Our pets are just as vulnerable to sunlight-induced skin disease as we are. Some pets worship the sun as much as their beach-going humans do. In people, addiction to tanning is associated with the production of endorphins produced as part of the skin’s immune response to light exposure. Similar sun-seeking behavior can happen in pets as well. Although hair protects many animals from sunlight, not all parts of the body are covered with sufficient hair to shield the underlying skin from solar damage.
Sunburn in Pets
The armpits, abdomen, skin in front of the ears, nose, and muzzle are vulnerable in all pets; short-coated breeds and lighter-pigmented individuals are particularly at risk. Even indoor-only pets can have problems with too much sun. Windows do not block all types of potentially damaging solar radiation, while newer double-paned glass windows can prevent most harmful effects of the sun, older glass windows provide little or no protection from UV Rays to pets who love to sit on window sills.
Too much sun can cause problems ranging from sunburn to cancers such as melanoma. Dogs and cats can get precancerous lesions called actinic keratoses, which can then progress to skin cancers such as squamous cell or basal cell carcinoma. Some dogs can develop tumors of the blood vessels called hemangiomas.
Sun Strategies for Dogs and Cats:
Time your walks
The best protection strategy in humans and animals is avoidance of the sun, particularly when radiation levels are the highest, between 10 AM and 4 PM. Early morning and evening are the safest times for long walks or outdoor play. A penned enclosure with a shade cloth can be effective in treeless yards.
Protective Clothing for Pets
Some companies make “sunwear” for dogs designed for solar protection. Human clothing can be adapted for our pets too, though few dogs or cats tolerate hats.
Sunscreen for Dogs
Sunscreen use in humans has increased, along with awareness of the damaging effects of too much sun. However, sunscreen is typically not applied appropriately or at high enough frequency to be effective. The use of sunscreens may impart a false sense of security, leading people to spend more time in the sun at the most dangerous times of the day. Veterinary sunscreens are available; human zinc-free sunscreens designed for infants can be a good alternative.
Heatstroke in Dogs is a True Emergency – Do not hesitate to seek treatment
Any dog that is believed to have developed heatstroke should receive immediate care.
Key treatments that owners Should do include:
- Immediately remove the dog from the hot environment.
- Gently, but thoroughly wet the dog’s coat with cool water (not ice water) as soon as a heatstroke incident is identified.
Dousing the dog in cool water and placing them in front of a fan is the best way to cool the dog by allowing the transfer of heat from the core to the skin and subsequently to the environment. Ice water is to be avoided as it will induce peripheral vasoconstriction and inhibit heat radiation from the skin. Ice water may also induce shivering, which will result in heat generation. Once a dog has been sprayed with cool water, transport the dog to a veterinarian for further stabilization and care with IV fluids and additional symptomatic and supportive care.
Heatstroke is a serious condition, and prognosis is dependent on many factors, including duration of temperature elevation, the extent of temperature elevation, rapidity of initiation of treatment, and the development of complications.
Poor prognostic indicators include a progressive decline in neurological status, worsening kidney function, heart arrhythmias, and altered blood clotting ability.