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Can a Cat Get a Sunburn?

You’ve been slathering on sunscreen all summer — but does your kitty need to protect herself from the sun’s harmful rays, too? Can a cat get a sunburn and, thus, can a cat get skin cancer? Here’s what to know about cats and sun protection.

You took steps to "kitten-proof" your home, and now it is time to to revisit some of these areas as your cat enters her senior years. Photography by ©MaraniVideo| Getty Images.
Cats are considered senior between the ages of 7 and 10 years. Photography by ©MaraniVideo| Getty Images.
Last Updated on August 3, 2018 by

My first cat, Iris, was a beautiful calico girl who was mostly white except for a large black and orange splotch on her back and a tiny little orange “I” shaped spot on the top of her head. Her nose was as pale as her head fur, and nothing made her happier than sitting on my mother’s back porch soaking up the hot Maine summer sun.

When Iris reached her late teens, I began to notice black, warty-looking splotches on the skin around the edges of her ears. “Could that be skin cancer?” I remember wondering back then. “Can cats even get skin cancer?”

So, can a cat get a sunburn and thus, can a cat get skin cancer? Which cats are most at risk for sunburn and skin cancer? And what can you do to protect your cat from sunburn? Here’s what you need to know about cats and sunburns.

1. What does cat sunburn look like?

White cat standing in the doorway of the owner's home.
White or light-colored cats are most at risk for sunburns! Photography by ©Page Light Studios | Getty Images.

I once met a nearly hairless cat wandering the streets of a neighborhood in my home town. At first I thought he was a stray cat with mange because his skin was red, dry and cracked. I met his owner and found out he “just had a sunburn.” Pale noses and ear edges can be easily sunburned, too.

2. White and light-colored cats are most at risk for sunburn.

This is kind of a no-brainer, if you think about it. The paler your complexion, the more careful you have to be careful to avoid overexposure to the sun, and the same is true for your cat. Most light-colored cats have very pale pink or white skin under that fur.

3. Sphynx and Rex cats also need protection.

A Sphynx or hairless cat.
A Sphynx and other hairless cats should also be protected from the sun. Photography ©GlobalP | Thinkstock.

Sphynx and other hairless breeds such as the Peterbald don’t have the type of hair coat that protects their skin from the sun. Combine that with their heat-seeking nature, and you have a sunbather who could easily get sunburned. Although Cornish Rex and Devon Rex cats have fur, its unique texture and single coat don’t afford much protection from UV rays.

So, how can you protect your cat from sunburn?

1. Apply a cat-safe sunscreen.

Be very careful if you choose to put sunscreen on your cat. Products with octyl salicylate and similar chemicals can be poisonous to your furry friend. There are plenty of dog-safe sunscreens, but very few cat-safe ones, so do your research and choose carefully.

2. Provide shade.

If your cat goes outside, whether to bask on your enclosed catio, accompany you on a leash for a walk or safely explore your yard, make sure there are plenty of places where your cat can be completely shielded from the sun.

3. Use UV protection window film.

This product is inexpensive and very easy to apply, and it comes in tinted and clear varieties. Not only will it allow your cat to enjoy a warm sun puddle without the risk of exposure to harmful UV rays, it will increase your home’s energy efficiency and keep the sun from fading your carpets and furniture.

Tell us: Has your cat ever been sunburned or developed cancer as a result of sun exposure? What do you do to protect your cat from the sun? Share your tips in the comments.

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

Thumbnail: Photography by ©MaraniVideo| Getty Images.

This piece was originally published in 2014.

Yikes! Suffering from a sunburn yourself? Here are nine ways to sunburn relief >>

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About the Author

JaneA Kelley
JaneA Kelley

JaneA is the webmaster and chief cat slave for Paws and Effect, an award-winning cat advice blog written by her cats, for cats and their people. She is a professional member of the Cat Writers’ Association, and has been a speaker at the BlogPaws and Cat Writers’ Association conferences. In addition to blogging about cats, JaneA writes contemporary urban fantasy, and whatever else strikes her fancy.

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