Sun Exposure and Sphynx Cats: The Dangers And UV Protection Tips

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Due to sphynx cats being hairless and their love for spending time in warm areas, this breed is especially prone to the harmful effects of UV rays.

Various sources of information on sun exposure and protection in cats and, more specifically, in this unique breed, have been evaluated to bring you a summary of how exactly you can take proper care of your Sphynx concerning sun protection.

The best way to protect your Sphynx cat from the harmful effects of excessive sun exposure includes keeping your cat indoors or in the shade during the hottest times of the day (10:00-15:00), ultraviolet (UV) filtering window films, and cat clothing that is UV protective.

While pet sunscreens are becoming a popular choice for dogs, they are not safe for your feline friends
and their use should be avoided or practiced with caution.

The effects of sun exposure in Sphynx cats are described to give you a better understanding of the necessity to prevent conditions such as actinic keratosis (AK), also known as solar keratosis, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and ocular disease.

It is preferable that you understand the nature of possible sun complications in order to prevent them, as well as diagnose them early so that they can be managed accordingly. Therefore, the focus of this article is to highlight the various options for sun protection that you may want to consider using for your pet in order to prevent such conditions since prevention is always better than treatment.

Effects Of Sun Exposure

Susceptibility to sun damage in Sphynx cats, just as in humans, is linked to the pigment of their skin. Since Sphynx cats are hairless, the breed, on the whole, is more prone to sun damage compared to other furry breeds. In addition, even within the breed, the paler the skin of an individual Sphynx, the more sensitive it is to the sun’s rays. And consequently, the more prone they are to sun damage, the higher the risk of developing AK or SCC.

Pet Vet Tip: If you would like to expand your knowledge on how to skin care for sphynx cats and on white or unpigmented sphynx cats, have a look at the linked articles.

1. Solar (Actinic) Keratosis

Solar or actinic keratosis (AK) is a scientific term for what we know as sunburn. It presents as red, erosive, or ulcerative patches on areas of skin that are most exposed to the sun. More common sites affected are the ears, and the lower eyelids, so keep an eye on these areas for signs of sun damage (Scarff, 2012). The significance of this condition is that it can progress to SCC (squamous cell carcinoma or skin cancer).

2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma

If you would like to read more about this, you can look up the article written by Suzanne Murphy titled “Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma in the Cat” in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. The content of the article is summarized below (Murphy, 2013).

What Is SCC?

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is responsible for 15% of cats’ skin tumors. It is seen more
commonly in older cats as the underlying cause is chronic exposure to sunlight. UVB radiation, more
specifically, is the main culprit, and this is why the condition is commonly referred to as solar-induced

Hair or fur serves as innate protection against this; therefore, Sphynx cats are more susceptible to developing SCC due to the absence of a coat entirely.

What Does SCC Look Like?

Look out for crusting areas and scabs forming on the superficial layers of the skin in the regions that are more commonly exposed to the sun. These abnormal, asymmetrical sores do not heal, which should alert you to the possibility that your cat may have an SCC. It is common for red, erosive, or ulcerative areas to be seen in association, which are likely AK lesions, the prequel to SCC.

This poor cat has squamous cell carcinoma on its nose. Notice how it appears to be an ulcerative wound rather than a lump. Non-healing wounds on unpigmented and hairless areas, especially on the nose and ears, should be investigated for the possibility of SCC.

How Is SCC Treated?

Your vet will confirm the diagnosis of SCC by taking a biopsy of multiple areas and sending it off for histological examination and grading. SCC in cats slowly (if at all) metastasized, and a fine needle aspirate (FNA) of the regional lymph nodes would also be required to check for spread, as well as radiographs of the chest since the lungs are a common site for metastases to be seen if they occur.

Treatment of SCC depends on several things, including, but not limited to, staging, cosmetic consideration, and of course, cost. The details of such will not be discussed in detail in this article as this is more of a preventative write-up. It is wise to discuss all aspects of the possible outcomes with your vet in order to make the right decision regarding treatment.

Squamous cell carcinoma is definitively diagnosed through histopathology, where a tissue sample is processed and stained to be viewed under the microscope. Above is an example of what SCC looks like in histopathology.

3. Ocular (eye) disease

The color of the iris in Sphynx cats directly results from the amount and type of pigment called melanin present. As mentioned previously, melanin is protective against the damaging effects of the sun.

Where brown eyes contain a large amount of melanin in the iris, blue eyes have practically no melanin in the iris. Blue eyes are, therefore, more prone to chronic, sun-induced lesions (Almeida et al., 2008).

Pet Vet Tip: If your Sphynx is mostly white with blue eyes, they might be albino! Albino Sphynx cats are exceedingly uncommon, but if you would like to learn more, have a look at this article.

If your sphynx cat has blue eyes, this provides even more reason to practice caution regarding sun exposure. Let’s look at some of the ways in which you can do this.

Methods of Sun Protection For Your Sphynx Cat

Let’s discuss each of the sun protection options in more detail to help you make an informed
the decision as to what is best for your Sphynx cat.

