Cats can often be found sprawled out, relaxing in the warmth of the sunshine. But just as parents are cautious with their children and take extra measures to prevent sunburn, we too should be wary of the effects that the sun’s rays can have on cats. Any cat can be at risk of sunburn, however, cats with white, thin or no hair are particularly at risk and can suffer from severe sunburn due to the nature of their skin. As with humans, repeated sun exposure and episodes of sunburn can lead to sore and damaged skin, which in turn can lead to skin cancer.
Should I use sunscreen on my cat?
For those cats most at risk, the answer is yes. Applying sunscreen to vulnerable areas will offer protection and will help prevent serious sun damage. When making a selection of the product that you would like to use for your cat’s protection, we would recommend that you follow these suggested guidelines:
- Only ever use sunscreen that is specifically for pets. Cats, in particular, can be more sensitive to products so it is the safest option to use one which states it can be used on cats. Check the product labelling to ensure it states that it is appropriate and safe for cats. (If you are uncertain about a product, contact the manufacturer for more information or your vet for more guidance).
- If you are using a new product that you haven’t already tried, then it would be worth monitoring your cat to check for any reactions. You could test a small amount on an area of skin and check for any redness or irritation. If they lick any of the product off they could react negatively so if your cat starts vomiting or has diarrhoea, then you should contact your vet and mention the use of this product. (Using a product designed for cats should be safe and prevent these reactions from occurring).
- When applying sunscreen to your cat, focus on your cat’s nose, tips of the ears, belly and groin areas as well as anywhere that has thin to no fur. If you are concerned about applying the sunscreen to your cat, we have some handling videos that you may find helpful on our YouTube channel. It can help to apply and then distract your cat with a treat or play to allow the product to be absorbed without being groomed away.
- If you would prefer not to put anything on your cat at all, then restricting its access to the outdoors during the hottest part of the day when UV-rays are at their highest may be advisable. This is particularly advisable for white-haired cats and should be most especially considered in very hot climates.
If your cat looks like it has suffered from severe sunburn, for example, if its skin is visibly red and irritated, then you should contact your vet immediately. Severe sunburn will be extremely uncomfortable for your cat, and when combined with heat exhaustion and dehydration, can be fatal.
Cats with white hair are also at risk of developing skin cancers, normally around the ears and nose, where the hair is thin or non-existent. Look out for any scabs or non-healing wounds in these areas, as this could be a sign of squamous cell carcinoma. This is a common skin cancer, which left untreated can be painful and possibly fatal. If you have any concerns you should seek veterinary attention.