If your pet likes to lounge in the sun or spend time outside on sunny days, take precautions to help protect them from sunburn, which can lead to skin cancer.
Pets and Sunburn
Pets without hair, like the Sphynx cat or Mexican hairless dog, are certainly at risk for getting a sunburn. But any pet can get burned in areas that have no or minimal fur, including the tips of the ears, lips, and mid-section. For instance, pets who like to sunbathe on their backs can end up with a burned belly.
Other pets who are more prone to sunburn include those who have thin or light-colored coats or suffer from health conditions that cause hair loss, such as allergies or Cushing’s disease. Additionally, if your pet has been shaved for surgery, you should be extra careful about their sun exposure.
You may also be surprised to know that indoor cats are at risk for sunburn. Regular windows do not filter out harmful UV rays so cats who like to nap in windowsills or snooze in sunbeams can get sunburnt. Cats with white or beige coats tend to have lighter colored skin, which can burn more easily.
Pets with sunburn will have the same symptoms as humans. For instance, the burned skin will appear red, dry, and cracked. It will also be painful to the touch, and your pet may wince when you try to pet them. Some pets will scratch or bite at the affected area while they whimper in pain. More severe cases of sunburn can result in blistering and fever.
While a minor case of sunburn will generally heal on its own, you should bring your pet to the veterinarian if the burn is red and painful. They can assess the severity of the burn and recommend the appropriate treatment. This will usually involve shaving the affected area, carefully cleaning the burn, and applying a topical ointment. You may need to apply the ointment at home as well.
The best way to prevent sunburn is to keep your pet out of the sun as much as possible, especially when it is at its hottest. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go outside with your pet, but you can take steps to keep them safe from sunburn:
- Use a pet-safe sunscreen on exposed areas of skin (more on this below)
- Have your pet wear clothing designed to provide sun protection
- Take walks in the early mornings or late evenings when the sun isn’t as strong
- Stick to shadier routes when you’re out with your pet
If your pet is getting sunburned by basking near a window or sliding glass door, you can look into installing solar shades, which block harmful UV rays.
A veterinary-approved sunscreen is recommended to help protect areas prone to sunburns, such as your pet’s belly and the tips of the ears. Avoid using human sunscreen products, since they can contain harmful ingredients that may irritate your pet’s skin or make your pet sick if they lick it off. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a good choice for your pet and get suggestions on how best to apply it.
Skin Cancer in Pets
Like people, pets can get skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Areas of the skin that are repeatedly exposed to the harmful rays of the sun are more prone to skin cancer, which makes it especially important to protect your pet from sunburn.
Early detection can make a big difference in your pet’s prognosis, so be sure to look over your pet’s skin regularly. If you notice issues such as red spots, lumps that look like warts, flakiness, or inflammation, you should contact your veterinarian. Don’t panic—not every little bump or discoloration is cancer—but do visit the veterinarian as soon as possible for a proper diagnosis.
If skin cancer is caught before it spreads to other parts of the body, it can usually be eliminated with laser surgery, surgery, or radiation. Topical ointments may be recommended for precancerous spots.
Hotspots and Pets
Hotspots are infected skin sores that tend to occur more often in the summertime. Hotspots can be red, oozing, and, as the name suggests, warm to the touch. They pop up when your pet excessively licks or scratches at an irritated area of the skin. The initial irritation may be from flea bites, allergies, or matted fur, and your pet’s constant attention to the area only makes things worse.
If your pet develops hot spots, take them to the veterinarian for treatment. This usually entails trimming the hair around the hotspots to improve air circulation and allow for careful cleaning. Your pet may also need topical ointments and antibiotics. Your veterinarian can also identify any underlying conditions causing the hotspots, so they don’t recur.
To Shave, or Not to Shave
While it can seem like a good idea to give your pet a close summer shave, there are good reasons not to shave them all the way down:
- Your pet’s coat acts as insulation, keeping them from getting too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter.
- Their fur provides protection from the sun. A shaved pet will be more at risk for sunburn, which can lead to skin cancer.
- Shaved pets may get chilly when they’re inside with the air conditioning running.
- If you shave a dog with a double coat, such as a German Shepherd or Pomeranian, the upper hairs may not grow back, causing a patchy, scruffy appearance.
However, if your dog enjoys a shorter summer hairstyle and doesn’t mind the clippers, it’s fine to give their coat a trim. Some cats also enjoy having a shorter coat through the hot summer months. Consult with your veterinarian about the least stressful way to give your cat a “lion” cut.
Summer Pet Health Tips
In addition to preventing sunburn and skin cancer, there are other things you can do to protect your pet during the hot weather months.
- Annual wellness exam – Has your pet had their yearly check-up? The start of summer is an excellent time to schedule that visit.
- Heartworm prevention – When you’re at your veterinarian’s office, ask if your pet needs to be tested for heartworms or if they would benefit from a heartworm preventative. The mosquitos who transmit these parasites are out in full force in the summer.
- Flea and tick protection – You should also talk to your veterinarian about safe flea and tick prevention. These little critters are more prevalent in the summer, and ticks can transmit bacterial illnesses, such as Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis.
- Overheating – Like people, pets can suffer from dehydration and heatstroke when they get overheated. Watch your pet for signs of heatstroke, such as panting, excessive drooling, or bright red gums. If you notice these symptoms, move your pet somewhere to cool off and seek medical attention.
- Parked cars – Never leave your pet alone in a parked car even with the windows cracked open. Cars heat up fast, which can put your pet in grave danger.
- Water safety – Always supervise your pet around pools or other bodies of water like ponds or lakes. Never force your pet to go into the water. If they like to swim, it’s OK to let them paddle around as long as you’re close by in case they find themselves in trouble.
- Screen check – Make sure all of the screens in your home are secure so your pet won’t be able to push them open and fall out. Also, be careful if you decide to open a window. Cats can slip through some pretty small openings. Cases of high-rise syndrome where cats fall from steep heights spike in the summer.
- Hot asphalt – When the temperature goes up, driveways and sidewalks can get so hot they burn your pet’s paws. Don’t let your pet walk or lay down on hot asphalt.
- Fireworks – Avoid bringing your pet to places where there will be fireworks. The noise can startle your pet and cause them to run off.
- Harmful foods – Summer is a great time to enjoy outdoor barbecues, cookouts, and picnics, but these events can have all sorts of foods that are harmful to pets. Make sure you know which foods your dog or cat shouldn’t eat.
Keep in mind pet insurance can help out with all sorts of summertime woes—from heatstroke to skin cancer. Learn more by getting a free quote now.
The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.