Does your cat have freckles on his nose? My Newton does. His freckle is actually in his philtrum, the vertical groove that runs down the center of his nose. It looks like his nose is dirty all the time, but it just that he actually has that freckle that runs right down the middle of his nose. If your kitty has cat nose freckles, it’s good to know a little more about the phenomenon. Let’s review:
Lentigo is a genetic condition in your cat that results in dark, freckle-like spots. The spots are either black or brown, and if your kitty will let you touch them, you’ll find that they are either flat or slightly raised. The freckles have clearly defined edges. Each one is as small as 1 millimeter and as big as 10 millimeter. The skin around them is the normal color.
If your cat just has a few freckles, the condition is called lentigo simplex. If he has lots of freckles that crowd together so much that they merge together into larger patches of big freckles, it is called lentignosis profusa (multiple lentigines syndrome). It’s a lot easier to just call it lentigo… or, easier yet, just freckles.
The freckles are the result of the pigment-producing cells called melanocytes having more melanin than the surrounding skin. No one knows why some cats have the genetic predisposition for lentigo while other cats the same color don’t.
Because lentigo is a genetic condition, it appears to be linked to the genes that make cats have red or orange colors. Freckles can be found on orange, calico, tortoiseshell or flame point cats, possibly because these varieties all have the orange coloration. Cream and silver colored cats also occasionally have lentigo, though it’s less common in those colors.
Lentigines (the fancy word for multiple lentigo freckles) usually don’t start on your cat’s nose, but rather on his lips and gums. If you don’t have to give your cat pills or don’t brush his teeth, you might not notice them when the melanocytes started to produce additional pigment on his lips, even though it often starts as early as one year of age.
As your cat ages, the freckles become more widespread, often getting more numerous and larger on his lips and gums. You might even see freckles on the roof of your cat’s mouth. Freckles also spread to other parts of the body, including the nose, where you are most likely to notice them because they’re literally front and center.
As they spread, lentigo freckles might also appear around the edges of your cat’s eyes or on his eyelids. Sometimes you will find them inside his ears and even on the pads of his feet
Newton, now seven years old, has only a handful of very small freckles on his lips in addition to the one on his philtrum. At his age, he probably won’t develop a lot more.
Redheaded humans quickly learn that their freckles will grow and spread when they spend time in the sun. Lentigo doesn’t work that way, and the freckles don’t appear or grow because of your cat’s exposure to the sunshine. That’s a good thing, because how would you explain to your sunbeam-loving cat that sunbathing is going to give him freckles?
This doesn’t mean you should hand your cat a beach towel and some coconut oil and tell him to go lounge poolside. While sun exposure doesn’t make lentigo any worse, cats can suffer from sunburn. If your cat has freckles on his ears, don’t let him get sunburned ears that can lead to melanoma, because the freckles might prevent your spotting the melanoma lesion immediately.
You might wonder whether those spots itch, but unless your cat spends time looking in the mirror admiring himself, he will never know they’re there. As any redheaded human can tell you, freckles don’t itch or hurt. Lentigo is just a cosmetic condition, and it doesn’t require any treatment from your vet.
Lentigo freckles don’t later become melanoma, so you don’t have to worry about it being an early warning sign of anything. If you’re ever concerned about a spot on your cat, especially if it changes in size or becomes raised or tender, see your vet to be safe. To differentiate between lentigo and other conditions such as melanoma, the vet takes a biopsy with a small needle and then sends the sample to a laboratory for analysis.
Does your cat have a lot of freckles? Just a few? Where are they?
Read more cool facts about cats and science on Catster.com:
Thumbnail: CC image courtesy growlroar on Flickr.
About Julie McAlee: Unapologetic geek, Oxford comma supporter, and cat herder. Julie lives in Orlando with her husband and three rescued cats who are clearly the ones in charge. See Newton, Ashton, and Pierre’s feline adventures on her blog, Sometimes Cats Herd You.