Skin Turning Black (Hyperpigmentation) in Cats

Key takeaways

When a cat develops patches of dark skin, referred to as hyperpigmentation.

  • Cats may develop dark or black areas on their skin due to chronic irritation, hormonal changes, prolonged UV exposure, certain cancers, or as a result of a genetic condition
  • A dark skin spot may be cosmetic or associated with severe disease, so veterinary attention is warranted for any feline skin changes
  • Commonly associated symptoms include skin lumps, itchiness, rash, and hair loss
  • Diagnostics may include skin scrapes, cytology, skin culture, blood work and biopsy
  • In some cases dark skin is purely a cosmetic issue and no treatment is needed
  • Depending on the underlying condition, certain medications, surgery, or cancer treatment may be recommended
  • Hyperpigmentation can fade once the underlying condition is successfully treated, but in other cases can persist
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A closer look: Skin Turning Black (Hyperpigmentation) in Cats

Skin darkens as a result of increased pigment (melanin). Melanin levels increase most commonly in response to any itchy or irritating skin condition that produces inflammation.

Areas of increased pigmentation have widely varying characteristics:

  • How quickly they appear
  • If they grow or spread
  • Single vs. multiple
  • Localized to one spot
  • Generalized across large areas of the body
  • Itchy or not
  • Solitary finding vs. present with other symptoms
  • Texture
  • Raised or flat

The location of the affected skin may suggest the underlying cause.

For example:

  • Skin changes from food allergies show up most commonly on the ears and face, armpits, belly, legs, and paws
  • Hyperpigmentation from hormonal disorders usually appears in a symmetrical pattern on the trunk or flanks and is not itchy
  • Lentigines most commonly develop on the lips, nose, or face

Skin changes alone are not an emergency, but veterinary review during routine check-ups is recommended. Skin changes are accompanied by other symptoms like itching, changes in thirst or urination, or unexplained changes in appetite or weight warrant prompt veterinary attention.

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Possible causes

Melanin levels increase in response to any itchy or irritating skin condition that produces inflammation.

Some cats develop very dark “freckles” on their faces or lips. These small, well-defined spots are called lentigines and are a genetic condition most commonly seen in ginger cats.

A dark skin spot may also be cancerous, so veterinary attention is warranted for any feline skin changes.

Less commonly, hormonal disorders like Cushing syndrome lead to non-itchy, symmetrical areas of darker skin, often on the flanks or trunk.

Risk factors

Cats with FeLV and lymphoma are predisposed to developing areas of darker skin.

Skin changes are not usually an emergency but can be associated with serious underlying conditions. Any skin changes in cats warrant non-urgent veterinary investigation. Skin changes seen with other symptoms warrant prompt veterinary attention.

Testing and diagnosis

If warranted, investigation of dark spots or patches on a cat’s skin usually starts with:

  • Full history
  • Physical exam
  • Skin scrape
  • Bacterial and/or fungal culture
  • Microscopic examination of skin cells and any other debris on the skin surface (cytology)

Additional testing may include:

  • Blood work
  • Biopsy

Potential treatments depend on the underlying cause. Examples include:

  • Benign neglect
  • Oral or topical medications
  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy/radiation therapy

Similar symptoms

Associated symptoms

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