Does your cat have "freckles" on their nose? Or maybe on their little lips? These little spots are as adorable as can be and add a sense of uniqueness to our favorite felines. But are they really freckles? And what exactly causes them? Let's find out!
Those little black spots on your cat's nose and mouth aren't the same as the freckles on a human.
Kitty "freckles" are actually called lentigo, or lentigo simplex, which is a genetic condition that increases the number of epidermal melanocytes in cats. Lentigo simplex causes these pigment-producing cells to contain more melanin than the surrounding skin, resulting in dark, freckle-like spots most commonly found on the nose and mouth area.
A few tiny freckles are called lentigo simplex, but if your cat has larger clusters or patches of freckles, it is referred to as lentiginosis profusa. The fancy term for these "freckles" is lentigines, but we prefer the term freckles!
Lentigo can appear in cats as young as one year old, however it is most commonly seen in older cats. The lentigines often start small, or with just one or two spots, and can continue to grow or multiply as your cat ages.
Photography via jdickert, Creative Commons on Flickr.
"Freckles" are most commonly seen in ginger cats.
While freckling in humans is associated with sun exposure, the exact cause for lentigo in cats is largely unknown. However, it is thought to be linked with the gene that code for orange coloration in cats, referred to as the "red" gene. This means that freckles can pop up on cats with ginger, calico, and tortoiseshell colorations, and even those with flame point markings because they all have the red gene. Cream and silver cats can also develop lentigo, but it is much less common.
Is lentigo harmful?
While the cause for lentigo simplex and lengitinosis profusa are relatively unknown, what is known is that they completely benign and do not develop into cancer.
However, the lentigines tend to appear in the same places that a malignant melanoma may develop (nose, mouth) on your cat, and the freckles may mask the harmful growths. It's important to monitor your cat's freckles for any new spots or growths just in case. And when in doubt, ask your veterinarian!
Good news for your freckled felines, these spots are similar to human freckles in that they don't itch or cause irritation. So they're really just a cute little cosmetic marking on your kitty's nose that makes them extra cute!