Are you just brushing your cat’s teeth or inspecting its mouth only to find some black spots around the corners of its mouth? Not only can this discovery trigger your curiosity, but it may leave you worried or wondering whether this can escalate into any serious condition.
Well, the good news is that most cases of black spots in cat’s mouth are due to natural hyperpigmentation that occurs in a degenerative skin condition known as lentigo, of which ginger cats are genetically predisposed to. However, other conditions like melanoma, feline acne, flea infestation, tartar formation, or scabs, can darken parts of your cat’s mouth.
Even though oral melanomas are quite rare, they can grow rapidly and need immediate medical attention. So, make sure that what you are looking at is really lentigo. If you notice any abnormal growth or discoloration, quickly schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
Fleas can also affect the quality of your cat’s life and in some cases, cause flea allergies, bartonellosis, anemia, and tapeworms. For cats whose teeth are not regularly brushed, tartar can form as a yellow, a brown, or even a black discoloration. Scabs can form from trauma, infection, or irritation of the mouth as well as fleas and feline acne.
We have extensively discussed each of these conditions with the causes, symptoms, and treatment options, broken down.
Most cases of black spots or freckles in cat’s mouth is attributable to a condition known as Lentigo simplex. This a benign skin condition that affects cats, particularly those of ginger, tortie and calico breeds. This condition involves the appearance of small, black, or brown spots, also called lentigines, on the cat’s skin. It typically affects the lips, gums, nose, and, less commonly, the eyelids and the area around the eyes.
The exact cause of lentigo simplex in cats is still not well understood. It is believed to be related to the increased production of melanin, the pigment that gives color to the skin, hair, and eyes. Lentigo simplex can appear in cats at any age but is more commonly seen in older cats. It also seems to be more common in orange and calico cats. The condition is not related to sun exposure, unlike in humans where lentigines can be associated with sun damage.
Lentigo simplex is characterized by the presence of small, flat, black, or dark brown spots on the skin, particularly on the gums, lips, and nose. These spots can vary in size and shape but are usually harmless. They don’t cause any discomfort to the cat and are not associated with other symptoms.
Lentigo simplex in cats is not dangerous. It is a cosmetic issue that doesn’t affect the cat’s overall health. However, it is important to differentiate lentigo from other conditions that may look similar but can be more serious, such as melanoma.
A veterinarian can usually diagnose lentigo simplex by conducting a thorough physical examination and looking at the spots’ appearance. If there’s any doubt, the vet may choose to perform a biopsy, which involves taking a small sample of the affected skin and examining it under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis.
Lentigo simplex in cats does not require treatment as it is a benign condition. However, it is essential to monitor the spots and consult a veterinarian if you notice any changes in their appearance, such as:
- Rapid growth or change in shape.
- Irregular borders.
- Bleeding or ulceration.
- Accompanying symptoms such as pain or discomfort.
In some cases, owners may be concerned about the cosmetic appearance of lentigo spots, especially if they’re prominently visible. It’s important to note that these spots are natural and don’t affect the cat’s quality of life.
Feline acne is a common skin condition in cats, which causes the formation of blackheads, pimples, and sometimes, more severe skin infections on the chin and lower lip. It’s a manageable condition, but understanding its causes and treatments is essential for maintaining your cat’s overall health and comfort.
Sebum is an oily substance produced by the skin’s sebaceous glands. When these glands produce too much sebum, it can clog the pores, leading to bacterial infection and inflammation. This can occur due to hormonal changes, particularly in younger cats, or due to skin conditions that increase oil production.
Some cats may not groom themselves adequately, which can lead to the accumulation of dirt, oil, and dead skin cells on the skin’s surface, contributing to acne. Allergic reactions to certain foods, environmental allergens, or even certain materials like plastic can cause skin inflammation and acne. Some cats may be sensitive to plastic, and using plastic bowls for food or water can cause irritation and acne.
Just like in humans, stress can trigger or exacerbate acne in cats. Changes in their environment, such as moving or introducing a new pet, can cause stress and increase the risk of acne. Underlying health conditions like diabetes, immunodeficiency, or hormonal imbalances can make a cat more prone to acne.
Topical Treatments: Mild cases of feline acne may be treated with topical antiseptics, benzoyl peroxide, or medicated shampoos. These can help remove excess oil and reduce inflammation.
Antibiotics: If the acne is accompanied by a bacterial infection, oral or topical antibiotics may be prescribed.
Steroids: In cases where there is significant inflammation or if the cat has an allergic reaction, steroids may be used to reduce inflammation and discomfort.
Regular Cleaning: Keeping the affected area clean is crucial for preventing the recurrence of feline acne. Use a mild antiseptic solution, as recommended by your veterinarian, to gently clean the area.
Change in Diet: If food allergies are suspected to be the cause, your veterinarian may recommend a hypoallergenic diet or a food trial to identify the allergen.
Stress Reduction: If stress is a contributing factor, provide a stable environment for your cat, offer interactive toys, and ensure they have a safe and quiet space to retreat to.
