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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 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:
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.
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 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.
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:
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.
In addition to preventing sunburn and skin cancer, there are other things you can do to protect your pet during the hot weather months.
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.
title: Sun Safety Concerns for Dogs and Cats
author: Dr. Wendy Hauser