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 increasing 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, however, it can happen in any coloured cat. The fur acts as a protective barrier over most of the body, but areas with thin or sparse fur can get burned. Vulnerable areas include the ears, nose, inside the rear legs, abdomen, any bald patches are at risk.
Symptoms of sunburn include redness along the ear margins, possibly with hair loss, scaling and thickening occur over time along with itchiness.
So how do we go about protecting our cats from sunburn?
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.
If your cat is allowed outside, or if he has an outdoor enclosure make sure that he has a variety of shady spots to go to on hot days. 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). On sunny days, if you go to work, close blinds 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. Be careful as some cats may lick this off and many contain zinc which is toxic to cats. There are special pet sunblocks available. It should protect against UVA and UVB and at least SPF15, the higher the number, the better. Sunblock should be re-applied every 4-6 hours.
Check with your veterinarian before applying any sunblock on your cat. Pet-friendly is essential. If you can't find one, use sunblock designed for babies or children and choose one that is fragrance-free and doesn't contain zinc.
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.
Cats (and people) can get burned even when it's overcast, so always avoid letting your cat out during these hours, not just on sunny days.
Don't forget to provide your cat with plenty of fresh water.