasons why this may seem to be the case. For example:
- Acne can look similar to flea/mite infestations. Mites and fleas (and their associated symptoms) can spread between cats, so first check that you are definitely dealing with a case of acne.
- If more than one cat has developed acne, it could just be that whatever is causing the acne is affecting all cats in the household. In that case, it’s vital to determine exactly what the problem is so you can eliminate it from your cats’ environment.
Can Cat Acne Get Infected?
According to a study by Wiley, 50% of the cats they assessed (with feline acne) had a secondary bacterial infection. So, while the acne symptoms themselves may not necessarily spread between cats, a secondary bacterial infection might. Treating cat acne as early as possible reduces the chances of your cat developing a secondary infection (and passing it on to another cat).
Can Cat Acne Spread to Humans?
The simple answer is no – you won’t get acne from touching your cat’s acne. However, if your cat develops a secondary bacterial infection and you do not practice good hygiene when handling them, there is a chance you could contract an infection.
Though it’s rare for a human to catch a disease from their cat, it can happen. Pasteurella multocida is often implicated in severe forms of cat acne, and this pathogen can spread between cats and humans.
How to Prevent Feline Acne
Feline acne can be caused/aggravated by a variety of factors so you may need a holistic approach. Many cat owners have found the following strategies to be helpful for preventing feline acne:
- Switch to Wet Food – Some dry foods have a greasy residue on them that may cause/aggravate cat acne. If you switch to wholly wet food, make sure you’re feeding your cat a nutritionally balanced product – this may help boost immunity.
- Supplement with Omega 3 – Amino acids can help to normalize hair growth and promote healthy cell renewal in the skin. If your cat is deficient in fatty acids, they may be more prone to skin problems.
- Swap Plastic Bowls for Stainless Steel, Glass or Ceramic – These bowls are easier to keep clean, so they are less likely to harbor bacteria/fungi. Also, it seems some cat acne is caused by an allergic reaction to plastic.
- Improve Hygiene – Wash your cats’ bowls in hot, soapy water after every meal.
- Manage Stress – If you’re looking for a quick way to reduce stress in your household, a pheromone diffuser may help. In the long run, reduce stress by making sure each cat has its own space and is not left “fighting” for food or attention.
- Regular Grooming – Regular grooming can help to keep acne at bay. If you have a long-haired cat, they should be groomed on a daily basis. You can use a clean, soft-bristled brush on your cat’s chin to keep this area clean and prevent the acne from recurring (don’t try this until any existing acne has healed).
How to Treat Cat Acne
The mildest forms of acne (i.e., blackheads) will sometimes go away on their own – especially if you eliminate the cause. To speed up healing, it may help to clean the area around your cat’s acne. Your vet may advise you to cleanse the affected area with very dilute antibiotic soap, or very dilute iodine (Betadine).
In more severe cases, your vet may provide you with products containing benzoyl peroxide or chlorhexidine. Although acne products for humans include benzoyl peroxide, these should never be used on your cat without your vet’s permission as they may be toxic for cats. Your vet may also shave the fur around the acne so that it is easier to keep clean.
If your cat has a secondary infection, your vet may prescribe a course of antibiotics.
How to Prevent Cat Acne from Spreading
Although cat acne does not often spread between cats, it can happen occasionally. So, what should you do if you have several cats in your household – and one has acne?
Ideally, as a precaution, you’d segregate your cats until the acne has disappeared – but segregation is not a practical solution for most households. To prevent the acne from spreading, this would be the next best alternative:
- Take your cat to the vet if they have feline acne. This will also eliminate any conditions that look similar to acne such as mites or fleas.
- Feed your cats in separate bowls and provide separate bedding.
- Vacuum your house and sterilize any laminate flooring on a regular basis until your cat is better.
- Wash your hands with antibacterial soap between handling each cat to prevent the spread of bacteria – especially if your cat has been diagnosed with a secondary infection.
Remember, although acne may appear to ‘spread’ between cats in the same household, it could just be that each cat is similarly affected by something in their shared environment (a poor diet, stress, dirty food bowls, lack of grooming, etc.).