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Pets and Vets: Hey kids, cats can get zits, too

November 13th, 2003, 02:20 PM
MARY ELLEN GORHAM for The Columbian

Growing up is hard! Teenagers today face a multitude of problems, challenges, temptations or expectations: sex, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, grades, truancy, sports, part-time jobs, you name it! As if these are not enough, many teens worry about pimples and how the unsightly condition affects their appearance.

It probably won't make a high school student dealing with a skin problem any happier to know that cats also can have acne. There is one difference. Feline acne is more common in older cats than in juveniles.

Question: Can you describe feline acne?

Answer: Acne in cats resembles the condition in humans. Blackheads are common and the cat's lower lip and chin look swollen due to fluid accumulation. The skin looks pimply if the acne becomes infected, and the cat may lose hair on its chin. The condition can be severe and painful.

Question: Young women and young men can experience teenage acne. What about cats?

Answer: Male and female cats can have acne. A good face scrubbing is recommended to help control human acne and this also is helpful for cats. If a cat does not keep its chin clean with its paws, oil, dirt and sticky moist cat food collect in the hair follicles. The follicles become plugged and blackheads form.

Question: Are creams used for human acne effective for cats?

Answer: No, they may irritate the cat's skin. A mild soap or rubbing alcohol is safe to use on the cat's chin. In serious cases, a veterinarian should be consulted. If the follicles become infected, the cat may have to be sedated and the area clipped, the blackheads evacuated and treated with special cleansing agents and antibiotics.

Also, the veterinarian should check stubborn cases to be sure the cat does not have ringworm or mange. The treatment for these skin conditions is different than that for acne.

Question: Once feline acne is cleared up, is it apt to reappear?

Answer: Unfortunately, recurrence is the rule. If a cat is frequently infected and if the owner desires a cat that is clean-chinned, the cat will probably have to be treated every week for life. The owner must be alert for signs and should begin washing the cat's chin if the acne seems to be present.

Cats shed their hair coat and then the hair goes through a resting stage. At this time the acne is apt to re-occur because oil plugs up the hair follicles. When the hair starts to grow again, it pushes out the excess oil and the acne clears up.

If a cat's chin is irritated, it is possible that the cat is allergic to the dyes in its plastic food and water bowls. The owner should try substituting glass, ceramic or metal bowls for the plastic dishes to see if the condition clears up.

Mary Ellen Gorham can be reached in care of The Columbian, P.O. Box 180, Vancouver, WA 98666.