Yes, Pets Can Get Sunburned, Too!
Most of us are aware that there is no such thing as a safe tan and sunburnt kids are mostly a historical relic of the 70s and 80s. Unfortunately, our pets continue to be exposed to the sun’s rays unprotected.
Just like us, a pet’s skin cells and DNA are damaged by harmful UV rays from the sun. That DNA damage from UV exposure can take years to manifest as disease, but sun-induced health issues can be very serious when they occur.
All cats and dogs can develop burns, chronic skin inflammation, immune-mediate disease and cancer after excessive sun exposure. Most at risk are short haired and light-skinned pets. The face and ears of these pets are the most sensitive, followed closely by their bellies, as they do seem to enjoy sunbathing belly up.
Sun avoidance is the safest option to prevent disease, but that is not always possible. A compromise is to avoid having them outside during the peak UV hours. For pets who will be outside in the sun, the solution is the same as for ourselves: safe sunscreens and, for pets who tolerate it, protective clothing.
The internet abounds with UV-protective clothing options for dogs of all shapes and sizes. For cats and those dogs who do not like to be clothed, a zinc-free, rapidly absorbing sunscreen is the next best thing. Zinc-free products designed for human infant faces are a good choice. Stick formulas can be used to safely apply around the eyes. Almost all these products irritate the eyes, so take care when applying.
When it comes to the eyes, another excellent option is Doggles, which not only shield the poorly pigmented eyelids and skin surrounding the eyes, but also protect the cornea of the eye. Many dogs, especially those who live at altitude, can have vision-threatening diseases of the cornea due to UV exposure.
The most common diseases that are caused or exacerbated by UV exposure are: squamous cell carcinoma (cancer), hemangioma/hemangiosarcoma (cancer), Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (auto-immune disorder), solar dermatitis (inflammatory) and Pannus/chronic superficial keratitis (immune-mediated). For those pets who have already developed UV-related skin diseases, your veterinarian can determine the best treatment or management options.