Cats love napping in the sun but too much sunlight can actually be harmful. Cats, in particular those with white or light colored fur, short fur or no fur, who spend a lot of time in the sun, are at risk for skin cancer.
Skin cancer in cats is rare, but when cats do get skin cancer approximately 50-65% are malignant. Not all of these cancers are caused by sun exposure, but excessive sun exposure is recognized as a contributing factor. Cats, like people, will burn when they have been in the sun too long without protection. Look for redness and tenderness of the skin when checking your cat for a burn. Also like people, with repeated burns and/or excessive exposure, sun burns on cats can progress to more serious burns (3rd degree burns) and ultimately to squamous cell carcinoma.
But if your cat is like my cat, good luck in trying to keep him from the bright warm sun beams that he can find any time of the day. So what is a concerned cat owner to do?
Here are a couple things you can do to provide sun protection for your cat.
You can apply an inexpensive UV film over your windows to cut down on harmful rays.
You can apply sunscreen with UVA and UVB coverage, with an SPF of 15 or higher. Your cat does not need sunscreen all over; focus on the areas where the skin is more exposed like the nose, ears, belly, groin and legs. If your cat is furless or is missing fur, you will need to apply more. And don’t forget, just like with people, sunscreen can wear off and must be reapplied for the best protection.
Vetbasix is a sunscreen developed specially for dogs and cats and can be ordered online. Other sunscreen products specifically formulated for cats are difficult to find and you may need to use sunscreen made for infants and children. When selecting a product for your cat, avoid using products that have Octyl Salicylate. Titanium oxide is safe when used on the tips of ears and noses (although may be harmful if ingested). Since cats groom themselves extensively, use products containing Titanium oxide with caution.
With the right protection, skin cancers caused by the sun are totally preventable.