cat nose discoloration
Cat Health and Wellness

What Causes a Cat’s Nose to Change Color?

Most cats have a very pink, healthy-looking nose, so it can be concerning if their nose suddenly changes color. Whether your cat’s nose has changed from pink to white, or pink to black, you’ll want to find out why this is happening.

Temperature, exercise, and emotional stress can all cause temporary changes to the color of your cat’s nose because they directly impact blood pressure. Permanent changes can be caused by too much sun exposure, vitiligo, and aging. Life-threatening conditions can also cause changes, but you’d usually see additional symptoms such as scabbing, crusting, or hair loss.

Because nose changes can be influenced by several factors, it can be difficult to determine exactly what is causing your cat’s nose to change color. Although aging is sometimes to blame, color alterations can also be caused by preventable factors such as sun exposure. A sun-damaged nose can quite quickly progress to skin cancer if no action is taken.

Reasons Why Your Cat’s Nose Can Change Color

The color and texture of our skin changes throughout our lifetime, and cats are no different. The fur around your cat’s nose is very thin so color/texture changes are usually quite noticeable. But what actually causes a cat’s nose to change color?

  • A Change in Body Temperature – The blood vessels in your cat’s nose dilate or shrink depending on how warm or cool they feel. This can impact the color of the nose.
  • An Elevated Heart Rate – Similarly, an elevated heart rate can temporarily alter the color of your cat’s nose because it increases blood flow. An elevated heart rate could be caused by exercise or stress.
  • Aging – A condition called lentigo simplex can cause dark spots (freckles) to develop on the nose. This condition is common in ginger kitties.
  • Anemia – An insufficient blood count can cause the nose to become very pale.
  • Solar Dermatitis (Potentially Leading to Cancer) – In the same way that humans tan/burn from sun exposure, cats can incur sun damage to their skin and fur – particularly around their nose and ears.
  • Leukotrichia (Including Vitiligo) – This can cause depigmentation (i.e., color loss). It is quite rare in cats.
  • Pemphigus Complex – This is a rare, autoimmune disease that can cause changes to the cat’s nose, ears, and paws. Alongside color changes, there is likely to be crusting and scabbing.
  • Nasal Dermatoses – This is an umbrella term for a list of conditions that can affect the cat’s nose. Nasal dermatoses can be caused by many different factors, as we’ll explore. Nasal dermatoses can cause color changes but, more significantly, it causes symptoms such as scratching, weeping, crusting, and hair loss.

Color changes can sometimes hint at an underlying health problem, but often, color changes are a response to environmental stimuli or a natural part of the aging process. So, how can you determine if your cat’s nose is anything to worry about?

cat nose changes from pink to white

Why Is My Cat’s Nose White?

Most cats have a very pink nose, so it can be concerning if the tip of the nose suddenly turns a ghostly white. It can also be worrying if the fur on the bridge of the nose turns white. A temporary loss of color is usually nothing to worry about, but a permanently whitened nose may require further investigation.

Here are some common reasons why a cat’s nose may turn white:

  • A Change in Temperature – The tip of your cat’s nose may change from a pinky-brown to an icy white when it’s cold outside. This is caused by changes to the blood vessels at the tip of the nose. A Siamese cat’s ‘points’ (i.e., the fur on the bridge of their nose, ears, paws, and tail) tend to become much darker during the winter months and lighter during the summer months.
  • Reduced Activity – If your cat is more active than usual, this will temporarily boost blood flow to the nose. Similarly, if your cat is lazing around all day when they’re usually quite active, this could cause their nose to appear paler.
  • Anemia – If the tip of your cat’s nose turns white and stays that way – despite being inside a warm home – this could indicate anemia.
  • Leukotrichia (including vitiligo) -This is a rare autoimmune condition that stops cats from making enough pigment (color) for their fur. If your cat develops leukotrichia, white patches may start to emerge on their forehead or the bridge of their nose (and then continue throughout the body).

It’s natural for your cat’s nose to change color if it’s colder outside or if they’re moving around less, so don’t be alarmed by temporary changes to your cat’s nose. However, if the tip of the nose stays white indefinitely, check to see if your cat is suffering from anemia.

Is My Cat Anemic?

If your cat has a lower than normal blood count, they may be diagnosed with anemia. Since a healthy blood count is vital for so many bodily functions, you’d usually spot some additional symptoms alongside a pale nose.

