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How to Protect a Cat with Light-Colored Fur from Sunburn

That sun your cat loves to lounge in might pose a health risk. Here are tips to keep her safe.

 |  Dec 9th 2013  |   0 Contributions


In some of the cat-related reading I was doing recently, I learned that buff-colored cats are at risk for sunburn (just like white or light cats). I have to admit that this has never occurred to me. I have a buff-colored cat and I also have a Turkish Van, but my cats don't go outside. But what about sun through windows -- could that have an effect? And what are the possible repercussions of a fair-skinned cat getting too much sun? Here is what I found out.

Which cats are at risk

Like humans, light-colored cats are more at risk for sunburn. Veterinarians call this Feline Solar Dermatitis. Areas at risk on your light-colored cat include ear tips, eyelids, nose, and the lips. These are areas with little hair to protect them, and no melanin -- the pigment that is present in skin and hair.

Is your cat at a greater risk of sunburn and skin damage than other cats? Yes, if your cat is white or light-colored, has parts of the body where her fur is thin, and has light or white ears, eyelids, and nose. It seems that any cat might sunburn, but the probability is higher for the cats described above. 

What happens with sunburn?

Sunburn may appear first as an area of redness. It may be painful. If the same area is repeatedly exposed to sunburn, the burn may grow worse (progressing up to a third degree burn), and may even eventually manifest as squamous cell carcinoma. Of course, sunburn doesn't automatically lead to skin cancer, but it can provide the conditions for cancer to eventually occur, especially if the cat repeatedly burns in the same body area, and/or irritates it by scratching.

Sleeping kitty with pillow by Shutterstock.com

What about my indoor cat -- is she at risk?

I'm surprised with myself for not thinking about this out sooner. UV light does come through window glass, and, yes, it is possible for a cat to burn through a window.

Tips for keeping your cat safe

Our cats don't know when they're getting too much sun. So here are a few things we can think about to try and minimize their risk of getting burned.

The sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so if you can, limit your cat's exposure to the sun during this time. If your cat goes outside, perhaps he can stay in when the sun is strongest. All of this will also depend on where you live. If you live in a low-latitude area where the sun is very strong, you'll need to take more care if you want your cat to avoid the sun.

If your cat goes outside, and you can control the environment at all (for example, an enclosed catio, or yard), make sure there is shade so your cat can get out of the sun if needed.

My Turkish Van, Kieran, is very fair -- the skin on his ears and nose is a light pink.

Draw shades or drapes if possible in your living space, during the times when the sun is strongest. If you have a situation where you only have curtains, for example, and the cat can get sun between the curtain and the window, you might consider UV film for the windows. This will block the harmful rays and lessen the risk of sunburn considerably.

Take a calculated risk. Does your cat LOVE sunbathing, and is he an indoor cat? Is he not a light-colored cat? Do you live in a northern climate where people have trouble getting enough sun? Maybe you don't need to worry as much as someone in Florida, for example. Consider the risks and also your cat's enjoyment of life.

Consider a feline sunscreen, especially if your cat goes outside in strong sun or is a light-colored cat. Waterproof sunblocks for cats are available, and can be applied to the cat's ears and nose. Your veterinarian may be able to recommend a good product for your cat.

Chester (on the left) is my buff cat, and is actually much lighter than Norton (the young adult on the right).

My own plan for my cats

As I said, I have two light-colored cats. None of my cats go outside, but we do have a full-length glass door that goes out to a deck. It has southern exposure and the cats adore sprawling, for hours, in the sun that comes through those doors. I'm going to be checking into UV film to put on the glass, and I'm going to hope it doesn't look too unwieldy.

When you live in a climate like northern Minnesota, you want all the light you can get, and that goes for the cats, too. The plus side of that is that our sunlight is pretty weak for much of the year, although it's easy to burn in the summer. If the UV film doesn't work out, I might try a sunscreen for my light cats and apply it to their ears and nose, after researching the products out there.

What you do will depend on your cats, their sun exposure, and where you live, among other things.

Do your cats love the sun? Do you worry about sunburn or have your cats been burned? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Read more about cats and sun:

About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of a short story collection about people and place. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.

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