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Can cats get sunburn? How to protect your cat’s skin this summer

white and ginger cat basking in the sun in front of the sea
© Santorines - Shutterstock

We’ve been told over and over again that we are susceptible to sunburn in the sun, so we wear sunscreen to protect our skin. But what about cats? Can they get sunburn too?

By Justine Seraphin

Published on the 31/07/2021, 18:00

In a word, yes, cats can get sunburn! Just like us, if they spend too much time in the sun, they can suffer from the exposure.

Some cats are more likely to suffer sunburn than others. For example, white cats have fair skin underneath their fur, and are therefore more susceptible to sunburn. Of course, hairless cats such as Sphynx cats are very vulnerable to sun exposure. And cats with thin coats or cats with pink ears and noses are also more likely to get sunburn in the summer. Luckily, you can easily protect your cat from the sun. Here’s how!

Is sunburn dangerous for cats?

Yes, just as sunburn can be dangerous for us, it’s dangerous for our cats too. Sunburn can cause skin cancer such as squamous cell carcinoma. If your cat already suffers from skin problems such as dermatitis, these can be exacerbated by exposure to the sun. Not to mention sunburn causes discomfort, particularly at a recent wound or surgery site. In severe cases, cats have required ear amputation as a result of their sunburns.

What does sunburn look like on a cat?

Sunburn may be harder to spot on cats due to their fur. You’ll be able to see better in the areas without fur, so check their nose and ears for these telltale signs:

  • Redness
  • Dryness
  • Warmth
  • Flaking
  • Blistering
  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Fever

How do I protect my cat from sunburn?

The best way to protect your cat from sunburn is to limit their exposure to the sun. Make sure your cat always has access to shade, and, if you can, don’t let them sunbathe for more than 15 minutes at a time.

On very sunny days, you should also be applying sun cream for cats on the vulnerable areas of your pet’s body, such as the nose and ears. Some breeds, such as the Sphynx cat, will need to be lathered up with it everywhere!

Alternatively, you can purchase sun-block protective clothing for your cat. These are very light, so won’t keep your cat too warm, and they generally offer strong UPF protection. If your cat tolerates wearing clothes and accessories, you can also purchase cat goggles or hats to protect their noses, eyes, and ears. However, many cats become distressed when wearing clothes, so don’t force anything on them.

Some people believe shaving their cats will help them withstand the heat, and therefore strip them of their thick coats before the summer. However, cats are not meant to be shaved for various different reasons - including the fact that their coats protect them from the sun. A shaved cat is more likely to get sunburnt, so make sure you don’t fall for that one. Clipping and grooming your cat’s coat to keep it light is fine, but don’t shave it completely.

What type of cat sunscreen should I get for my cat?

You should avoid using human sunscreen on your cat as it contains ingredients which can be toxic to your cat if ingested. Instead, we recommend you purchase a cat-friendly sunscreen. You can usually find these in pet stores or online. Choose a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 at minimum.

If your cat has sensitive skin, discuss your sunscreen options with your veterinarian.

How do I apply sunscreen on my cat?

You should apply sunscreen on your cat at least 15 minutes before they go outside, to make sure it's been well absorbed by their skin. Apply the sunscreen to their ears, tip of the nose, and any other areas with very little fur. Just don’t get any in their eyes.

Re-apply the sunscreen every four hours if you can, particularly if you own a white cat.

What can I put on my cat’s sunburn?

Treating sunburn depends on the severity of the burn. If you’ve noticed symptoms of sunburn, you should first move your cat into the shade immediately. A damp towel, cool compress or some aloe vera may relieve the initial symptoms of the burn, but they won’t treat it per say. For the next few days, keep your cat out of the sunlight as much as possible. Protect their burns with a cat-friendly sunscreen when they must go outside. A mild sunburn will dissipate by itself within a few days.

If your cat has suffered a severe burn, it's best to go consult your veterinarian. They may prescribe a pain relief, anti-inflammatory, and/or antibiotic to help your cat recover. Signs of a severe sunburn include fever and pain. If you have any doubts, make sure you check with your veterinarian. The longer you leave the burn untreated, the more pain your cat will be in!

So make sure you pack the cat sunscreen this summer too. Cats deserve to have healthy skin, just like their owners!

Frequently asked questions

Can indoor cats get sunburn?

Can I use human sunscreen on my cat?

Can I put aloe vera on my cat?