The dog days of summer are here. The sun is shining and outdoor activities are in high swing. One thing most people don’t remember is that it’s time to make sure your pet is protected from the sun. That’s right - our furry friends, just like us, can suffer from the damaging effects from the sun’s powerful rays.
Excess sun exposure can be painful, can lead to sunburns, and increases the risk of certain types of skin cancer. The sun gives off different kinds of ultraviolet rays: UVB and UVA. UVB rays can cause sunburns and UVA can cause certain types of skin cancer.
Most dogs and cats have hair that helps protect them from sun damage. However, cats and dogs who have short, thin or no hair are more susceptible to sunburns and developing skin cancer. Areas like ears, the bridge of the nose, lips, eyelids, and the belly or groin areas of your pet are also more vulnerable due to the lack of hair or pigment. Due to the lack of protective melanin pigment, white cats and dogs also have a higher risk of sun damage and skin cancer. So what do you do to protect your pet?
The more time your pet spends outside in the sun, especially during peak sun exposure (between 10am- 3pm), the higher the risk of sun related problems.
Shade and fresh water should be available at all times. If your pet must be outside, provide sun block tops for the kennel or housing area. Just like for us, water activities and sports can intensify the sun’s harmful rays.
Many cats enjoy sleeping in windowsills and lying in the sun for several hours a day. Light-skinned and thin haired cats who spend a lot of time in the sun have an increased risk for a certain type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Areas of little or no fur tend to be effected the most: ears (especially the tips), nose, belly, groin and legs. Things you can do to help: keep your cat inside during peak sun exposure and apply shades or UV film over your windows to cut down on harmful rays.
Shaving a pet can decrease the pet’s natural sun protection
Pet fur is completely different than human hair. Cat and dog fur coats help them regulate temperature in warm and cold weather as well as acting as a natural sun barrier.
Sun protective clothing
There are now many companies offering solar protective gear for dogs. Rash guards are specialized shirts contain UVA/UVB ray protection rated UPF 50+. Companies such as Playapup, Body Glove Pet and EzyDog all make canine rash guards that come in a variety of sizes and designs. All three companies can be found on Amazon.com.
Doggles are specialized canine eye protection that offers 100% UV protective lenses.
Sun protective clothing may increase the likelihood your pet will overheat or suffer heat stroke. Always watch your pet for signs of overheating: hyperventilation, excessive panting, dry gums that become pale, increased salivation, erratic or rapid pulse, confusion, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, and possibly rectal bleeding.
When selecting a sunscreen for your pet, pick one that is approved for use on the species you will using it on (dog or cat), that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and that provides atminimum SPF 15 or SPF 30. Sunscreen should be hypoallergenic, fragrance free and dye free. Human sunscreens should be avoided because they may contain ingredients that can be toxic to a dog or cat if licked off and ingested.
There are many sunscreens labeled for dogs, but read the label carefully. Zinc Oxide is toxic if your pet ingests it, causing severe anemia. Para-aminobenzoic acid (also known as PABA) is an ingredient that is also toxic to dogs if ingested. Always be careful not to get the sunscreen in your pet’s eyes. Apply a small amount to a small area on your pet to test for reaction before applying all over the body. If using a spray sunscreen, spray directly into your cupped hand then rub it over your dog. Sprays can be startling to dogs when directly applied to the skin. Don’t forget to reapply sunscreen at least every 4-6 hours.
Be sure to use a sunscreen that is labeled for use on cats. Many things that dogs can tolerate are toxic to cats. In addition to zinc oxide and PABA, salicylates are extremely toxic to cats. Octyl salicylate, homosalate, and ethyhexyl salicylate are active ingredients that should never be used on a cat. The most common salicylate is acetylsalicylic acid which is also known as aspirin and is very toxic to cats. Cats are very good groomers and will lick off sunscreen so be sure to use a product specifically formulated for cats.
WARNING: If your pet develops skin irritation or reacts to any topical sunscreen, wash it off and contact your veterinarian at Animal Hospital of North Asheville immediately. Also, call for an appointment if you notice any suspicious skin lesions or bumps as skin cancer is always a possibility. Please consult your veterinarian prior to using any human products or medications on your pet.
Ultimately, the best protection is avoiding prolonged sun exposure and making sure your pet has routine skin exams. Skin exams will be done as part of your pet’s Annual Comprehensive Physical exam each year, but always monitor your pet for new lesions or changes to their skin. Be sure to schedule an appointment at Animal Hospital of North Asheville if you have any concerns. Keep your pet out of the sun during peak sun times, between 10:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M. And remember, even the best pet sun protection offers no protection from overheating and heat stroke. If you are heading out for a summertime adventure on a hot, sunny day, leaving your dog at home may be the safest choice. Finally, sun protection isn’t just a seasonal safety habit to follow; sun protection is important year-round.