Switch to Ceramic or Stainless-Steel Bowls: If you’re using plastic bowls, switch to ceramic or stainless steel to prevent irritation.
Grooming: Encourage your cat to groom or help by gently brushing them, especially in hard-to-reach areas.
Fleas are tiny parasites that can infest both indoor and outdoor cats, causing discomfort and various health issues. Flea dirt, or flea feces, appears as small, dark, pepper-like specks that are often found on the cat’s skin and in its fur. In some cases, these specks can also appear in the corners or outside of the cat’s mouth as the cat grooms itself often with its mouth.
Cats can get fleas from contact with other animals, such as stray cats, dogs, or wildlife, that are infested with fleas. Cats that roam outside may pick up fleas from the environment, such as grass, bushes, or other outdoor areas where fleas thrive.
Fleas or their eggs can hitch a ride into your home on clothing, shoes, or other pets, leading to an infestation of indoor cats. Not using preventative measures or not following the recommended schedule for flea prevention can increase the risk of infestation.
Topical Flea Treatments: These treatments are applied directly to the cat’s skin, usually on the back of the neck, and are effective in killing fleas on contact. They also offer protection for a certain period, ranging from a few weeks to a month.
Oral Flea Medications: Some oral medications can kill fleas within hours and provide protection for a few weeks. Consult your veterinarian to determine the best option for your cat.
Flea Collars: Flea collars can provide long-lasting protection against fleas, but they might not be suitable for all cats, especially those with sensitivities or skin conditions.
Environmental Control: Thoroughly clean and vacuum your home, especially areas where your cat spends time, to remove fleas, eggs, and larvae. Wash your cat’s bedding and toys regularly.
Grooming: Regularly grooming your cat with a flea comb can help remove fleas and flea dirt. Bathe your cat with a mild, cat-safe shampoo if recommended by your veterinarian.
Preventive Measures: Administer flea preventatives regularly, as recommended by your veterinarian, to keep your cat protected from future infestations.
Treat All Pets in the Household: If you have multiple pets, it’s essential to treat all of them simultaneously to prevent the spread of fleas.
Tartar build-up, also known as dental calculus, is a common issue in feline dental health that can potentially lead to black spots in a cat’s mouth. These black spots might appear on the teeth or along the gumline and are typically caused by long-term neglect of the cat’s oral hygiene, resulting in a build-up of tartar.
Tartar is primarily composed of hardened plaque, a soft and sticky substance that forms on the teeth due to the accumulation of food particles, bacteria, and saliva. Plaque that is not removed through regular dental care can mineralize and turn into tartar. The dark or black spots that are sometimes seen in a cat’s mouth can be a direct result of tartar or could indicate underlying dental issues like gingivitis or periodontitis, which are associated with tartar build-up.
Unlike plaque, tartar cannot be removed by regular brushing alone. It adheres strongly to the teeth and usually requires professional removal by a veterinarian. If left untreated, tartar can cause bad breath, oral discomfort, gum inflammation, tooth loss, and can even impact the cat’s overall health. Hence, it is crucial to address and prevent tartar buildup in cats.
Plaque Formation: The process begins with the formation of dental plaque, a soft, sticky film composed of bacteria, food particles, and saliva that adheres to the teeth.
Mineralization: Over time, minerals in the cat’s saliva, like calcium and phosphate, combine with the plaque, causing it to harden into tartar.
Bacterial Growth: As tartar accumulates, it creates an environment where bacteria can thrive, potentially leading to gum disease, bad breath, and discoloration of the gums and teeth.
Professional Dental Cleanings: Regular dental cleanings performed by a veterinarian are crucial for removing plaque and tartar from your cat’s teeth. These cleanings can also help identify early signs of dental disease and address them before they become more severe.
Home Dental Care: Brushing your cat’s teeth with a cat-specific toothbrush and toothpaste can help prevent plaque buildup. Start slowly and be patient, gradually increasing the time spent brushing as your cat becomes accustomed to it.
Dental Treats and Chews: Dental treats and chews designed for cats can help reduce plaque and tartar accumulation. These products should be used as part of a comprehensive dental care plan.
Specialized Diets: Some cat food diets are formulated to promote dental health by reducing plaque and tartar buildup. Consult your veterinarian to determine if a dental diet is suitable for your cat.
Regular Veterinary Exams: Routine vet check-ups are essential for monitoring your cat’s overall health, including dental health. Your vet can recommend appropriate treatment or preventive measures based on your cat’s specific needs.
Water Additives: Some water additives can help reduce plaque and tartar buildup. Consult your veterinarian before using any products to ensure they are safe for your cat.
Oral melanoma is a type of cancer that arises from melanocytes, the cells responsible for producing the pigment melanin. Although not very common, melanomas can occur in various parts of a cat’s body, including the skin, eyes, and mouth, possibly causing black spots. It can be aggressive and fast-growing. Early detection and treatment are crucial to managing this condition.
