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Can Cats Get a Sunburn?

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Cats love to spend time in the great outdoors. Spring, summer, winter, or fall, our favourite furry felines like to while away their hours in the sun or out on the prowl to keep our homes varmint-free. Though most cats possess a healthy covering of fur to protect against excess sun exposure, there are delicate areas on a cat’s body that are free from hair, making them more susceptible to sunburn. Can cats a get a sunburn? If so, what can we do to help prevent it?

The Danger of Sunburn for Cats

Cats, like humans, must be careful when out in the sun as their skin can easily become sunburned. Sunburn is an unpleasant result of time spent outdoors in the sun; however, a more serious condition can occur in cats who regularly experience prolonged exposure to the sun’s rays. This condition is known as solar dermatitis and is a form of a skin condition brought on by repeat and excess exposure to the sun.

Whether or not a cat will be plagued by solar dermatitis is often dependent upon the cat’s genetics, breed, and type of coat. However, when cats experience too much sun, the effects can be long term, leading to reoccurring health conditions.

Though sunburn itself typically fades within a few days to a week, solar dermatitis is a skin condition that continues to develop. Over time, this condition has the potential to lead to skin cancer which may result in such malignant tumours as squamous cell carcinoma.

What are the Symptoms of Solar Dermatitis?

In the early stages of solar dermatitis, the skin looks irritated and may appear scaly and brightly hued. As the disease progresses, the skin begins to break open, leaving behind craters of open sores which eventually crust over. But it is not simply the condition of the skin that alerts owners their cat may have a problem with their skin, another common symptom of solar dermatitis is the shaking of the head coupled with constant scratching of the patches of raw, red skin.

The most common areas affected by solar dermatitis are a cat’s ears and facial skin. Most typically, the condition surfaces on the nose and the tips of the ears first as these areas have little protection from hair. Other areas often affected included the eyelids, eye rims, and lips.

What Breeds are Most Often Affected by Solar Dermatitis?

Though all cats possess the ability to be affected by solar dermatitis, there are some breeds which are more susceptible to it than others. Most often, cats with little pigment to their fur colour are the ones who most commonly succumb to the disease with white cats or those with light coloured fur topping the list of potentially affected candidates.

But it is not simply breed or coat colour that predisposes a cat to this condition. Outdoor cats are far more likely to contract this illness than felines who spend the majority of their lives indoors. `1

How Can I Keep My Cat from Being Affected by Sunburn or Solar Dermatitis?

The best means to keep your cat from contracting sunburn or solar dermatitis centers on prevention. Since the sun is at its hottest during certain peak hours of the day, it is important to restrict outdoor time to areas outside these hours. Experts agree that the hours of 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. is the danger zone to be avoided.

Unfortunately, for outdoor cats, it is a little more challenging since they spend their entire lives enjoying the world at large. To ensure outdoor cats have the protection they need, it is vital to provide spots with excellent shade cover where they can retreat from the heat of the day.

Though indoor cats are not at such a high risk for sunburn or solar dermatitis, they do experience a large amount of UVA and UVB rays even within their home environment. Sunlight filters through the windows of a home potentially causing sun damage to a cat’s sensitive skin. To help combat this, it is a good idea to install curtains which can help block harmful rays.

Is There a Cat Sunscreen I Can Buy to Prevent Sunburn and Solar Dermatitis?

There are many different pet-friendly sunscreens on the market today; however, most of them are not formulated to be suitable for use with cats. Unfortunately, many of the necessary ingredients for an effective sunscreen are toxic to cats including zinc, salicylates, and propylene glycol. To add to the danger of sunscreen use and cats is the fact the once the lotion or spray is applied, cats automatically begin to groom themselves, licking off the material applied to help prevent sunburn or other sun-related skin conditions. This renders the sunscreen ineffective and harms the cat’s health through ingestion of toxic substances.

What Can I Do if My Cat Gets a Sunburn or Solar Dermatitis?

For cats experiencing a sunburn, it is important to ensure the cat does not continue to irritate the skin through more exposure to the sun. To prevent this, keep the cat indoors until the skin begins to heal. Cold, damp washcloths can help soothe the skin, and aloe vera gel can also be applied topically to reduce any associated pain. Though cats may attempt to lick off the aloe vera, it is not toxic if ingested.

For felines who have the misfortune of developing skin cancer as a result of solar dermatitis, the best course of action is surgery to remove any tumours. There are other treatment options, but they are typically not as effective and may lead to a reoccurrence of the skin cancer.

Can cats get a sunburn? They can and often do. But sunburn doesn’t have to happen to the favorite furry feline in your life! Follow our top tips to keep your kitty having fun in the sun all summer long. 

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