by Amy Shojai
Long sunny days can bring misery for people—and their pets. Cat fur offers great protection against the sun in most cases, so it’s rare for kitties to develop sunburn. When they do, it’s the thinly-furred regions that suffer the worst risk. Sunburn can turn ear tips crispy, the bridge of the nose rosy, and the tummy pink. My cat Karma likes to sleep on his back in puddles of sunshine that spill through the windows onto the carpet (luckily, his tummy is thickly furred.
White cats and (of course!) hairless felines are at highest risk, especially since cats are such sun worshipers. Cats that live in higher elevations, like the mountains, are at increased risk, just like people.
Sunburn isn’t a medical emergency, but it can be painful. It’s more than just reddened skin. The tissue can blister, become crusty, and peel. In severe cases, the tips of the ears dry out, the cat loses hair on the ears, and the edges curl. When that happens, the cat needs medical attention. But first aid is usually all that is needed to take care of minor sunburn pain. Here’s how to cool the burn.
7 SUNBURN FIRST AID TIPS
- An easy, effective treatment is a cold water spray from a plant mister every half hour or so. Most cats hate being sprayed, though. Instead, soak clean cloths with ice water and apply as cold compresses to the affected area.
- Witch hazel is available at supermarkets or pharmacies and helps cool inflamed skin by evaporation, but doesn’t sting like alcohol. Dab some on with a cotton ball three or four times a day to soothe the burn.
- Over-the-counter sprays like Solarcaine and Lanacane contain local anesthetics that temporarily numb the pain of sunburn. Cats, though, tend to lick off the spray and some of these products won’t be good for them if swallowed so be sure to check with your vet for a cat-safe product. Ice is a safe and quick alternative—hold an ice cube against the burned area to numb the pain.
- Oatmeal soaks are extremely soothing and healing for damaged skin. You can use Aveeno mixed in cool water, or fill a cotton sock with raw oatmeal, and run the bath water through it as you fill the tub. This works better for dogs than cats, especially pets with burned bellies. Again, soak a cloth with the solution and apply to burned tummies as long as your cat holds still for the treatment.
- Sunburn dries out the skin. Aloe vera creams not only moisturize but also help heal burns faster. You can use the gel directly from the plant by breaking off a leaf and squeezing out the liquid. Or use a commercial product that contains aloe. Apply several times a day to the sore spots.
- Vitamin E not only helps speed the healing, and soothes the burn, but also works great to prevent scars from forming. Squeeze the oil from a vitamin E capsule and spread on the pet’s nose or ear tips once or twice a day. You’ll need several capsules to apply to a belly burn. Vitamin E isn’t a problem if Kitty decides to lick it off—it’s actually good for cats on the inside, too.
- You can also use sunscreens on the ear tips, bridge of the nose, tummy, or other places affected by sun exposure to protect your pet. Choose a product with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher. Avoid human products containing zinc oxide or PABA—pet products are best.
The most dangerous times of day for sunburn are 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. so keep susceptible cats indoors during these hours. Draw the shades so window-worshipping inside cats aren’t exposed.
Amy Shojai, CABC (www.SHOJAI.com) is the award winning author of more than 30 pet care titles, and a founder of the Cat Writers’ Association. She shares her home with her furry muses: 21-year-old Seren, a Siamese wannabe, a 4-year-old delinquent Karma-Kat, and 11-year-old smart aleck German Shephered.