These include:

  • Very pale gums (It’s possible for some ginger cats to have a pale nose and pale gums, but these features remain the same throughout their life)
  • No energy
  • Raised pulse
  • No appetite or going ‘off’ certain foods they previously enjoyed
  • Weight loss
  • Black stools

In most cases, anemia is caused by a flea infestation, bacterial infection, kidney disease or an adverse reaction to medicine.

If you suspect anemia, your vet will be able to diagnose this with a blood test. If necessary, poorly cats can be provided with a blood transfusion and targeted treatment for the underlying issue.

Does My Cat Have Leukotrichia?

If your cat has lost some pigment (color) from their fur, it could be due to a condition called Leukotrichia. Leukotrichia means “white hair.” This condition is poorly understood by scientists, but the immune system is known to play a crucial role. Perhaps the most common form of leukotrichia is a condition called vitiligo.

Cats who have vitiligo start to produce antibodies that disrupt the pigmentation process. As such, patches of the fur will have no pigment (color). In cats, vitiligo often starts on the bridge of the nose and gradually moves throughout the body forming a snowflake pattern in their fur. Cats with this condition are particularly beautiful and valued for their rarity.

Have you noticed any white patches around your cat’s eyes? If so, this could be another type of leukotrichia called periocular leukotrichia. The condition seems to occur in female cats after they’ve given birth or recovered from illness.

So, what causes leukotrichia, and is it something to be concerned about? This condition is not life-threatening and is often caused by genetic factors (such as an inherited autoimmune disorder). It is thought this condition is sometimes triggered by pregnancy, a virus, emotional stress or very unsatisfactory living conditions. As such, it’s important to make sure any stressors have been eliminated from your cat’s environment.

Why is My Cat’s Nose Turning Brown?

We’ve covered the reasons why your cat’s nose might be losing color but what if your cat’s nose is getting darker? Brown pigmentation on the nose can sometimes be a cause for concern.

Here are some reasons why darker pigments can develop:

  • Increased Blood Flow – Is the tip of your cat’s nose turning a pinky-brown color? If so, this is probably caused by increased blood flow. As mentioned changes in temperature, activity levels, or stress could be causing this.
  • Nasal Dermatoses – If the bridge of your cat’s nose has taken on a ruddy, brown color, this could be a sign of nasal dermatoses. Nasal dermatoses can be caused by viruses, infections, or allergies (further information below). If your cat is suffering from this condition, you’ll usually see additional symptoms such as peeling, crusting, weeping, and scratching.
  • Sun Damage – Sun exposure can lead to a condition called solar keratosis (or actinic dermatosis). If there are patches of red/brown crusty fur on the bridge of your cat’s nose (and perhaps some hair loss), this could indicate sun damage.

As you can see, a darkened nose can be a cause for concern but usually only when accompanied by additional symptoms such as crusting and hair loss.  Let’s explore the issue of sun exposure in a little more detail.

Has Sun Exposure Damaged My Cat’s Nose?

Although cats are covered in fur, they are not immune to sun damage, especially if they spend long days basking in the sun. Cat’s catch most of the rays on their bellies, the tips of their ears and their noses. Indeed, sun damage often occurs on the nose and ears because hair is very sparse in these areas. White and ginger cats are particularly susceptible to sun damage.

According to the Veterinary Clinics Journal, the first signs of solar keratosis are dark brown marks on the fur (perhaps on the bridge of the nose). If these marks are due to sun damage, the dark brown marks will usually develop into the following:

  • Crusting
  • Skin erosion
  • Scaling of the skin
  • Alopecia (hair loss)
  • Hyperkeratotic plaques (thickening of the skin)

Can Cat’s Get Skin Cancer?

Although cats are covered in fur, their fur doesn’t provide full protection against harmful UVA and UVB radiation. As mentioned, the weak spots are mostly on the face, where the fur can be particularly sparse.

If your cat continues to bask in the sun after developing solar keratosis, they may develop squamous cell carcinoma or another type of cancer. Cancerous lesions almost always occur on the face (nose, eyelids, cheeks, ears or forehead).

If you notice any new lumps or bumps on your cat’s face, it is advisable to get these checked immediately. According to the Veterinary Clinics journal, cancerous lesions often wax and wane in size – appearing to heal but then coming back several months later. As such, some owners mistake them for a small cut or bump.

why is my cat's nose turning brown?

