Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. This means fun in the sun, but cat owners beware: even indoor cats can fall victim to sun damage.
Staying out in the sun too long without any type of protection can cause sunburns in people. The same is true of dogs and cats, especially those that are lightly pigmented or have thinner coats. White cats, cats that like to spend time sunbathing and even certain parts on every cat, such as the nose (especially pink noses), ears or abdomen, are especially prone to becoming sunburned.
“In order to prevent their animals from becoming sunburned, one of the things that people can do is to apply sunscreen on lightly pigmented or thinly furred areas before the animal goes outside or lays in a sunbeam to bathe,” said Dr. Alison Diesel, lecturer in small animal dermatology, at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “As with people, the sunscreen will need to be applied once every couple of hours. Sunscreens that have high SPFs (50+) and that are safe for infants are safe for a dog or a cat.”
“Another thing an owner can do,” notes Diesel, “is prevent sunbathing during the peak times of the day, or when the sun is at its strongest. This is typically from the early afternoon until evening. Cats that sit in windowsills particularly need to be monitored.”
As with people, one of the main concerns with dogs and cats becoming sunburned, besides the initial burn itself, is the possibility of dog or cat skin cancer developing from the sun exposure. If you notice a change in the appearance of your dog or cat’s skin, including increased redness, raised skin legions, bumps or wounds, a vet should examine your cat or dog.
“Actinic keratosis, a condition that causes raised, red, flat-topped areas of skin that may have a dry appearance, is associated with increased sun exposure and may progress into cancer in the future if not addressed,” warns Diesel. “As the thinly furred parts of animals are the highest risk areas for becoming sunburned, these are the areas where this condition is often noted.”
While lighter-pigmented cats and dogs are more prone to developing burns, darker colored cats and dogs are not without their own concerns.
“According to studies in cattle that observed the effects of hide color and the risk of heat stress, darker pigmented animals were more at risk for heat stress since their coat did not reflect as much light as lighter colored animals,” Diesel said. “This does not usually cause skin problems; however, darker animals are more at risk for developing the side effects of heat stress, which include over-heating and heat stroke. These are emergency situations that require immediate evaluation by a veterinarian.”