Can My Cat Get Skin Cancer?

CatChannel veterinary expert Arnold Plotnick, DVM, discusses the risk of skin cancer in different cats.

Q: Should I put baby sunscreen or a special formulated-for-cats sunscreen on my indoor-only Tuxedo cat’s pink nose? He loves sitting in the sun, behind the glass. I know white cats, cats with white or pink on their ears or cats with pink noses are prone to skin cancer. I notice that when my cat sits for a while in the sun, his nose gets a little brighter pink and I just don’t want my cat to develop skin cancer.

A: You are correct that sun exposure increases the risk of a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). SCC accounts for about 15% of all cat skin cancer. These tumors usually involve unpigmented or light skin, such as the ears, eyelids and hairless area of the nose. While putting sunscreen on your cat’s nose seems a logical thing to consider, no cat will tolerate the sunscreen for more than a few seconds. Cats will immediately lick it off, negating any beneficial effect. 

If you’re truly worried about solar-induced SCC, reduce the risk by minimizing your cat’s time spent in the sun. Solar-induced SCC, however, is pretty rare. White cats are at increased risk; a tuxedo cat is probably at minimal risk. I’d let him enjoy his time in the sun, but go ahead and examine his ears, eyelids and nose on a regular basis, and if anything seems unusual in any way at all, have your veterinarian check it out.

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