I have noticed recently a surge in people reading up on sunburn and heat stroke in cats. As the warm weather hits, cats are at increased risk of developing both conditions. Heat stroke is an immediately life-threatening disorder which needs urgent veterinary attention, sunburn can be life-threatening as it has the potential to develop into squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.
Light coloured cats, especially white and cats with white patches are particularly vulnerable to sunburn due to their lack of pigmentation. Fur acts as a protective barrier over most of the body, but areas with thin or sparse fur are at increased risk. Vulnerable areas include the ears, nose, inside the rear legs, abdomen, any bald patches are at risk.
Symptoms of sunburn include the following:
- Redness along the ear margins
- Hair loss
- Scaling and thickening over time
Prevention is better than cure, it is vital that pet owners take the necessary steps to keep their cats safe from sunburn. This can be done in a number of ways.
Provide shady spots in an enclosure or outside. Shade can be created in many ways such as providing your cat with a dog kennel to lie in or planting tall, cat-friendly plants which can offer shade.
Even indoor cats can burn if they have a tendency to lie in front of windows. If this is the case, try to encourage them to watch the world from less sunny windows. For example, place a cat tree or their bed close to a south facing window (if in the Southern Hemisphere) or a north facing window (if in the Northern Hemisphere). Close blinds during the day on windows which get a lot of sunlight streaming in. An added bonus is your house will be cooler too.
If the above suggestions aren’t possible, apply a UV filter film to your windows. These block out up to 98% of harmful rays.
Apply a high factor, waterproof sunblock to vulnerable areas such as the nose and ears. It should protect against UVA and UVB and at least SPF15, the higher the number, the better. Never use sunscreen which contains zinc oxide or salicylates (octyl salicylate) which are toxic to cats. Remember, anything you apply to your cat’s fur and skin can be ingested when the cat grooms. Look for brands which contain titanium dioxide as a safe alternative to zinc oxide. Dr Zoo is safe to use on cats.
Avoid the hottest part of the day:
- Keep your cat out of the sun between 10 am – 4 pm, which is the hottest part of the day.
- It is still possible to get sunburn on an overcast day, and it is still important to keep cats indoors during the hottest part of the day.
- Don’t forget to provide your cat with plenty of fresh water.