Sunburn Prevention for Cats Title

Photo Credit: Shannon Badiee via Flickr

The summer sun can be a truly glorious thing, but it can also pack a punch. As a human with an extremely fair skin tone (I say I’m luminous), I know all about getting sunburns. Did you know that your kitty is just as vulnerable to getting sunburns as you or me? They can get sunburns anywhere on their body, but are most likely to get them on their ears and nose where their fur is the thinnest. Cats with white fur on the ears and nose as well as cats with little or no fur are the most susceptible to getting a sunburn. Nobody wants a crispy kitty, so it is important to learn what to look for and how to prevent sunburn.

3 Types of Sunburn in Cats

Sunburn prevention in cats. Manna's BDay Out on the Balcony

Manna out on the balcony

Feline sunburns come in 3 different stages of severity just like human sunburns do (think 1st-degree burns, 2nd-degree burns and 3rd-degree burns). Each stage increases in severity and one can potentially develop into the next. The intensity of the sunlight/heat, as well as length of time exposed and repeat exposure, are all factors in just how severe a burn will be.

The first stage of sunburn in cats  is called a Superficial Partial Thickness Burn. This type of burn affects only the surface layer of skin and can be very mild. All of the hair should still be intact, the skin may be red, and there will be no blisters present.

The second stage of sunburn in cats is called a Deep Partial Thickness Burn. Not only is the surface layer of skin affected in this type of burn, but some of the deeper layers are as well. There may be blistering at this stage, but it is fairly uncommon. It is likely that the skin will be red and there may be some hair loss in the affected area.

The third and worst stage of sunburn in cats is called a Full Thickness Burn. At this stage, the surface layer of skin, all of the subsequent layers of skin, and potentially even tissues beyond the skin are affected. The affected area may appear white or leathery looking.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Repeated overexposure to the sun may also result in the cat developing a life-threatening condition called Squamous Cell Carcinoma. This is a type of skin cancer that tends to appear as small scabby patches (tumors) on the ears, nose, lips or eyelids. When untreated these patches can become ulcerated and may ooze. Ultimately it can spread throughout the body and be fatal.

Should your veterinarian find that your cat has Squamous Cell Carcinoma, there are methods of treatment. Your veterinarian may choose to surgically remove the cancerous cells. Options such as chemotherapy and radiation could also be recommended.

How Sunburns Are Treated

If you suspect that your cat may have a sunburn, contact your veterinarian. It can be difficult to determine the severity of a sunburn on a cat. Do NOT use medications intended for humans on a cat unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian.

Treating a Superficial Partial Thickness Burn will be a fairly simple procedure at your veterinarian’s office. They may shave the sunburned area, clean it with some special cleansers, and use a species appropriate burn cream on the area. Most of the treatment can be done at home. Additional ointments or antibiotics may be necessary if the cat has scratched the area and it has become infected.

For Deep Partial Thickness Burns and Full Thickness Burns things are a lot more complicated. Hospitalization will likely be required. Treatment may include intravenous fluids, daily cleanings and bandage changes, and potentially even skin grafts (if more than 15% of the body was burned).

Preventing A Sunburn

Sunburn prevention in cats. Manna walking on the balcony

Manna Walking in the sun on the balcony

It is a lot easier to prevent your cat from getting a sunburn than it is to treat it afterwards. Try a few of these tips to keep your kitty from becoming a crispy kitty:

  • Keep your cat indoors. If the cat is in your home, you have more control over the sun exposure he/she receives.
  • Provide lots of shade. If your cat must go outside, make sure that they can get away from the sun. Dog houses and other small enclosures don’t count as shade. These structures actually trap heat inside (which is great for winter) and may lead to heatstroke.
  • Limit exposure to the sun to mornings and evenings. The sun is at it’s most intense during the afternoon, which makes the afternoon the most likely time to get burned.
  • Ask your veterinarian about sunscreen options. Since cats groom themselves and may ingest sunscreen, they need a species appropriate version. Do NOT use human sunscreens, especially those containing Zinc Oxide, Octyl Salicylate, Homosalate and Ethylhexyl Salicylate.

Has your pet ever had a sunburn?

Sources & Digging Deeper

Dogs & Cats Can Get Sunburn – Drs Foster & Smith

Protect Your Pets from Getting Sunburned – About.com

White Cats, Sunburned Ears, and Cancer – Dr. Greg Martinez, DVM

Sunburn (solar dermatitis) in Cats – Cat World

Sunburn in Cats – Petplace