Have you ever seen those adorable small dark dots on the nose of your cat? They might be nothing more than what they seem to be—nose freckles! Many cat owners are unaware that cats can develop freckles just like people do. I’ll describe them, what they are, and when to be concerned about any areas in this article.
How Do Freckles Appear?
Freckles appear as dark black or brown spots on your cat’s lips, nose, chin or in their mouth. They’re usually dark brown or black in pigment and they should be flat (same level as the skin). They shouldn’t be raised or sore to your cat. In fact, your cat shouldn’t even notice that they’re there!
They’re similar to human freckles, except that there’s been no proven link between sun exposure and increased freckles with cat freckles. This would make sense, as some freckles occur in cat’s mouths where there is no sun exposure.
Can any cat get freckles?
Freckles are more common in middle aged to older cats but can occur in cats of all ages. They can develop more freckles as they age and they’re more common in cats with red pigment (or the ‘red’ gene); ginger or orange cats, calico cats and tortoiseshell cats.
Even flame point cats that have a little bit of the ‘red’ gene. However, they can occur in any cat color!
What Are Freckles?
What exactly are freckles? Freckles, also called lentigo (lentigines plural) or lentigo simplex, are dark brown or black spots that occur from an increased number of epidermal melanocytes in the skin. This is a genetic condition.
Melanocytes produce melanin, which causes the dark pigment in the skin’s epidermis. It has a protective function against UV radiation in the skin.
Should I Be Concerned If My Cat Has Freckles?
Freckles (or lentigo) are benign spots and aren’t anything to worry about. They don’t develop into cancer and don’t pose any health concern to your cat. Freckles are purely a cosmetic condition (with the added benefit of being very cute!). The spots should be flat with well defined edges (not spreading into the surrounding skin), and shouldn’t appear sore or irritated.
Cats can get many types of spots and we shouldn’t confuse anything harmful for freckles/lentigo which is a benign condition.
Does It Really Have a Freckle? How Else Could It Be?
Signs that the spots may be more serious than a case of simple freckles include but aren’t limited to;
- Raised spots
- Spots that aren’t brown or black in colour e.g. red
- Spots that appear open or sore on the surface
- Spots that seem infected (inflammation, discharge, painful)
- Spots that cause irritation to the cat
- Spots that appear on skin areas with fur
- Spots that appear in the eye
- Spots that aren’t well defined (blurry edges)
If the spots have any of the above characteristics, I’d reckon it probably isn’t a freckle. It could be linked to skin allergies (atopy) and the associated skin lesions/infection that can occur with this. Unfortunately it could also be something malignant (cancerous).
A common differential I worry about for black spots on the skin would be a melanoma, which is a tumour of the melanocytes (pigment producing cells). It’s very malignant and can spread to other organs. It’s more likely to affect the skin, eyes or mouth in cats.
Thankfully melanomas are rare, I don’t see many of them at work. Other symptoms that can be associated with a melanoma would be;
- Black spots that are raised
- Rapid growth of spots
- Blurry edges to the spots (not well defined)
- Weight loss
- Appetite changes
- Enlarged lymph nodes
How Do I Know For Sure If It’s A Freckle?
The above are indications that the spot might be something more sinister than just a freckle. However, the only way of knowing for sure is by taking a biopsy of the spot and sending it to a laboratory for examination by a pathologist. They’ll look at the cells of the spot under a microscope and check for cancer cells.
If your cat has a dark spot (s), you can discuss this in more detail with your veterinarian and decide on what action you’d like to take. Either way, I’d recommend getting any spots or lumps examined by your veterinarian to rule out anything to worry about.
A Note On Cat Eyes…
Freckles usually occur on the nose, lips, mouth and even eyelids, but not the eye. Cat’s can get pigment in their irises but they can also get other conditions in their eyes that are very malignant.
Iris melanosis is a condition that cats get where they have increased melanocytes (pigment producing cells) in their iris. This is benign but it can lead to complications in the future such as glaucoma and retinal detachment. Iris melanosis can also develop into malignant melanoma (this falls under melanoma which I discussed above), which is a cancerous condition of the eye. This can spread to other organs and be fatal.
If you notice any spots on your cat’s eye, it’s essential to get these checked out by your veterinarian. They may need further testing and regardless, they’ll require close monitoring in the future. I find taking regular photos of the eye is useful for monitoring the progression of these spots.
The good news is that freckles are harmless spots that cats can develop, especially as they get older. They don’t develop into cancer and are nothing to worry about. I do recommend getting these checked out initially by your veterinarian to distinguish them from melanomas, which are cancerous.
Freckles have the added bonus of being cute and unique to your cat!