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Can Cats Get Sunburns? What You Need to Know!

cat is sleeping while basking in the sun heat

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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We’re conditioned to slather the sunscreen on ourselves before going outside on a hot summer day. It’s not second nature for most people to worry about how the sun affects their animals. Are animals, specifically cats, susceptible to sunburns? Yes! While it is rare, all cats can get sunburns.

Keep reading to learn everything there is to know about cats and sun safety.

divider-catDo Cats Get Sunburns?

Yes, all cats are capable of getting sunburns. The tricky thing is that it can be hard to diagnose in cats as the signs are rather subtle.

Sunburns will often start as a redness and skin irritation. Their skin may feel warm to the touch as well. Your kitty might have some irritation around its ears and nose in the form of redness or scaliness. These areas of your cats’ bodies are sensitive and hairless, making them much more vulnerable to the sun’s rays.

If your kitty was outside long enough to get a sunburn, they might also be at risk of heat exhaustion and dehydration. These conditions can make your pet very sick very fast, so it’s best to seek medical attention if you believe they may be at risk.

Are All Cats at Risk of Sunburns?

European Shorthair Cat in Sunset
Image Credit: utroja0, Pixabay

Yes, any cat can get a sunburn, but the risk can be much higher in cats with certain fur types or coloring.

Cats with white hair, thin hair, or none at all seem to be more susceptible to burns. These cats tend to have more sensitive skin, which is more prone to damage from the sun. Even cats with white patches of fur seem to be more at risk.

Cats’ paw pads (toe beans) can also get burns from touching hot surfaces such as cement that has been in the sunshine all day long. Cats with pink paw pads are more susceptible.

Kitties who like sprawling out on their backs in the warm sunshine may get burns on their tummies or in their groin area since these areas have thinner patches of hair.

Are There Risks of Sun Exposure in Cats?

It’s common knowledge that the more time humans spend in the sun, the more likely it will be to get skin cancer. The same “too much of a good thing” rule applies to cats.

The energy in the sun’s rays can cause your cat’s skin cells to start changing and lead to a disease called solar dermatitis.

Solar dermatitis is a progressive disease that can eventually cause feline skin cancer. It most commonly affects the ears and nose of your cat, causing scaly and dry patches. Your kitty will find these quite uncomfortable and itchy. As the disease continues to progress, ulcers may form and start bleeding.

Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that doesn’t present as a bump or lump. It most often looks like a skin lesion that refuses to heal. If it does not get treatment, this cancer can start eating away at your cats’ healthy tissues.

Not every kitty who gets solar dermatitis will develop skin cancer.

How Can I Prevent Sunburns in My Cats?

a tabby cat sitting on a hammock by the window at home
Image Credit: Saman Tsang, Unsplash

The easiest way to ensure your kitty doesn’t get a sunburn is to keep him indoors or out of the sun during the peak sunlight hours of the day. This is usually between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm. If he absolutely must be outside, make sure your yard has several cozy shady spots he can go hang out in when he needs to retreat from the heat.

Don’t be fooled into a false sense of security if your kitties are indoor-only pets. Your window sunbathers can get sunburned through the window. You might want to close the blinds if you know your cat likes to take a long afternoon snooze in the direct sunlight. Cats aren’t dumb, though, and many will figure out how to maneuver the blinds so they can get that sweet sunshine on their skin. If this is the case with your pets, you might consider installing UV-blocking film onto your windows. The light will still come through, but some of those harmful rays can be filtered out.

Some companies do make sunscreen for pets, but it is difficult to put on. Many cats will get to work grooming it off of themselves the second they have a chance which can become quite dangerous as the ingredients in these sunscreen formulas are not meant to be ingested.

How Do I Treat Cat Sunburn?

A sunburned kitty may be in a lot of pain and, in severe cases, dehydrated or at risk of heat exhaustion. If your cat is displaying any concerning behavior after spending time in the sun, you should make an appointment to see your vet as soon as possible. Your cat might need IV therapy to reverse and prevent further dehydration or cold compresses to help relieve them of some of their sunburn-related pain.

Your vet might even prescribe medication to help combat the inflammation and promote wound healing in severe cases.

divider-catFinal Thoughts

While sunburn is something that can affect your cats, it doesn’t mean your kitty has to say good-bye to his afternoon sunbathing sessions. Try keeping him indoors a few days per week during those peak sunshine hours or closing the blinds during those same hours if he’s a window sunbather.


Featured Image Credit: qimono, Pixabay

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