Feline ‘freckles’ (9 facts)

Here are 9 facts about feline ‘freckles’ aka lentigo.

Feline freckles on a ginger tabby which upsets the owner
Feline freckles on a ginger tabby which upsets the owner. Image: Original: u/lumberfi on Reddit. Words added by MikeB
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats
  1. Lentigo can infrequently cause alarm in cat owners. One asked on social media: “What is this all over my cat’s nose and mouth? And are there any possible treatments?”. They were referring to their ginger cat above. The words come from a Reddit.com user, and they highlight a part of feline anatomy which is totally normal but which quite a few cat owners don’t like. They think there is something wrong with their cat and seek ‘treatments’ but there isn’t anything wrong and no treatment is required. There are no health implications for what could be described as ‘feline freckles’.
  2. It is localised melanin pigmentation on the lips, nose leather (tip of nose) and eyelids and even the tongue. Scientifically they are referred to as lentigo or lentigo simplex. They say that the most common reason is an increase in the number of epidermal melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells in the skin (and eyes) which produce AND CONTAIN the pigment called melanin. So, what we see are the melanocytes full of melanin pigment. In cats, melanin produced in the melanocytes is distributed in hair strands for instance to create the variety of cat coats we see. But the melanocytes themselves are dark as they contain the produced pigment.
  3. One specialist (Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer at DermNet) would disagree that black spots on a ginger cat’s nose are the same as freckles on humans as they call human freckles ‘ephelis’. I don’t see this as important, though. However, a study on PubMed says this about the difference: “Ephelides are largely genetically determined but induced by sunlight, whereas lentigines are induced by sun exposure and photodamage of the skin.”
  4. The word ‘lentigo’ originates in the shape of the pigmentation which supposedly looks like a small lentil. The plural is ‘lentigines’ or ‘lentigos’. What about ‘freckles’?!
  5. In humans, freckles are a harmless, genetically inherited condition and normal as we know associated with fair skinned red-haired people (see the link with red tabby cats?). The melanocytes produce more pigment (melanin) than usual, and freckles increase on exposure to UV light.
  6. In cats lentigo is associated with ginger tabbies (red tabbies), torties and calico cats and also flame pointed cats and therefore the condition is also inherited. The cause is essentially the same as for humans: an increase in the number of melanocytes.
  7. Lentigo is also described as ‘hyperpigmentation’ meaning an excess of pigmentation.
  8. Lentigo is ‘a benign dermal disease increasing with age’ (study: LINGUAL LENTIGO IN TWO CATS). It is also described as ‘a benign proliferation of melanocytes’.
  9. Don’t worry about lentigo but be sure that what you are seeing is genuine lentigo and not something similar which may be a health problem.

Cat hair pigmentation types (fully illustrated)

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