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Should I Cover My Cat in Sunscreen When Going Outside? Facts & Safety Tips

It may sound a little silly to apply sunscreen to a cat, but cats that spend time outdoors could benefit from sunscreen. Some cats are at higher risk of sunburn and should always have some protection. In general, outdoor cats and hairless breeds should have some form of sun protection. Is your kitty at risk of sunburn or even skin cancer? What type of sunscreen should you use, and how do you apply it? Keep reading to learn more.

Click below to jump ahead:

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Can Cats Get Sunburn?

All cats are at risk of sunburn, even those with thick or long hair. However, some cats are at higher risk. Cats with little to no hair or hair that is short and very light in color should be monitored for sunburn, and precautions should be taken when necessary. If you have an outdoor pet or one that accompanies you on hikes and similar recreational activities, their vet may offer suggestions to keep them safe.

If your kitty is a hairless breed like a Sphynx or a primarily hairless breed like a Lykoi, they’ll need extra protection from the sun. Because they will enjoy the warmth of sunning themselves just as much as other cats, you may need to monitor their sun exposure even when indoors, such as when they lay on a windowsill.

sphynx cat lying on sofa's arm in a sun spot
Image Credit: Erin Agius, Unsplash

What About Skin Cancer?

Like humans at higher risk of skin cancer with high UVA and UVB exposure, cats may also develop cancer. Similar precautions can also help reduce this risk, like using sunscreen. The most effective sunscreen products are broad spectrum, and the SPF strength should be relative to the exposure.

For example, if your cat is outdoors every day, using an SPF 15 or higher product can significantly reduce their risk of developing skin cancer. If they spend a day at the lake with you, they may need a more potent product while out in the sun. The rules for choosing the type and strength are very similar to that for humans.

Is Sunscreen Toxic to Cats?

While some of the things you should consider when choosing a sunscreen for your cat will be the same as choosing one for yourself, you will need to ensure the product is not toxic. Several common sunscreen ingredients are toxic to cats that should be avoided at all costs. The most common one is zinc oxide.

If you ever have questions about a product and whether it’s safe to use, a quick call to your vet could give you the reassurance you need. They may also be able to suggest one if you need help determining which sunscreen is best for your pet.

cat and vet
Image Credit: Stock-Asso, Shutterstock

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Most shorthair breeds only need sunscreen applied to their ears and above their nose. Those with light colors could benefit from a lightweight application on their belly or groin to protect their skin should they want to sun themselves. However, hairless and mostly hairless breeds may need sunscreen applied all over.

  • Start with Small Areas: If you need to start applying sunscreen, take it slow. Even if you have to use the product on only one ear at a time, it may help your kitty get used to the feeling of sunscreen on their skin and the application process. As they adjust, applying the product to more areas without distress will become easier.
  • Apply a Thin Layer: A little goes a long way with sunscreen. Applying too much could cause skin irritation. It may also prevent all of it from properly soaking into the skin, allowing them to lick some of it off and get sick. It could take some practice to apply it effectively.
  • Distract Them: It’s helpful to keep them distracted while applying sunscreen and for a short time after it’s absorbed. Having a partner with you makes this much more manageable! Treats and toys are always a safe bet, mainly because they will start associating the process with something fun.
cat being fed a cat treat or cat food by hand
Image Credit: Jakub Zak, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

Sunscreen for cats can help protect their skin from damaging UVA and UVB rays that can cause sunburn and may also increase their risk of developing skin cancer as they get older. Outdoor cats and hairless breeds should have some form of sun protection. Start looking for a cat-safe sunscreen, or talk to your pet’s veterinarian about the best product for them. Then, you can rest assured knowing they can enjoy the great outdoors or the sun’s warmth without fear of sunburn.

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Featured Image Credit: steph photographies, Shutterstock

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