Cats, just like humans, can develop skin cancer through the sun’s harmful UV rays, yet most pet owners do not consider the risk of sunburn during the summer months. It is important that you know how to protect your pet while they’re having fun in the sun and know how to keep them safe in the summer, along with keeping them hydrated!
Which cats are at risk?
Cats that have dense fur coats will receive some natural protection from the sun’s rays, but the risk increases in cats with white hair and light skin. Most cats have areas of the body where their fur is thin or missing and it is in these places where the risk of sunburn increases.
The tips of the ears, nose, and tummy are particularly vulnerable areas due to their lack of fur and by the time you notice these areas looking red, there will have already been sun damage.
If you have an indoor cat, don’t think that they are completely free from risk as many enjoy lying along window sills sunning themselves and soaking in the dangerous UV rays.
How serious is sunburn in cats?
Sunburn on a cat can be very uncomfortable and even painful but it is the fact it can lead to more serious health conditions that is most concerning. Solar dermatitis is a progressive skin disease caused by sun damage that can lead to a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
SCC usually starts on the tips of the ears or nose with crusty patches that look a bit like scabs. Treatment for SCC depends on where and how big the cancer is but is likely to include surgery and/or radiotherapy.
For outdoor cats that are mostly covered in white fur, or who have pink or very light-coloured skin, it is a good idea for them to be kept out of the sun during the hottest part of the day. Cats tend to be sun worshippers so don’t expect to find them sensibly lazing in the shade. It might seem unfair but if you can’t influence where your cat relaxes outside, the safest option is for them to be kept indoors between 10am and 4pm.
If your cat does go out on sunny days, it is important to protect the most vulnerable bits of them from sun exposure by applying sunscreen that is at least factor 30. Ensure you buy a brand of sunscreen that has been designed specifically for cats as many of the ingredients in human sunscreen are toxic to cats. As cats are continually grooming themselves by licking, it is very important that you use a cat-safe formulation. Even products that are marketed as safe for dogs could be toxic to cats if ingested.
While indoor cats are at lower risk of solar dermatitis, if your pet spends all day sunbathing against the window it is a good idea to get some UV-blocking film for your windows. This way, your cat can still enjoy the light coming in through the window, but the harmful UV rays will be filtered out.
How to apply sunscreen to your cat
Cats are not always the most cooperative when it comes to administering medicines or lotions, so patience will be required. Before you use any sunscreen on your cat, it is advisable to test it on a small patch of their skin first in case of skin irritation. Apply a small amount to one area of your cat – preferably somewhere that is not going to be easy for them to lick – and keep an eye on it for 24 hours for any sign of irritation. If all clear, you can start using it on your cat during sunny days.
Very gently apply a thin layer of sunscreen to your cat’s nose, and front and back of their ears, being careful not to get any in their eyes. They may also need some on their tummy or on any areas where the fur is thin or patchy. Once you have applied the sunscreen, it is a good idea to give your pet a treat or play with them as a distraction. This will allow for the sunscreen to soak in without them being tempted to start licking it off.
Make sure to be a responsible cat owner!
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