The Classic Comprehensive Handbook of Cat Care
What to Do When Your Cat Is Sick: FELINE SOLAR DERMATITIS (SUN DAMAGE)
Feline solar dermatitis can occur in any skin area that has received excessive sun exposure. The ear edges are the most commonly affected sites, but any area with thin hair can be damaged, such as the areas in front of the ears, the eyelids, nose, and lips. White cats and cats that have patches of white fur and light-colored skin are most susceptible to feline solar dermatitis especially if they live in a warm and sunny area.
SIGNS OF SOLAR DERMATITIS
Inflammation and irritation follow excessive skin exposure to the sun’s burning rays. The first change you might notice is a slight reddening of the affected area. Changes like this have been seen in kittens as young as three months of age. The reddening (sunburn) does not seem to cause significant pain, but it is often followed by hair loss in the area, making it even more susceptible to future sun damage. With repeated sun exposures the reddening becomes more pronounced, skin flaking and peeling occur, and crusts (scabs) may form. If the ear margins (edges) are the site of the most damage, they will eventually begin to curl as well as to develop more scabs and bleeding. At this stage the ears often seem to be painful or itchy. Crusted feline solar dermatitis affecting the nose and ears is often mistaken for fight wounds despite the fact that the scabs never resolve but only become worse without treatment. If sun exposure is allowed to continue once skin changes are seen, many cases of feline solar dermatitis transform into skin cancer, most often squamous cell carcinoma.
HOW TO PREVENT SOLAR DERMATITIS
If your cat has light coloring, it is very important to prevent sun damage to his or her skin. Keep the cat indoors between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 P.M. when the ultraviolet rays from the sun are most damaging. Discourage sunbathing in windows as well, since the damaging rays are not blocked by regular plate glass. Hypoallergenic sunscreen lotions containing PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) designed for people can also be applied to light-colored cats’ skin (ears especially) for sun protection. Supervise your cat for a few minutes after application to prevent immediate grooming, which may remove the product before it sinks into the skin.
TREATMENT OF SOLAR DERMATITIS
Early cases of feline solar dermatitis improve quickly when sun exposure is removed. Very early skin cancers caused by sun exposure can sometimes be eliminated by special, locally applied heat, laser or radiation treatments followed by measures to prevent further sun exposure.
Active carotenoids given orally (25 mg betacarotene once a day) also have helped some cats. Once advanced cancer has developed the only treatment is surgical removal of the affected tissues. Surgery on the nose is often deforming but effective. Amputation of the ear margins usually has a very cosmetically acceptable result. Ask your veterinarian for an evaluation of your cat’s skin if you think he or she is developing solar dermatitis and prevent further sun exposure. Do not delay seeking advice about scabbed and/or bleeding areas, since early treatment of skin cancers associated with solar dermatitis is the easiest, most effective method and has the best cosmetic result.