Sunscreen for cats and dogs is not a gimmick – ingredients to avoid

Sunscreen for cats and dogs is not a gimmick. It is a serious business and veterinarians recommend you use it in protecting your companion animal but there are dangers and it is advised to not use products for humans as they contain ingredients which can be harmful to companion animals. In a recent survey (July 15, 2022 report) it was found that 40% of dog owners mistakenly think that human sunscreens are suitable for dogs. I suspect that the same percentage have the same thoughts about cats. And also, in respect of dogs, a poll of 2000 dog owners found that 51% are planning to take their dog on a summer staycation but only 46% realise that dogs need sun protection and 55% were unaware of the potential side effects of their dog being sunburned. Once again, I suspect similar percentages exists with respect to domestic cats.

I think that we can expect, with global warming, some hot spells this summer. And with that in mind the British Veterinary Association (BVA) is recommending that owners use an animal-specific SPF 30 sun cream if their cat or dog is exposed to the sun for long periods. Sunscreen applications come in the form of creams, mists, sprays, wet wipes and balms. They are sold everywhere including, in the UK, from Pets at Home, an online and on the ground pet products retailer in the UK.

White cat in sun in danger of sunburnt ear flaps
White cat in sun in danger of sunburnt ear flaps. Photo in public domain.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

And it appears that companion animal owners are taking the advice of veterinarians as sales of dog-friendly sun cream rose by 24% in 2021 compared to 2020 according to Pets at Home.

A sunscreen product is important for certain breeds and colours of cats and dogs. Justine Shotton, president of the BVA said: “Any non-pigmented and scarred patches of skin or areas covered by a finer hair coat, such as ear tips, are susceptible to sunburn. In the case of chronic exposure, it can lead to potentially dangerous skin cancers.”

For dogs: dalmatians, whippets, white boxers, white English bull terriers and beagles are the most susceptible. For cats, it is all about white cats or bicolour cats with white ear flaps either purebred or moggy. Online, it is not uncommon to see white cats without ear flaps as they been removed by veterinarian due to the development of cancer caused by chronic sunburn.

The recommendation is to apply pet-appropriate sunscreen 10-15 minutes before exposure. If it is hard to find products made for pets, hypoallergenic or baby human products may be suitable as an alternative said Justine Shotton.

Cats are particularly fond of lying under the sun until they become too hot when they move but they are at risk of sunburn. The BVA recommend using a waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above which contains titanium dioxide and which blocks UV rays.

Apparently, the best products for protection of cats’ ears are products containing titanium dioxide. It works by physically blocking the sun’s harmful UVB and short UVA rays but does not block the longer UVA rays. And it is not poisonous but it does not completely protect against the sun and therefore zinc oxide might be added to increase protection.

The BVA advise against using a cream with zinc oxide as if it is ingested when grooming it might poison the animal. Zinc toxicity in dogs (I will presume that these symptoms apply to cats as well) include, excessive and continuous vomiting and diarrhoea, weakness, lethargy, lack of appetite, liver failure and jaundice, kidney failure and blood in the urine and finally anaemia and pale gums.

Petplan, an insurer, said that there is another ingredient to avoid namely para-aminobenzoic acid (Paba) as it can be toxic. A veterinarian at Petplan, Brian Faulkner, said pet sunscreen can make “a real difference. Vet bills for sun-related issues can stack up quickly.”

And this applies even though cats can lick off sunscreen. Clearly the most vulnerable part of a cat’s anatomy are the ear flaps. Cats, as you may well have observed, wash their ear flaps using their forelegs.

Para-aminobenzoic acid is also known as vitamin B10. One website says that it was “once added to sunscreen”. This implies that it is no longer added to sunscreen. This appears to be correct but possibly irrelevant because a lot of people keep sunscreen for a long time. When ingested it can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, bone marrow changes and liver damage in a cat. Also, PABA sunscreens contain 50% more ethanol alcohol. This means that there is also an ethanol toxicity risk.

Other chemicals in current human sunscreens which are poisonous when ingested by dogs and cats are listed below. However, as mentioned above, pet owners should only use pet-specific sunscreens to avoid the following chemicals which are found in current human sunscreens (source

  • Cinnamates – cinoxate, ethylhexyl, Octyl & p-methoxycinnamate
  • PABA esters – Padimate-O, Octyl Dimethyl PABA
  • Salicylates – ethylhexyl salicylate, homosalate, octyl salicylate
    Propylene Glycol – as a humectant in sunscreens to extend activity time

Apparently, many sunscreens which are licensed to be used on pets and therefore are meant to be pet-appropriate apparently contain chemicals that could cause problems namely: Octyl Dimethyl PABA, Octyl methoxycinnamate, Propylene Glycol and Zinc Oxide.

Please be careful in your selection. You might seek the advice of your veterinarian. A phone call will be enough.

Below are some pages on things that are toxic to cats.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.
Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important
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