Oral melanoma can present in different ways, but there are some common characteristics:
Dark Solid Masses: Oral melanoma often appears as a lump, spot, lesion, or elevated area in the mouth which is often pigmented but may not be (amelanotic melanomas). The pigmented melanomas usually have a slightly dark to black color.
Irregular Shape: The lesions can be raised, bumpy, or have an irregular shape. They might bleed or ulcerate, and sometimes the surrounding tissue may appear inflamed.
Growth Over Time: The lesion or mass might grow or change shape over time, becoming larger or more irregular.
Diagnosing oral melanoma involves several steps:
Clinical Examination: The veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination of the cat, including a detailed inspection of the mouth and the lesion in question.
Biopsy: A definitive diagnosis is usually made through a biopsy, where a sample of the mass is taken and examined under a microscope to confirm the presence of malignant melanocytes.
Imaging: X-rays, ultrasound, or CT scans may be used to assess whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
Feline Oral Melanoma Treatment
Treatment options for oral melanoma in cats depend on factors such as the size, location, and stage of the tumor, as well as the overall health of the cat. Some possible treatment options include:
Surgery: Surgical removal of the tumor and affected tissue is often the first-line treatment. However, the success of surgery depends on the tumor’s location and size and whether it has invaded nearby structures.
Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy may be used to shrink the tumor or manage pain and discomfort, especially if the tumor cannot be entirely removed through surgery.
Chemotherapy or Immunotherapy: In some cases, chemotherapy or immunotherapy may be recommended to slow the progression of the cancer or prevent recurrence.
Palliative Care: In advanced cases or when treatment options are limited, palliative care may be provided to manage pain and improve the cat’s quality of life.
Scabs on cats are typically a symptom of an underlying issue, rather than a disease in and of itself. Scabs are formed when the body’s natural healing process kicks in to repair a wound, abrasion, or other skin damage. When a cat’s skin is injured or irritated, the body produces a clotting substance to stop the bleeding. This substance, combined with dead skin cells and dried blood, forms a protective crust or scab over the wound to prevent infection and allow the skin to heal underneath. While scabs are a normal part of the healing process, the presence of numerous scabs or recurrent scabbing may indicate an underlying issue that needs attention.
Allergies: Cats can develop allergies to certain foods, environmental factors, or substances they come into contact with, like certain fabrics or cleaning products. Allergic reactions can cause skin irritation and scratching, leading to scabs.
Parasites: Fleas, ticks, and mites are common parasites that can infest a cat’s skin and cause itching, scratching, and ultimately scabbing.
Feline Acne: Some cats develop feline acne, which can cause pimple-like bumps on the chin and lower lip. When these bumps burst, they can scab over.
Infections: Bacterial, fungal, or viral infections can cause skin lesions that may scab over as they heal.
Trauma or Injury: Cuts, scratches, or other physical injuries can lead to scabs as part of the natural healing process.
Autoimmune Disorders: Some autoimmune conditions can cause skin lesions that scab over.
Skin Cancer: In rare cases, scabs may be associated with skin tumors or cancers.
Identify and Remove the Cause: The first step is to identify and remove the underlying cause of the scabs. This might involve changing the cat’s diet, treating for parasites, or eliminating allergens from the environment.
Topical Treatments: Depending on the cause, your vet may prescribe topical ointments, creams, or sprays to help soothe the skin, reduce inflammation, and promote healing.
Antibiotics or Antifungals: If an infection is present, your vet may prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medications.
Steroids or Antihistamines: For allergies, your vet may recommend steroids or antihistamines to reduce itching and inflammation.
Prevent Scratching: It’s essential to prevent your cat from scratching the affected area, as this can delay healing and increase the risk of infection. Using an Elizabethan collar or other protective gear may be necessary.
When it comes to black spots in a cat’s mouth, lentigo simplex is often the most common cause, particularly in orange or ginger-colored cats. These harmless freckles are a natural occurrence due to an increase in melanin-producing cells and do not pose any risk to your cat’s health. They typically appear in younger cats and can increase in number and size as the cat ages.
It is important to note that these spots are entirely benign and do not require any specific treatment. However, it is always a good idea to have your veterinarian check any new or changing spots to ensure they are indeed lentigo and not a sign of a more serious condition.
There are other potential causes of black spots in a cat’s mouth as well, including feline acne, tartar build-up, and fleas. Feline acne, which often appears on a cat’s chin, can sometimes spread to the mouth. Regular grooming and cleaning can help prevent this. Tartar build-up is another common cause, which can be managed with regular brushing and dental check-ups. Fleas might also be a culprit, as the waste they leave behind (called flea dirt) can accumulate around your cat’s mouth and appear as black spots.
More serious issues, like oral melanoma (a type of cancer) and scabs from allergies, infections, or injuries, can also cause black spots. Oral melanoma is rare but can be aggressive, so if your vet suspects this, they may recommend further tests. Scabs, on the other hand, may appear due to various factors, and your vet will help figure out the cause and appropriate treatment.