Yes, we do have to worry about sunburn in our pets. Cats, dogs and horses can all get sunburn. Despite our area’s reputation for cold and snow, this weekend in central NY we will have temperatures up to the 90s with lots of bright sunshine. You need to help out your pets that may get sun exposure on this Father’s Day weekend.
Generally sunburn shows up on thinly haired areas and areas with white hair. Cats with white ears are especially prone not only to sunburn but also to the development of squamous cell cancer on those sunburnt ears. The development of cancer requires removal of the affected area on the ears – obviously something that is better to prevent that to have to treat!
Dogs with white muzzles and hairless dogs such as the Chinese Crested are at the highest risk for sunburn in dogs. Older pets with thin haircoats are at increased risk and any dogs that love to sunbathe, lying upside down exposing their abdomen and groin areas (which tend to be lightly haired), are also at more risk.
Shaved dogs, especially those with white skin, have higher risk. Collies and Shetland sheepdogs are noted for getting sunburnt noses. You may hear this referred to as “nasal solar dermatitis”.
Horses with white muzzles, wide blazes that end on the muzzle and light colored horses such as Appaloosas can get sunburnt.
So how can you avoid sunburn? First, follow some of the same common sense rules. Try to avoid letting your pet out in direct sun between the “peak” sun hours of 10 am to 3 or 4 pm. That means providing shade, keeping dogs and cats indoors and possibly putting a horse with a white muzzle in the barn.
Dogs who need to be out in sun might be protected by a light weight t shirt over their white areas if the body is the problem.
Second, there are sun lotions and sun screens you can use. Ideally a pet sunscreen will have UVA and UHB protection up to 15 to 30 SPF. Apply lotion liberally! Typical ingredients will include ethylhexyl methooxycinnamate, octyl salicylate, homosalate and benzophenone-3. Cats should not use any lotions with ingredients with “salicylate” in them.
Epi Pet produces the only pet sunscreen currently FDA approved and it is only approved for dogs and horses. You can also use human baby approved sun lotions – still look to rule out any salicylates before using on your cats! Realize also that human sun screens are not tested/approved for ingestion, so don’t let your pet lick the sun screen off. Rub it on thoroughly and then distract your pet so he doesn’t immediately lick the area.
Doggles also makes a sun lotion for pets as well as special goggles to help protect your dog’s eyes from harmful sun rays. Many dogs are perfectly happy wearing doggles! Dogs who have the eye problem called pannus, which results in a pigment build up on the corneas do need eye protection if they are out in the sun. Sun visors or doggles can help.