Your kitty loves to have his chin rubbed, and one day—while he’s sidling up next to you—you notice small black spots on his face. As you give him a scratch, you realize that the small, round spots don’t come off right away. You start to wonder…
Does your cat have acne?
It’s not just teenagers who struggle with bad skin: cats can get acne, too. However, if you notice spots on your feline’s fur coat, there’s a chance that it’s not acne, but flea dirt.
Both feline acne and flea dirt can be easily treated. Knowing the difference between the two is the first step in diagnosing your cat’s skin problems and seeking appropriate treatment. This guide explains the difference.
Feline Acne vs Flea Dirt
Feline acne and flea dirt have one thing in common: they both present as small, black specks. However, they are symptoms of two very different conditions.
Although the reasons for feline acne can vary between cats, it’s a skin condition that affects many cats, often in response to:
- Environmental allergens and irritants
Flea dirt, which is made up of small specs of blood that fleas have sucked out of your cat, on the other hand, has one explanation: your cat has fleas. Either they’ve been in (or still are in) your cat’s fur.
The first step in identifying which ailment your kitty is suffering from involves knowing where to look.
Brush from Chin to Tail
Most cats love a proper brushing—or if not, a good pet with a brush glove. Keeping your eyes on your cat’s coat can help alert you to any cat skin issues they may be experiencing. As you know, your feline friend is great at hiding pain and discomfort, so it’s worth the effort to look.
As you brush, keep a lookout for any black spots. Cat acne can present as:
- Small black dots between the hair follicles
- Spots on the chin (A chin that looks dirty)
- Occasionally, larger white or red pustules that look like zits
While cat acne is often visible on the face, flea dirt has a different presentation. It appears as:
- Fine peppery specks
- Visible when you comb or pet against the grain of your cat’s hair
- Often closer to the tail or hips than to the neck and head
As you brush your cat, where do you see the most specks? Are they fine, peppery, and easy to remove with the comb, like flea dirt? Or are they fixed on your kitty’s face, just as acne would be? These two different presentations should make it easy to determine which ailment your cat is suffering from.
Treating Cat Acne
Treating cat acne is an easy fix, but you should first figure out why your cat is having this issue. If your cat has acne, there are a number of possible causes. Because in many cases, cat acne is tied to environmental allergens or bacteria, there are some basic steps you can take to avoid any possible causes in your home. These include:
- Cleaning up. Vacuum, launder your bed and clothes (and your cat’s, too), and wash your kitty’s food bowl. If he or she is experiencing seasonal skin issues related to allergens like pollen, dust, or mold, cleaning up is the best line of defense.
- Changing your cat’s food bowl. Some believe that cat acne is tied to a plastic bowl allergy, while others think that it is actually bacterial buildup on plastic bowls. Either way, ceramic and steel bowls stay cleaner for longer and are less likely to create cat acne.
- Avoid aerosols. Try to avoid spraying hairspray and perfumes around your cat. In addition, try natural cleaning products over chemical-heavy solutions. These types of products often contain harsh chemicals that your cat is allergic to and can be harmful to your cat’s health overall.
However, just as with people, cats’ allergies and skin conditions can be difficult to diagnose. If your cat’s acne persists after your cleanup and vet visit, the best option is to soothe your kitty’s skin.
Vetericyn’s Feline Antimicrobial Facial Therapy spray is a soothing solution for cat acne. Better yet, it’s irritant-free and is safe even when ingested.
Eliminating Flea Dust and the Fleas that Cause It
Where there is flea dust, there are fleas. Even if you don’t see any on your kitty’s coat, they’re closeby: fleas spend only a small portion of their life on their animal hosts.
You’re probably grossed out right away by the ideas of fleas all over your favorite cuddle buddy and in your home. If you need another reason to begin the battle against fleas, though, it’s important to note that flea dust is sometimes only the beginning of your cat’s skin problems. Many cats are allergic to flea saliva. They might develop rashes or lesions from the flea bites and scratch at themselves to soothe the itch. (If this happens, antimicrobial face therapy spray can help soothe their skin.)
If your cat has fleas, try all the following to combat the issue:
- Thoroughly clean your home, including vacuuming, steam cleaning, and washing all bedding
- Wash your cat using pet shampoo, and thoroughly flea-comb her coat
- Begin to use a monthly topical medication to defend your cat from fleas in the future.
It can be difficult to know when your cat is experiencing irritants until their scratching picks up. For this reason, frequent brushing and attention to your cat’s skin can help you to keep track of any irregular visitors, whether it’s cat acne or flea dust. This way, you can soothe your kitty’s itching and free them from negative skin conditions.
Reviewed by Dan Richardson, Veterinarian
Dan Richardson has been a practicing veterinarian for over 10 years. He specializes in surgery and orthopedics. Dan is originally from rural western Nevada and attended the University of Idaho for undergraduate study and Oregon State University for Veterinary School. The Richardson Family enjoys camping and spending time on the water fishing, paddle boarding, or digging their feet in the sand somewhere warm.
- PetMD. What is flea dirt. https://www.petmd.com/dog/parasites/what-flea-dirt
- The Spruce Pets. Chin acne in cats. https://www.thesprucepets.com/feline-chin-acne-possible-causes-signs-treatment-3384889
- Healthline. How to get rid of fleas in your house, in your yard, and more. https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-home-guide/how-to-get-rid-of-fleas