The best part of summer is being able to spend time outdoors playing in the sun, especially with our pets! However, there are some precautions to take to make sure our pets stay healthy. Just like us, our pets are at risk of getting sunburn from prolonged sun exposure. Some pets are even at risk of getting skin cancer secondary to too much sun exposure. There are some steps you can take to decrease the risk of your pet getting skin trauma from the sun, and we will discuss those things here.
Pets at High Risk
There are certain pets that have a higher risk of skin damage due to sun exposure. Pets that you should take extra precautions with include those with the following features:
- Light-colored skin tone (pets that are white in color)
- Pets with thin fur
- Pets with no hair or fur at all
- Pets with lightly pigmented noses, ears, and/or eyelids
There are also places on our pets’ bodies that are more at risk of being affected by the sun and potentially getting sunburned or skin cancer. These are the areas that typically are more lightly pigmented and/or that have no fur or hair covering them. These locations on our pets’ bodies include the following:
- Brim of the nose
- Ear pinnae (ear flaps)
- Eyelids and area around the eyes
- Groin area
- Armpit area
You should pay close attention to these particular spots on your pet regularly, especially if your pet is one that likes to lie on their back and sunbathe.
It may seem difficult to decrease the risk of sunburn to your pet if they love to romp around outside or to bask in the sun, enjoying the warm weather. However, there are some things you can do to try to mitigate the effects of the sun’s rays.
There is sunscreen made specifically for pets. It is important to use only pet-friendly sunscreen. Human-grade sunscreen may have certain ingredients in it that could be harmful to your pet if they were to ingest it. Since most pets groom or lick themselves, it is best to just avoid any topical products if you are not certain ingesting the product will not cause your pet harm. You should avoid any sunscreen that has the ingredients zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) in it.
Apply the sunscreen on the exposed areas of your pet. This will be the parts of their body, mentioned above, where there is no fur or hair. This includes their nose, parts of their face, their underbelly, or even their entire body if they are hairless. Follow the label instructions on the sunscreen bottle as to how often you should apply it. It is best to find waterproof sunscreen since your pet probably loves to play in water as well.
You can also protect your pet’s skin from the sun by putting light-weight, breathable shirts or clothing on them. For many pets this is probably not the best option, but it is one to consider. Just make sure the protective clothing is breathable and will not make them hot.
Finally, the best thing you can do to prevent your pet from getting skin damage due to sun exposure is to play with them in the shade. Take short trips out into the direct sunlight, but try to keep the majority of their time spent outdoors in a cool, shaded area.
Always remember to keep fresh water available as well. It is not uncommon for pets to succumb to heat stroke by being out in the heat for too long. Making sure they take regular breaks and have water to drink is a must.
Additionally, try to limit your pet’s time outdoors in direct sunlight to just the mornings and late afternoons. These times are usually safer as the sun’s rays will not be as strong as they are during the middle of the day when it is usually hottest outside.
Signs of Sunburn
Pets with sunburn may have reddened skin that is warm or flaking. If the burn is minor, you can apply some aloe to the area. However, if it is very red, moist, or flaking a lot you should have your pet seen by your vet. They can determine if your pet needs a prescription topical ointment or even an antibiotic to help in the healing process.
Since sunburn can, in some cases, lead to skin cancer, if you notice any abnormal spots on your pet’s skin at any time of the year, schedule a visit with your veterinarian so they can see if it is something to worry about.
Leslie Brooks graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in 2012. After graduation she did a one-year intensive rotating clinical internship, with rotations in various specialties. She has been working in small animal clinical medicine ever since and ran her own house call practice for three years. She currently lives in Indiana with her husband, son, and cat named Callie. She spends much of her free time volunteering in the community, from Meals on Wheels to working with pets of the homeless and vulnerable. She also loves to travel and read.