Written by Dr. Rachel Russo
Whenever you go outside, you probably always remember to apply your sunscreen to protect yourself from sunburns and skin cancer. Did you know that pets can develop sunburns and skin cancer too? Let’s talk about how to best protect your pet against sunburns and skin cancer, and what to do if they have already been affected.
Animals are Susceptible to Sunburn
Animals are usually covered by hair, fur, or pigmented skin that protects them from the harmful rays of the sun. Any circumstance that removes this natural protection may allow your pet to receive enough ultraviolet radiation to burn. For example, if your pet’s coat is shaved during the summer for cooling, or pets who have suffered hair loss from allergies, surgery, or cancer radiation can become sunburned. Animals with light-colored coats or minimal amounts of fur (such as the Chinese crested dog or Sphynx cat) are the most likely to develop sunburns and skin cancer. The most common areas of concern for your pet are any places with lighter patches of fur (such as white ears or a white nose) or areas with less fur (ears, face, etc.).
How can you protect your pet?
While it is unlikely your dog or cat will volunteer to wear a sun hat, you can decrease the amount of time they spend outside when the sun is strongest (usually 8am-4pm). Since this is not always an option, you may apply a sunscreen that contains PABA as the active ingredient and try and avoid ingestion. We do not recommend sunscreen for cats. Some sunscreens contain other drugs (such as zinc) that may be harmful if ingested. It is suggested to use SPF 30 and apply a bit before expected sun exposure. Be aware that there are no FDA approved sunscreens for pets and any pet can get a rare skin irritation reaction to sunscreens. There are products made specifically for pets out there, but they do not include ingredients that actually prevent sunburn or damage.
Additionally, there are UV protective clothing or sun suits for pets. These products may also be helpful for protecting dogs who enjoy sunbathing on their backs and exposing the skin on their abdomen to the sun.
What can you do if your pet suffers from sunburn?
Perhaps you are reading this now because you suspect your pet may already have a sunburn (or worse – skin cancer). If your pet has redness on his or her skin, peeling skin, pain, bleeding or even blisters, it is likely they have burnt themselves and a trip to your veterinarian is the best option. If your pet has developed skin cancer, he or she will require the same type of treatment a human would (surgery+/- chemotherapy).
In conclusion, prevention is the best method. Remember to keep your pet’s safety in mind before playtime and hopefully you will never have to worry about anything more than which toy to use during Spike’s third game of fetch.