Summer brings constant reminders about the danger of over-exposure to the sun and the need for sunscreen for humans. But the family pet is also sensitive to the sun. Dogs, cats and even horses can suffer from sunburn, solar dermatitis and even skin cancer.
The skin of a sunburned animal is red and painful, just as in people. Hair loss may also be evident.
The most common sites for sunburn include: the bridge of the nose, ear tips, skin around the lips, groin, abdomen and inner legs. Pets that have light-colored noses and skin, thin or missing hair, or have been shaved for surgery are at greater risk.
Ideally, it is better to prevent sunburn than to treat it. However, if sunburn does occur, your veterinarian can provide you and your pet with treatment options.
Sunburn can progress to solar dermatitis, which is characterized by redness, hair loss, crusting and ulceration of the skin. With continued sun exposure, skin cancer (such as squamous cell carcinoma) may occur.
The best way to prevent sunburn is by avoiding the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., keeping the animal inside or providing shaded areas in the yard.
Sunscreens may help prevent sunburn in pets. They’re recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association for appropriate animals. The sunscreen should be fragrance-free, non-staining, and contain UVA and UVB blockers. Because most human sunscreens can be toxic if ingested by a dog or a cat, use a pet-specific product.
Doggles, Nutri-vet and Epi-Pet all produce pet-specific sunscreens and can be found online. Be sure to check which product is right for your pet; some products should not be used on cats.
Sunscreens should be applied abundantly and reapplied every four to six hours during the brightest part of the day.