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Do Cats Need Sunscreen? Safety Tips for Sun Exposure

While sunscreen for cats may seem an absurd concept, it is actually very important for certain felines. Without sunscreen, lighter or more sparsely-furred cats can develop sunburn and, over time, even skin cancer. Most of our feline companions are out-and-out sun worshippers, but they are not immune to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Owners should always consider if feline sun protection is needed. This article will run through the use of cat sunscreen, when it is appropriate, and what can happen if it isn't applied.

Do all cats need sunscreen?

The majority of the time, pet sunscreen is not going to be needed. Thankfully, sunburn in cats is rare. This is thanks to their dense fur as well as physical traits — most will instinctively know to move to shade when feeling too hot.

Pets who live inside are likely not going to be getting enough sun to warrant applying sun protection, so it is much more important for those who sunbathe outdoors. Still, if your kitty sun worships near a window, there is always the chance they could get burnt. For the few cats who do need sunscreen, it can be a real lifeline.

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When might sunscreen be necessary for cats?

Those who need to use sunscreen will include white or light-furred cats, as well as those with sparse or no fur (such as cats with alopecia or Sphynx cats) who are spending lots of time in direct sunlight.

Light-colored or hairless cats

white sphynx cat

These cats have less natural protection from the sun's harmful UV rays as they have less melanin, a natural dark pigment that protects cells from the sun. White and light cats are not well-equipped to be sunbathing for hours on end. As their owner and their advocate, you need to try to limit their time spent in the sun.

Their most vulnerable areas are those with less fur, including their ear tips, noses, belly, and any shaved patches that expose their pink skin.

Outdoor cats with extended sun exposure

Orange cat stretching sunset background

Sunburn and feline squamous cell carcinoma are much more likely to occur in those who are mainly outdoors. We can help prevent these health conditions by applying sunscreen and keeping cats indoors during peak sun (10 a.m.–4 p.m.). While this may seem excessive, most cats prefer to be outdoors closer to dawn and dusk anyway. When your cat is outside, be sure they always have access to shaded areas. As well as preventing skin cancer, this will reduce the risk of heat stroke, too.

Choosing the right sunscreen for your cat

Once you've answered the question, 'Does my cat need sunscreen?' you may well be wondering what you can use. Let's take a closer look.

Dangers of human sunscreen

Several ingredients in human sunscreen can be toxic to cats when ingested (such as zinc oxide and various essential oils), so they need to be avoided. As cats are very flexible and have long tongues, they can easily lick sunscreen off most parts of their body.

Cat-safe sunscreen options

Nowadays, there is a good range of feline-specific sunscreen on the market, which has been proven to be safe in cats, even if some is ingested. These sunscreens are available from a range of places, including online pharmacies, vet clinics, and pet shops. Filtaclear is one well-known example.

Consulting your veterinarian

It is sensible to discuss your pet's sun care with your vet to make sure you're taking all of the right steps. They can guide you on your feline's specific needs and can also show you their most vulnerable areas. If you've purchased a cream and aren't sure if it is safe, this is also something your vet should be glad to guide you on.

Safe sun exposure for your cat

Just like us, cats get enjoyment and contentment from being outside and enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. While cats don't really use sunlight to make vitamin D like we do, they do get a great deal of pleasure from basking in the sun, and being outdoors can improve their mood and physical well-being. Access to direct sunlight may also help maintain a consistent circadian rhythm and make it easier for them to sleep at night.

Keeping cats cool in summer is important to prevent heatstroke, and avoiding direct sun should ensure they do not get burnt. We want them out of direct sun when it is at its highest point in the sky (usually from about 10 a.m.–4 p.m.), and they should always have access to the home as well as to shaded areas outside. Put out ample fresh water in shaded areas and top it up regularly.

At times when you do need to have your cat indoors, be sure to provide plenty of environmental enrichment in the form of food puzzles, catnip, cat trees, and interactive games.

Sunscreen is not going to be appropriate for every cat, so always discuss your plan with their vet first.

It is important that you use appropriate sun protection to prevent sunburn and skin cancer for your furry companion, just like you would with a child. Chat with your vet about your cat's individual needs when it comes to things like sunscreen. When the weather is warm, keep your cat out of direct sunlight and make sure they always have access to shaded areas and fresh water.


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