So, how can you stop your cat from getting skin cancer? According to the Blue Cross, you should:

  • Try to keep your cat out of the sun during the hottest part of the day (i.e., 10 am – 3 pm in most countries). This includes keeping them away from the windows. This becomes especially important if you live in a country where the UV index regularly climbs above 5.
  • If your cat loves to be outside, apply feline sun cream on hot days.
  • If your cat has signs of solar keratosis, you should apply feline sun cream every time the UV index rises above 2 or keep them inside during daytime hours.
  • If you have a white-haired cat, you should apply feline sun cream every time the UV index rises above 2 or preferably keep your cat inside during daytime hours. White-haired cats are 13 times more likely to develop skin cancer, so it’s vital to limit their sun exposure.

If you’re concerned about a lesion on your cat’s face, your vet can diagnose cancer with a biopsy. If caught early, the outcome for cats with skin cancer is generally good.

Why Is My Cat’s Nose Turning Black?

We’ve covered the reasons why a cat’s nose might turn pale or brown, but what if your cat’s nose has turned black? Once again, several factors could be to blame – some harmless and some life-threatening. These include:

  • Lentigo Simplex – If black spots (freckles) have appeared on the bridge or base of your cat’s nose, this could be due to the natural aging process. Lentigo simplex is most common in ginger cats, but it can occur in other breeds, too. Lentigo simplex can affect the gums.
  • Change in Temperature – As mentioned, a Siamese cat’s ‘points’ (ears, bridge of their nose, tail, paws) can get much darker if their body is cold.
  • Sun Damage/Cancer – Solar keratosis often causes ruddy brown markings on the fur, but these can sometimes appear black.
  • Pemphigus Complex –This immune disorder is very rare. Symptoms include black crusts on the nose, nailbed, and ears, as well as hair loss and skin damage. The average age for developing this condition is five years old. If there’s a black crust on your cat’s nose, it is vital to see a vet immediately.
  • Nasal Dermatoses – This is an umbrella term for a variety of infections (bacterial and fungal), viruses, and allergens that can cause damage to the cat’s nose. Cats with this condition often develop dark patches on their nose, along with many other symptoms (see below).

As you can see, a variety of conditions can cause your cat’s nose to turn very dark. Nasal dermatoses refer to several different conditions so let’s explore these in a bit more detail.

What Are the Symptoms of Nasal Dermatoses?

Nasal dermatoses is a very unpleasant condition, so you’d notice additional symptoms alongside color changes. These symptoms include:

  • Crusting
  • A dark ring around the cat’s nose
  • Pus-filled sacs/weeping
  • Ulcers
  • Feline acne
  • Thickened patches of skin
  • Hair loss
  • Scratching
  • Scarring
  • Reduced activity and appetite
  • Weight loss

Depending on what’s causing the nasal issues, these symptoms may spread to other parts of the face and body. There would not be enough space to list all the conditions that can cause nasal dermatoses, but these are the most common causes:

  • Viruses – Particularly Feline Herpes Virus (FHV), Feline Pox Virus (FPV), and Feline Leukemia Virus Infection (FeLV). These viruses are common in the feral population so try to limit your cat’s interaction with feral cats.
  • Fungal Infections – These often cause feline acne.
  • Bacterial Infections – If your cat develops a wound (perhaps through fighting or hunting), they will be more susceptible to bacterial infections until the wound heals. A weakened immune system will also make cats more susceptible to bacterial infections. It is worth noting that taurine deficiency can lead to a weakened immune system. Taurine is found in whole meat products and conventional cat foods, so cats who are frequently fed homecooked leftovers could develop a deficiency.
  • Parasites – Certain parasites can cause skin scaling, hair loss, and color changes to the fur.
  • Allergies or Contact Dermatitis – Cats can develop an allergy to food, even later in life. Moreover, some cats are allergic to plastic food bowls, so stainless-steel bowls are usually the best option. Stainless steel bowls are also easier to keep clean so may limit the spread of bacterial and fungal infections.

Once your vet has got to grips with what’s causing the nasal skin problem, most of these conditions are very simple to treat. So, whether your cat’s nose has got darker or lighter, ask yourself:

  • Is the color change just temporary?
  • Are there any additional symptoms (I.e., peeling, scabbing, hair loss, pale gums)?

Temporary color changes or color changes without additional symptoms are rarely a cause for concern. If you do notice additional symptoms such as peeling, scabbing, weeping, and crusting, it’s best to consult your vet for advice.