UK: warning from vets: cats need to wear sun cream

Britain is getting hot and veterinarians have warned that cats need to wear sun cream and pet guardians also need to take particular care over their flat-faced dog breeds such as pugs and bulldogs. These breeds are particularly prone to heatstroke and breathing difficulties.

Cat with amputated ear flaps due to cancer due to sunburn.

Ears lost due to sunburn. Photo: Cats Protection.

Yesterday temperatures topped 27°C in Britain and veterinarians are telling us to slather factor 30 sun cream on our cat’s ears to prevent them from being sunburned. White cats and cats with light coloured fur are particularly at risk. If you surf the Internet as I do frequently, looking for cat information then you will no doubt see white cats with amputated ear flaps. These cats have either been frostbitten or they developed cancer in their area flaps due to exposure to ultraviolet light under hot, sunny conditions.

Here is an example from the UK of a veterinarian who was forced to amputate the ears of a cat after she suffered sunburn causing cancer. The cat’s name is Smurf. She was picked up from the streets of Belfast in the autumn of 2020. Kate Large, 49, Smurf’s owner, was unaware that sun can cause damage to the ears of cats.

Smurf was picked up because it was believed that she had been involved in a car crash. The vet removed her right eye and parts of her ear flaps which had been badly sun-damaged.

Kate Large and Smurf after the op to remove her ear flaps due to sun damage
Kate Large and Smurf after the op to remove her ear flaps due to sun damage. Photo: Daily Mail.

The interesting aspect of the story of Smurf is twofold. Firstly, she is a white cat and the ears of white cats are particularly vulnerable to sundowners because the hair coverage is less than for dark-haired cats. This is because there is no pigmentation in their hair strands. The second point to make is that Smurf lives in Belfast, Ireland. That is a city which is not known for its hot, sunny climate. She wasn’t in Lisbon or Madrid but wet Northern Ireland.

And for a cat who is frequently outside even the weak sun of Northern Ireland can cause ear flap damage to a white cat because cats like to sit around in the warm sun. They expose themselves to the sun more than they should do. Even on a cold day, if the sun is bright there is still the potential to damage the ear flaps of outside domestic cats.

It might take a few years for the damage to become noticeable but once the early stages of cancer set in cats require urgent veterinary treatment i.e. surgery to prevent it spreading.

Last summer, in the UK, it was particularly hot for a prolonged period. As a consequence, almost 2/3 of veterinarians reported having treated animals for heat-related conditions over that period. The conditions included heatstroke, heart conditions, scorched paws, sunburn and breathing difficulties.

If you believe in global warming then you will believe in hotter summers in the UK in the years to come. Therefore, concerned cat and dog owners should think about the effects of hot sunny weather on their cat or dog when they’re outside. In the UK almost every cat owner lets their cat wander freely outside. Cats do not take into account the damage that can be done by ultraviolet light. That is obvious but it needs to be stated because it’s down to their human caretakers to do some particular cat caretaking.

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