1. Physical Sun Protection

Avoiding the sun and UV-blocking window films

Physical methods aim to completely block the sun’s rays from falling on your Sphynx’s skin.

Obviously, keeping your naked pet indoors and constantly in the shade would eliminate the risk of sun damage altogether; however, this is sometimes unpractical. If possible, it is preferable to let your Sphynx outdoors or enjoy window-time under supervision to keep it to a finite amount each day.

Windows help prevent sunburn by blocking most of the shorter wavelength sunlight (UVB-rays) that causes sunburn. Still, most windows are ineffective in stopping the more harmful UVA rays that cause the type of skin damage that predisposes to skin cancer.

Ideally, their sunbathing time should not be during the hottest time of the day (approximately 10:00 – 15:00, in our opinion, but this obviously depends on your geographical location and season).

If your cat enjoys a spot in the sun by the window, it may be a good idea to get UV-protective films put on the glass to filter out some harmful rays (PetMDEditorial, 2018). A good example is the Arthome One Way Window Film which blocks 98% of UV-rays.

Cat clothes

Many cat clothes are available on many sites – and probably at your nearest pet store. Remember that you must cover those parts of your kitty’s body most commonly exposed to the sun. This can only really be judged accurately by you as the owner, as you observe your cat’s favorite positions in the sun.

If sun protection is indeed your goal, you should choose a material with a good sun protection factor (SPF) rating and be broad spectrum (UVA and UVB protective) to ensure its efficacy against UV radiation.

That said, it is still best to protect some of your cat’s body, and all clothing pieces have a degree of sun protection. Usually, the thicker the material and the higher the thread count, the higher the UV protection.

A good example is this Cotton Cat T-shirt available on Amazon. This design is great since it has a high collar and short sleeves that cover as much as possible without being uncomfortable for your cat.

Sphynx cats have unusually oily skin, and their clothes must be washed regularly. For more information on sphynx skin and how to best care for their skin, have a look at this article.

2. Chemical


Unfortunately, any topical product presents a challenge in felines as they tend to lick it off immediately after, if not while you apply it. For this reason, while there are many sunscreen products on the market, none of them have been approved for safe use in cats (PetMDEditorial, 2018).

A class of molecules called salicylates are common ingredients in both pet and human sunscreens. This class of chemicals includes the well-known anti-inflammatory drug aspirin, which can affect the stomach lining in cats causing gastric erosions and even ulceration (Parton et al., 2000). It also has been documented to affect the auditory neural system in cats (Zhang et al., 2011).

Most human and pet sunscreens contain salicylates, which if ingested, can be harmful to your cat. Sunscreen, even pet safe products, should therefore never be applied on any areas that your cat might lick.

In light of this, it is not recommended to use sunscreen, even pet-based products, on your Sphynx cat. The safest would be to apply sunscreen only to the tips of your cat’s ears in conjunction with physical sun protection measures such as window covers and clothing. It is important that sunscreen is not applied to any areas where your kitty will be able to lick it off.

3. Pharmacological

COX-2 inhibitors (Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs or NSAIDs)

A study was done to investigate the role of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) expressing epidermal cells in the development of AK and SCC. COX-2 is responsible for inducing inflammatory processes in the body, and it has been implied through human studies that by using anti-inflammatory drugs, specifically COX-2 inhibitors, the effects of sun overexposure can be reduced (Bardagí et al., 2012).

Examples of COX-2 inhibitors that can be used in cats are Meloxicam and Robenacoxib. These drugs should only be used under veterinary guidance should your vet see a benefit and is only available on prescription by your vet.

4. Other Methods of Sun Protection

It is also essential to ensure your Sphynx cat has healthy skin in other regards to aid its resistance to sun damage. For example, proper flea control is imperative as the inflammation from flea bites has been noted to exacerbate sun damage or even serve as a predisposing factor to sun-induced conditions (Carraud et al., 2015).

Since the Sphynx breed is known to have oily skin, prone to yeast infections, it is recommended to bathe your cat weekly in warm water with an approved shampoo to maintain healthy skin (Brown, 2018).

This beautiful color point boy has some resistance to the damaging effects of UV rays thanks to the dark pigment on his nose and ears.


Due to their love for sunbathing and their scant fur covering, Sphynx cats are at an increased risk of suffering from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays. The following measures can be taken to avoid excessive sun exposure of your Sphynx cat:

  • Apply UV-blocking window films to the windows near your Sphynx’s favorite sunny snoozing spots.
  • Have your Sphynx wear cat clothing while spending time in the sun- this does not have to be special UV-blocking clothing as all non-transparent fabric can be considered to have SPF to some degree.
  • Apply pet-safe sunscreen to areas where your cat can not lick, such as the tips of their ears.

We are all too aware of the harmful effects of UV rays these days, and this is no different for our feline friends!


Dr. Annerien de Villiers

Dr. Annerien de Villiers graduated as a veterinarian from the University of Pretoria in 2018. She has since worked full-time in clinical practice tending to all kinds of companion animals in general practice. Serving the human-animal bond with care and compassion and making accurate information accessible to pet owners is at the heart of her driving force as a veterinarian.

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