White cats need sunscreen when in the sun (and there appears to be more sun than usual in places like California) but currently, there appears to be no safe sunscreen lotions for cats (unless someone can recommend one in a comment). For dogs it is different but a cat owner should not apply sunscreen for dogs to their cat. Also, it is not safe to presume that adult human or even baby sunscreen is safe for cats (an interesting aside: sunscreen can poison sea life so when people sunbath and then swim in the sea they may be harming the planet).
Cats have interesting, special metabolisms and they are also fastidious groomers. They’ll lick the sunscreen off, ingest the stuff and convert the chemicals in it to something poisonous which will hurt them. For example, Epi-Pet Sun Protector is FDA approved and good for dogs but cannot be used on cats because two of the chemicals in the product are broken down by the cat after it is ingested to create aspirin and we know that aspirin is toxic to cats unless used in extremely well controlled doses.
We are told that sunscreen products containing titanium dioxide are alright for cats if applied to the tip of their nose and ears. However, it is toxic if ingested, apparently, and it is possibly carcinogenic. It does not look that safe to me on cats. We are told that products containing these substances should be avoided: zinc oxide, octyl salicylate, homosalate and ethylhexyl salicylate.
White cats are vulnerable in the sun but any thoughts of applying sunscreen should be delayed until veterinarian advice has been obtained and I expect the advice to be “don’t use it”. This means keeping white cats in the shade in the hot months in hot places. It requires a bit of supervision basically.
White cats are thirteen times more likely than nonwhite cats to get skin cancer of the parts of their body which are unprotected by fur and in a direct line of fire from the UV light of the sun’s rays, which is the ears and nose. More precisely, a study tells us that they have a 13.4 times greater risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a type of skin cancer.
Siamese cats have a lower risk than other cats of developing SCC, the study found, but to be honest I don’t believe it. I am sure Siamese cats are less likely to get skin cancer than white cats or some other pedigree cats but what about black cats? They are as well protected at the extremities as Siamese cats, which as we know are pointed cats (dark extremities).
The study found that of the 149 cases of feline SCC assessed, 87 related to the nose and ears.
To put the risk of skin cancer in cats into perspective, in Alameda County, California the annual incidences of feline SCC was (is?) about 27 cases per 100k cats. In percentage terms this is 0.27% – small but why take risks? However, in a previous post I refer to other studies which indicate a 1 in 300 risk, much higher.