Like bikini-clad beach babes, some cats love nothing better than spending the day lazing in the sun. As a result, they can get sunburns that increase their risk for skin cancer. Cats with hypersensitive skin, such as white cats, are especially vulnerable.
Sunburn, or solar dermatitis, is caused by solar radiation. Lying too long in sunny patches, outside and even indoors, can expose your cat to damaging ultraviolet rays. The skin around the edges of cats’ ears and their noses, lips and eyelids are the areas most likely to be affected. Your geographic location even plays a role: Cats in sunnier regions get more sun exposure. Severe sunburns are prone to infection. Even a mild sunburn can become a serious health issue, particularly when your cat continuously scratches at the irritated skin.
Why White Cats Are Vulnerable
Like people with very fair complexions, white cats sunburn easily, especially on areas that have very little fur. White cats have less melanin, a skin pigment that protects against UV rays. Other cats with hypersensitive skin include those with white patches on their heads or faces, those with fine hair, and hairless breeds. The same pigments that color a cat’s fur darken their skin, nose and paw pads. Dark-furred cats usually are less vulnerable to the sun's UV rays.
Don't mistakenly believe sunburns are no big deal, and don't mistake sores and scarring on your cat’s ears and nose the result of a scratch-and-bite fight. Failure to seek prompt treatment could cause unnecessary complications for your cat. Repeated sun damage causes the skin to become crusty, leathery, ulcerated and even deformed. Chronic solar dermatitis can lead to squamous cell carcinoma, which is skin cancer. Sometimes damaged tissue can be removed, but in the case of the eyelids, lips and nose, this might not be an option. Only you and your vet can decide the best treatment options for your pet. The long-term effects of chronic solar dermatitis diminish your cat’s quality of life and can leave a huge dent in your pocketbook.
She'd look great in a wide-brim hat and sunglasses, but it's unlikely you'll get your fair-skinned feline to don them for long. So limit her time outdoors. You can ask your vet to recommend cat-friendly sunscreen to put on your white pet when you do let her out. Even indoors-only cats can get sunburned if they spend too much time in front of a sunny patio door or on a favorite windowsill. You could pull the curtains, but a brighter solution would be to apply static-cling UV filters to her favorite windows and doors. Consult your vet any time you notice changes to your cat’s skin, nose, lips or eyelids.
Jenny Newberry, a former teacher with 25 years of experience, is a professional writer and photographer and holds a B.S. and a M.Ed. in elementary and special education from the University of South Alabama. She is also a history buff, praise and worship pianist, pet enthusiast, avid crafter and hobby gardener.