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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I play mom to two furballs of the feline purrsuasion, year-old siblings Egon and Astrid. Both have dilute genes from their mom. Astrid got lucky and her outer ears are charcoal gray. Egon is less lucky, with pale ginger fur on his whitey-white ears. He got a sunburn recently and the extra irritation caused an ear mite revolution. How can I prevent sunburns in the future? I can’t find a cat-safe sunblock or keep him out of the windows. He is an indoor-only cat, but he loves his warm patches of sun, and we can’t live in a cave!

~ Amber

Siouxsie: The timing of your letter is excellent for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, where the days are getting longer and the sun is getting stronger.

White cat with tabby-striped tail on a stone railing-Hisashi-01

Cats with pale-colored fur on their ears and noses are at higher risk of sunburn -- and skin cancer. Photo by Hisashi from Japan, distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license

Thomas: You’re right to be concerned about Egon getting sunburned, not just because it may inspire ear mites to multiply (although we haven’t heard of that effect before) but because repeated overexposure to the sun can result in skin cancer, just as it can with humans.

Kissy: Oh, no! I’ve got pale-furred ears! Does that mean I can’t bask in sun puddles? *cries*

Siouxsie: Don’t worry, silly! Your ears aren’t as pale as Egon’s — but Mama’s still going to be careful to make sure you don’t get sunburned.

Kissy: Thank goodness! I love sun puddles.

Thomas: But even if Mama does decide you need protection from harsh light, you’ll still be able to enjoy a good sun bath. And here’s how.

Siouxsie: As you’ve discovered, Amber, it’s really hard to find a sunscreen that’s safe for cats.

Thomas: The folks at The Cat Hospital of Fairfax recently wrote a blog post on cat-safe sunscreens, in which they say to avoid products with octyl salicylate, homosalate and ethylhexyl salicylate, which are common sunscreen ingredients. Zinc oxide is also supposed to be harmful to cats.

Kissy: Apparently, though, products containing titanium dioxide as an active ingredient are supposed to be safe for use on noses and ear tips.

Siouxsie: I’m not so sure about that, though, because cats can (and probably will) lick the stuff off, and who knows how harmful it is if it’s ingested.

Thomas: You could also use an organic baby sunscreen, but be sure to read the ingredients and make sure it doesn’t contain any of the harmful ingredients mentioned above.

Clear UV-filtering window film

Clear UV-filtering window film. Image courtesy amazon.com

Kissy: But guess what? The simplest way of all to protect your kitty from sunburn and let her have sun puddles to sleep in is …. UV-filtering window film!

Siouxsie: It comes in clear, tinted, and even super-decorative varieties; it’s available at most home supply stores; and it’s pretty cost-effective.

Thomas: Not only will window film keep your fair-eared kitty from getting sunburned, it’ll save you money on your cooling costs in the summer by reducing the amount of heat gain you get through your windows.

Kissy: Supposedly it even increases your windows’ insulation efficiency in the winter, too, but Mama says she’s not sure how that works.

Siouxsie: We’d say the best choice in the long run is to use window film. You’ll get the energy benefits and save yourself and Egon the hassle of applying sunblock to his ears every day.

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