With the summer weather here again, your kitty might be taking full advantage of the sunshine. Longer days mean there’s more time to lie in the sunny spots next to the window. But is it safe to let your cat lie in the sun all day?
Hopefully it doesn’t surprise you to know that cats can suffer from sunburns and, in some cases, can develop skin cancer from sun exposure. Some cats have even lost ears or needed amputations due to sun damage.
So before you let your cat lie in the sun all day, talk to your veterinarian about sun protection and limitations on exposure. You can get sunscreen for cats, but don’t forget to talk about it with your vet first.
Here are a few things you should know about cats lying in the sun.
Which Cats Can Get Sunburns?
Almost any cat can get a sunburn with enough exposure, and places where fur coverage is minimal, such as the ears and nose, are more likely to get sunburned. Some cats are more prone to sun damage than others.
White cats — or cats with white ears or faces — are particularly susceptible to sunburn due to the lack of melanin and protective hair on sensitive areas of the body.
Obviously, the more time a cat spends in the sun, the more likely they are to suffer from sunburns. Cats who like to lie in sunny spots all day are more at risk for this reason.
Cats don’t necessarily realize when the sun is harming them, so don’t rely on your cat to know when enough sun is enough.
What Does Sun Damage Look Like?
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 appear, 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 crust 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 can eventually develop.
Prevention Is Key
Prevention is the best medicine for cats to avoid sun damage.
Be sure to avoid too much sun exposure by keeping cats indoors during the hours of most intense sun — typically 10am to 3pm — and not allowing them to sunbathe by open doors or windows for long during those hours.
Sunscreen can be applied to increase protection, especially for 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.
Be sure to apply sunscreen to particularly sensitive areas like the nose and ears. You should ask your veterinarian for further advice on how to apply sunscreen and limit exposure for your cat.
Treatment For Sun Damaged Skin
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. Topical treatments such as Aldara or localized radiation therapy may benefit cats with lesions in more difficult areas, such as the nose or eyelids.
Do you protect your cat from the sun in summer? What other tips do you have for keeping cats safe? Let us know in the comments below!