Saturday, December 10, 2016

It's Caturday! Let's Talk About Cat Acne!

It's Caturday, time to talk about my cats and their cat acne! Actually, only James gets cat acne. I had some very basic knowledge about this common feline skin condition, but only what was important for managing James's issue. When I began to delve into more scholarly sources, I found that there wasn't actually a whole lot of scientific attention pointed toward cat acne. As this 2010 paper points out, it's something that basically every vet deals with all the time, but everything from the causes to the treatments is almost entirely anecdotal. Very few people have really studied cat acne.
James is prone to developing cat acne.

The retrospective study linked above came to some very interesting conclusions. First, they found that cat acne affects shorthaired cats almost exclusively. Though for some cats it seems to be related to the food dishes they use, there is currently no clinical evidence for food bowls being causative.

For James, cat acne manifests as scabs on his chin. The first time it happened, his lower lip also swelled up alarmingly. I can easily manage his issue simply by using clean stainless steel bowls. Anecdotally, this seems to work for a lot of cats. Why does it work? There are two hypotheses to explain the relationship between plastic dishes and cat acne.

Contact Dermatitis

One theory is that some cats are allergic to plastic. It causes skin irritation on the part of the cat that most often contacts the plastic. Switch to a metal, glass, or ceramic bowl and the problem disappears. This hypothesis would explain why James is prone to cat acne, but Solstice is not. They use the same dishes, and they are littermates, so it makes sense to conclude that they would have similar reactions if hygiene was the sole cause. 


Dirty bowls harbor bacteria, which infect the part of the cat that most often contacts the dirty food bowl. Plastic is nearly impossible to clean because it develops tiny scratches that can harbor bacteria even after a trip through the dishwasher. Bowls made from stainless steel, glass, or ceramic are much easier to properly sanitize. Once a cat is using a sanitary food bowl, their cat acne tends to improve or disappear.

My Hypothesis

I think that hygiene is the biggest factor with James and his cat acne. Dirty bowls make him break out. We only have stainless steel cat dishes, because the Hellions broke all of my cute ceramic and glass kitty bowls.As long as I wash his dishes every day, James has no trace of acne. Why didn't the study find any correlation between acne improvement and changing bowls? Well, this was a retrospective study of past cases, so there is now way to control for all the variables and make sure everyone was switching dishes in an orderly and scientific fashion. There are no details given about how the bowls were changed, but I find it likely that most of the cat owners involved believe the type of bowl was the issue, rather than the cleanliness. 

I would love to see a study where owners of acne-prone cats are instructed to put their cat bowls through the dishwasher every day. I own multiple sets of kitty dishes so that a couple can be in the wash at any given time. Does your cat have cat acne? Does their chin always seem dirty or scabby? 

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