Q: Summer is already here in North Carolina. Are there any health concerns for my mostly white kitten (pink nose) and sunburn? If I put some ointment or something one, wouldn’t she just lick it off?
A:Ah, those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. Relaxing in the sun, frolicking with your friends, not a care in the world. Not a bad life for a human… or a cat! Just like their people, cats can also be sensitive to prolonged sun exposure. Remember when we used to douse ourselves in Crisco and sit in the sun for hours? Bad, bad, bad!!! Today we understand the importance of protecting ourselves from the sun.
But how can we protect our cats from the harmful effects of the sun?
Any animal exposed to the sun’s rays has an increased risk of sunburn, hypersensitivity reactions, and skin cancer. Cats that are white, have thin coats, are shaved, have exposed areas of skin, or are fair-skinned, have an even greater risk of developing sun-related problems. The best method of protection is avoidance. Try to keep Kitty inside on bright sunny days, especially between peak sun hours (10am – 2pm). (But also be aware that on hazy and overcast days, the sun’s rays can still get through the clouds and cause sunburn!) If your cat goes outside, make sure there are plenty of shady spots to cool off and avoid the sun. A sheltered area – even a cat house – with an ample supply of fresh water is a great escape.
As for sunscreens, there are no completely pet-safe, FDA approved products available for cats. Some human products may be effective. BUT, you must make sure that the following toxic ingredients are NOT found in the sunscreen: PABA, zinc, fragrance, propylene glycol, and salicylates (including octyl salicylate, homosalate, ethylhexyl salicylate). Sprays-on sunscreens can be toxic to the respiratory system. That eliminates most products!
Sunscreen ointments that are safe for children, are non-staining, and contain titanium dioxide are considered safer for use on ear tips and “non-lickable” exposed areas of cats. But remember, as fastidious groomers, cats are usually loathe to have anything “weird” on their fur or skin, and will try their hardest to lick it off. Even homeopathic remedies can be toxic to cats if put on areas that the cat can lick and ingest. If sunscreen is used, you need to use “plenty”, and reapply every 4-6 hours.
The nose is certainly a tricky, but important place, to protect, especially if it’s pink or non-pigmented. Telling a cat not to lick something off its nose, however, is generally an unrewarding experience. You can try to find a way to distract her attention for a few minutes until the sunscreen is absorbed into the skin – perhaps by playing with a favorite toy, or feeding treats. But you’d have to find the cat and do that every 4 -6 hours all summer long to be successful. Good luck with that.
So, with a long summer ahead of you, better to explain to kitty that he should stay out of the sun during peak sun hours for his own good…which is good advice for all of us.
Editor’s note: Odin is a prime candidate for sunscreen. Good thing Dr. G. will be visiting us tomorrow. Have a question for our dear doctor? Send it to [email protected] with Vet 101 in the subject line.