My white cat likes to sleep in the sun. Sometimes her ears and nose look red after she’s spent time in a sunny spot. Should I be worried?
White cats (or cats with white ears or faces) are susceptible to sunburn, due to the lack of melanin and protective hair in these areas. Repeated UVB exposure causes solar dermatitis, a condition commonly seen in sunny climates such as those of California, Florida, Hawaii, and Australia.
In the early stages, redness and fine scaling on the ear margins are noted, followed by hair loss in this area. The hair loss then makes the area more accessible to solar radiation. With repeated exposure, the skin lesions become more severe, with worsening redness, peeling skin, and crusts on the ears. The ears may become itchy, painful, or curl on the margins. Actinic keratoses or a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma eventually can develop.
Prevention is the best medicine for these cats. Be sure to avoiding sun exposure by keeping cats indoors during the hours of most intense sun (typically 10 am to 3 pm) and not allowing them to sunbathe by open doors or windows. Sunscreen can be applied to increase protection or in cats who can’t be kept out of the sun. Ideally, use a sunscreen that is labelled for use in cats, as human products may contain compounds that could be toxic if ingested.
Cats with early skin lesions may respond to treatment with beta-carotene, and your veterinarian may recommend a biopsy to determine if cancer is present. The best treatment option for squamous cell carcinoma is surgical amputation of the affected area. For cats with lesions in more difficult areas, such as the nose or eyelids, topical treatments such as Aldara or localized radiation therapy may be beneficial.