Warning, some of the pictures in this blog may cause distress.
For a nation of cat lovers, we are sadly under-educated in many ways when it comes to the welfare of our purry friends. One thing that a lot of people don't realise is that cats can become sunburnt and this can lead to skin cancer.
The cats most commonly (but not exclusively) affected are cats who have white ears or noses, where there is little or no pigmentation on the skin.
Cats love to be out in the hot sun, dozing in the midday glare and toasting their tummies, but the suns rays can be as deadly to them as they can to humans, and like with humans, it can be easily preventable.
One way to stop your cat getting sunburnt is to keep her in during the hottest hours of the day. Let her out for a wander in the morning and then keep her in again until late afternoon/early evening when the sun's rays are less strong.
If that is impossible, you may consider using sunblock on the cat's ears. Most high factor sunblocks will be suitable, although of course the difficulty is applying it and then persuading the cat not to lick it off.
But so what, you might think. Does it really matter if the cat gets a bit of sunburn on her ears? Ask Puss-puss. She'll tell you it matters.
Puss-puss came into our care recently. Her owners moved away about a year ago and left her behind, and kind neighbours fed her. They couldn't bear the thought of her living outside in the garden for another winter and asked us to take her. Our first glance at her ears made us think that she might have sunburn. The edges of her ears were all black and scabby, and the tips were starting to fold back. We took her to the vets who confirmed our worst suspicions - yes, the ears had skin cancer, and it was spreading down towards the base of her ears. The picture above shows Puss-puss just after she came into our care - you may be able to make out a black smudge on the very edge of her right ear.
The second two photos show sunburn in various stages - the first is an early case of sunburn, and may not develop into cancer, as long as care is taken. There are no black scabs there yet, but the ear is starting to fold a little. The second photo shows a much more advanced case - the cat here has had quite substantial scabbing on his ears and has scratched the ears so that the scab has fallen off. It will regrow.
As for Puss-puss, we had no alternative but to have her ear tips removed. Had we not done so, it is likely that the cancer would have spread. Because the scabbing was down her ears almost to her head, the amputation of her ear tips was quite extreme.
Puss-puss had her operation yesterday, and she has been as good as gold, taking her medication, and not scratching her ears, even though they are swollen and may be quite sore. She will have to return to the vets at least a couple more times, and her hearing will be less effective. Additionally there is a chance that more dirt etc will fall into her ears.
In Puss-puss' case, there is probably little that anyone could have done. Her previous owners abandoned her and she was left to live outside for a year or more. But if you have a cat with pale/white ears or nose, keep a bottle of high factor sunblock to hand, or better still keep him indoors during the hot part of the day.
It might say on the bottle "not tested on animals....", but you'll know differently when you look at your cat with her pristine white ears......