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Sunburn in Cats

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Cats, especially those who are light colored or hairless, can suffer from sunburn. Most often, the burn is a superficial partial thickness burn. At worst, sunburns may result in deep partial thickness burns. Full thickness burns are rare in sunburn.

Types of Burns

Superficial partial thickness burns are similar to first-degree burns. Only the top layer of skin is involved. The hair (if present) may still be attached to the skin. The skin appears red and no blisters are seen.

Deep partial thickness burns are similar to second-degree burns. The surface layer and some deeper layers of skin are involved. Unlike in humans, these burns infrequently have blisters. The skin is red and some layers of the skin may be exposed.

Full thickness burns are similar to third-degree burns. The burn extends through all layers of skin and may even include tissue beneath the skin. Immediately after the burn, the skin may look like leather or the surface of the burn may appear white.

As expected, sunburn occurs in the summer months when animals at risk spend prolonged time in the sun.

White cats, thinly haired breeds and Sphinx cats are primarily at risk.

Veterinary Care

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of a sunburn is based on the time of year and possible prolonged exposure to the sun. The skin will have characteristic signs of a thermal burn.

Blood tests are not initially necessary to make a diagnosis. Depending on the severity of the burns, blood tests may be done later to determine the overall health of the animal.

Treatment

Treatment of sunburn is based on the severity of the burn.

Superficial Partial Thickness

  • For these burns, the hair is carefully shaved from the burned area in order to ease treatment and better monitor healing.
  • The wound is gently cleaned with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine.
  • Topical creams such as silver sulfadiazine are quite effective in burns.
  • Most superficial partial thickness burns can be treated on an outpatient basis with the remainder of treatment and care done by the owner.

    Deep Partial Thickness

  • For these burns, hospitalization is necessary.
  • Intravenous fluids are necessary to provide hydration and needed electrolytes.
  • Daily wound cleaning with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine.
  • Daily bandage changes.
  • Topical cream such as silver sulfadiazine.
  • If over 15 percent of the body is burned, skin grafts may eventually be required.

    Home Care

    If you suspect your pet has a sunburn, veterinary care is recommended. Cats do not burn as easily as people. More damage has occurred to the skin than you may be able to initially see. After diagnosis and initial treatment, daily treatment with wound cleaning and topical medication may be necessary.

    Preventative Care

    For cats at risk, apply sunscreen before spending time outdoors. As in humans, it is suspected that repeated sunburns may result in permanent skin damage and even possible skin cancer, especially in white cats.

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