Sunburn in cats

Believe it or not, just like people, cats are susceptible to sunburn. There is pretty much nothing that cats enjoy more than lying sprawled out in a warm patch of sunlight. However, whilst lazing in the sun may look safe (and feel really good!), it is not without its dangers. The energy in the sun’s rays can lead to changes in the skin cells causing a disease in cats called solar dermatitis. Solar dermatitis is a progressive skin disease. This can eventually lead to cat skin cancer in the form of malignant tumours called squamous cell carcinomas.

Which cats are at risk?

White cats or cats that have white ears and pink noses, appear to be most commonly affected. Also, cats that tend to be outside during day light hours are going to be at greater risk than those adopting more nocturnal habits, who may choose to sleep indoors out of the sun, during the day.

Early stages

Solar dermatitis tends to most commonly affect the ears and the nose. In the initial stages, you may notice these areas become dry, scaly or scabby. You may notice that your cat obviously finds these areas itchy and won’t stop scratching them. As the disease develops, ulcers may form which bleed, and the lesion looks as if is it eroding the normal skin tissue.

Skin cancer

Not all cats with the initial stages of the disease, will develop skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma is a form of tumour, but may not look like a “lump”. It may just appear like a skin lesion that won’t heal. Left untreated, the cancer can eat away the tissue. These cancers do not tend to spread or metastasise. They can be very debilitating and obviously the best results are achieved if the cat is presented early.

Chemotherapy does not work well in this type of cancer, so the mainstay of treatment involves surgical removal and/ or radiotherapy. In any event, if you have a cat that has abnormal skin on its ears or nose, and especially if the fur is white and the skin pink, book a trip to see your vet as soon as possible.

What can be done to avoid sunburn in cats?

This question does not have a simple or easy answer, given the nature of our feline friends! Here are a few tips of how to minimise the risk in your moggy!

  • Sunburn is possible in all cats, but if yours has white ears and a pink nose with white fur, be especially careful.
  • Limit the time they can be outside in the sun, when it is strongest between 10am and 4pm.
  • If your cat is an indoor cat, make sure he does not spend all day asleep in a window, as he will be still be absorbing UV light. You can get UV blocking film to prevent the rays from coming through your windows - if he has a particular favourite!
  • There are sun cream products for pets on the market.  You must make sure they are not toxic if ingested by cats as we know how much they like to groom themselves.

This is still a relatively rare problem, given how many cats are wandering around in the sunshine! So be sensible but don’t deny your cat access to the outdoors and the summer.

If you are concerned your cat may have sunburn, book an appointment with your vet >

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