Lathering up with sunscreen, checking the UV index, and minimizing time in direct sunlight are all things we humans do to protect ourselves from painful sunburn and the dangers of skin cancer. But did you know, despite their often furry coats, our pets are also vulnerable to the sun’s damaging rays? Just as it can for people, excess sun exposure can lead to sunburn and other complications like aggravated dermatitis or auto-immune disorders, and even skin cancer in cats and dogs. In fact, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC) skin tumors are the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in dogs. And, while genetics play a key role in the likelihood of your pet developing skin cancer, the risk factor most in your control is your animal’s exposure to sunlight.
Many believe an animal’s hair protects them from the sun. While, this is true to some degree, Dr. Ruth MacPete, DVM and the Pet Health Network point out that breeds with little to no hair, like the Sphinx cat or Mexican Hairless dog, are highly susceptible to painful sunburns and skin cancer. Additionally, pets with light skin or short hair, like white or orange cats, Dalmatians or Whippets, and even longer-haired dog breeds like the Collie or Australian Shepherd tend to be more sensitive to the sun’s harmful rays and prone to sunburn and other issues. These animals with lighter pigment to their skin are especially vulnerable on exposed areas like the ears, nose, lips, eyelids, and belly, which are often covered by little to no protective hair. So, what can you do to protect your pets this summer?
1. Minimize Exposure. It should come as no surprise that, just as with humans, the best way to prevent sun damage to your pet’s skin is to keep them out of the sun and shielded from the dangerous UV rays as much as possible. Keeping pets indoors during peak sun hours (usually between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.) is the surest way to protect your pet. Taking walks in the morning or evening, along with sticking to shadier routes and areas, will also help lessen their exposure.
2. Shield them from the Sun. If your pet is a sun worshiper or your can’t avoid spending a lot of time outdoors, you may want to consider protective clothing or other methods to guard them from the sun. There are a variety of pet clothing options on the market that provide solar protection. Even a light-colored t-shirt from your closet can act as a shield, providing coverage to vulnerable areas like your dog’s belly. You may be surprised to learn that even indoor cats can be at risk for skin damage from the sun. Installing UV-filtering shades on any windows your pet enjoys lounging near is an excellent way of protecting them from those rays that find their way into your home.
3. Use Pet-safe Sunscreen. Applying a pet-safe sunscreen or balm to your pet’s ear tips, nose, and other vulnerable areas can be a game changer when it comes to protecting them from sunburn and any resulting complications. Always avoid contact with their eyes and only use products that are specifically intended for use on pets, as many human sunscreens contain chemicals that may be toxic if licked or ingested by your pet. Check with your vet to determine if a product is safe for use on your cat or dog.
Follow these simple tips to help minimize the risk and maximize the fun on all your outdoor summer adventures with your favorite four-legged friends. And be sure to address any burns, skin lesions, or other concerns with your veterinarian.