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Can cats get sunburn?

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

cats sunbathing on a roof by the beach When you think of getting a sunburn, do you think of laying out by the pool or beach too long or doing yard work on a hot day without applying any sunscreen and suffering the consequences? We all have had the experience of facing that painful redness that is hot to touch, causing you to peel like crazy and taking days to resolve. You may not think of pet cats when it comes to those affected by harmful UV rays, but are they at risk? Let us look at how too much sun exposure can affect our cats.

Can Cats Get Sunburns?

As humans, we know the risks of being out in the sun and we’re generally well-educated on how to protect our skin from the not-so-fun sunburns that come along with prolonged exposure. Surprisingly, cats can be susceptible to getting a sunburn too. Some cats are at a greater risk of sunburn than others and can suffer severely from the effects. Just like with us, repeated and prolonged exposure and sunburns can result in skin damage and even skin cancer. So, for cats that are at high risk of sunburn, you should absolutely take steps to prevent your cat from prolonged exposure to the sun’s damaging UV rays. Applying sunscreen to their most vulnerable areas to offer them protection is one of several precautions owners can take to protect their pets.

abyssinian cat getting sunburned from the heat
Image Credit: Irina Grib, Shutterstock

Which Cats Are at Higher Risk?

Sunburn is possible in all cats, but some will be at more risk than others of developing these conditions. Genetics and many other factors can play a role. Outdoor cats will be at higher risk of sun damage since they are regularly exposed to the sun, while indoor cats are at much lower risk but can still get sun damage from basking in windows. Cats with white ears, pink noses, and white fur tend to be more susceptible to sun damage than others. The cat doesn’t have to be fully white to be prone to sunburn either, cats with patches of white fur can still get sunburn. Of course, hairless cats, such as the Sphynx, or cats that have been shaved, will also be incredibly susceptible.

red tabby cat sunbathing
Image Credit: Friedhelm Voellmer, Pixabay

How to Protect Your Cat from Sunburn

A sunburn on a cat can appear as hair loss or reddened skin, as it does in humans. The most common areas affected are the ears, nose, belly, and the skin around the eyes and mouth. Any area on your cat’s body where skin pigmentation is low, and fur is thin will be more likely to burn. There are sunscreens on the market that are made specifically for pets. Putting anything topical on a cat can be quite a challenge though. Even if you are successful in applying sunscreen, they will undoubtedly try and lick it off. The best preventative measure is to prevent excessive sun exposure altogether. If you opt to use sunscreen, it is recommended to use it on your cat’s nose, ears, groin, belly, or any area on your cat that is bald, or the fur is thin.

How to Prevent Sunburn in Outdoor Cats

  • Limit sun exposure during the sun’s peak hours from approximately 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • Ensure your outdoor cat has shaded areas in its outdoor habitat
  • Utilize an outdoor patio that provides protection from the sun rather than allowing your cat to free roam outdoors
  • Apply sunscreen to sensitive areas that are more susceptible to burn

How to Prevent Sunburn in Indoor Cats

  • Utilize blinds, black-out curtains, and/or UV blocking films for your windows can help prevent exposure to indoor cats
cat side sleeping by the window
Image Credit: Christophe Schindler, Pixabay

Risks of Prolonged Sun Exposure

Too much exposure to the sun’s rays can lead to changes in skin cells and cause a progressive skin disease named solar dermatitis. Solar dermatitis can lead to malignant tumors called squamous cell carcinoma, which is a type of skin cancer.

Solar Dermatitis

Solar dermatitis is a skin disease that results from prolonged exposure to the sun. The most affected areas on a cat are the ears, nose, and eyelids. There may be some hair loss and the skin may appear pink and slightly crusty in the earlier stages of solar dermatitis. As solar dermatitis progresses, the area may develop lesions and ulcers. This can cause the cat pain and irritation. They may begin scratching or over-grooming if in an area they can reach. It is vital to seek veterinary care to prevent solar dermatitis from progressing further. It can sometimes lead to a malignant tumor called a squamous cell carcinoma that will develop in the affected area. If the ulcers are diagnosed and treated early before they become malignant then the treatment is much more likely to be effective.

Skin Cancer

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is the type of skin cancer that is more commonly caused because of sun damage. Solar dermatitis that goes untreated can eventually lead to this type of cancer. This type of cancer will either require surgery or special treatment. It is more common in older animals, and it can spread when it reaches the later stages of the disease.

Malignant Melanoma

Malignant melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the melanocytes, which are the cells that produce the skin’s pigment. It more commonly begins in pets around the mouth and nose, because of the mucous membranes. This type of cancer is rarely found in areas with fur, but it can happen. This type of cancer typically spreads very quickly to the lymph nodes and organs.


Being aware of the risks of prolonged sun exposure is very important to the overall health and well-being of your cat. Prevention is key when it comes to sun exposure, as it is with us humans. Not only is it important to protect yourself from sunburn, but it is also important to protect your cat as well.

Featured Image Credit: AleksaKras, Pixabay

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