We all are aware of the measures we need to take in order to protect our skin from the sun and ultraviolet light. But did you know that some of your furbabies are equally sensitive to sun and thermal burns as well? Providing shade and also keeping pets cool during the summer months are very easy initial steps. Solar dermatitis is not commonly seen in cats and dogs with either a thick or dark-colored coat. Thick heavy coats provide physical protection from the sun’s rays, and dark coats absorb much of the damaging ultraviolet rays emitted by the sun.
Anytime your pet is outdoors unprotected, ultraviolet rays (UVA and UVB) cause free radical production and oxidative stress, which damage the skin’s DNA. This exposure induces cell death and results in different tiers of inflammation, such as redness, swelling, loss of body function and other signs of discomfort. Even turning slightly pink is an indication that the skin is being injured. Over time, DNA damage can contribute to skin cancers. A white pitbull with very fine hair, for example, is a breed at risk with skin damage. Some of the causes sunburn include:
- Too much time in sunlight, even indoors
- A thin or sparse coat of hair
- Bare spots on the body Hairless-breed cats are the most vulnerable to sunburn, even though they need to stay warm
- Lying in a sunny spot when the sun’s UV rays are the most intense (between 10 am and 4 pm). This pertains more to cats who lay in the sun excessively.
- Skin Cancer in Cats and Dogs
Just like with humans, repeated sun exposure can predispose spet to certain skin cancers. While other types of skin cancers are more prevalent, squamous cell carcinoma is the most common form of sun-induced cancer in cats and dogs. Squamous cell carcinoma typically appears as charred-colored ulcers and red, raised bumps. These growths include open sores that do not heal, and hair loss is common in areas surrounding the lesions. The ears, nose, stomach and other areas with naturally less hair are among the most common sites of affliction. Squamous cell carcinoma can also occur orally as well. Always consult with your veterinarian.
Dog Breeds Prone to Sunburn
Although all dogs can sunburn, you need to be extra vigilant about protection if you own a pink–skinned or thin–haired breed, such as:
- American Staffordshire Terrier
- Chinese Crested
- White German Shepherd
What About Cats?
Sunburn is possible in all cats, but if yours has white ears and a pink nose with white fur, be especially careful. White cats or cats that have white ears and pink noses, appear to be most commonly affected. Also, cats that tend to be outside during day light hours are going to be at greater risk than those adopting more nocturnal habits, who may choose to sleep indoors out of the sun, during the day.
Shade alone doesn’t offer total UV protection, so don’t forget to apply sunscreen, too. There’s no need to hunt for special doggie sunscreen; use the same people products on your pet that you use for yourself. Just remember to:
- Use child–safe SPF 30 to 50 and apply per the label instructions for people. Apply to your dog’s most sensitive skin (not the fur!): nose, earflaps, belly and any shaved or bare patches. Some can even be applied to the pink paw pads as well. Remember to avoid hot concrete and other substrates that can exacerbate thermal burns. I always recommend sunscreen that is certified safe for babies, ensuring it does not contain any zinc-containing ingredients (such as zinc oxide), which are toxic to pets. Cats and dogs should not be allowed to lick the product, if possible.
- Reapply if your dog goes swimming or rubs herself in the grass or sand, especially if the sunscreen is not waterproof.
- Limit your dog’s exposure to the most harmful UV rays during peak sunshine hours.
- “Doggles” (Dog Goggles) are useful for exophthalmic dogs (dogs with bulging eyes) while traveling in the car. This can help prevent foreign particles from scratching the surface of the cornea as well as preventing uv rays from damaging the back of the eye.
- If your cat is an indoor cat, make sure he does not spend all day asleep in a window, as he will be still be absorbing UV light. You can get UV blocking film to prevent the rays from coming through your windows
Bellies are particularly susceptible to sunburn because dogs have thinner hair on their stomachs. UV rays reflect up from sidewalks, beach sand and other surfaces and can easily burn your pet’s tender tummy. If your sun–worshiping canine loves to catch a good snooze on his back, be sure to apply sunscreen.
Everyone should be able to enjoy the summer! These tips can help keep your furbaby free some sunburn. Remember to keep them cool and never stop loving them!