Sunburn in Dogs and Cats
Most of us have had a sunburn at some point during our lives. Unpleasant and painful, sunburn or solar dermatitis is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) sun rays when we spend too much time in the sun. It can also lead to premature aging of the skin and skin cancer. Just like us, our four-legged family members are at risk of sunburn too. Read on to learn how to prevent and recognize sunburn in your pet.
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Is my pet at risk?
As in humans, some animals are more likely than others for sustaining sunburn.
- Those with no hair or very sparse coats, such as a Sphynx cat, Mexican Hairless (Xoloitzcuintli), or Chinese Crested dogs
- Dog and cats with short, white, or light color coats
Although most dogs and cats have fur covering the majority of their bodies, they are still at risk of sunburn on body parts that are hairless or have very little hair such as eyelids, ears, nose, lips, and belly.
Even indoor-only cats may be affected when they spend time lounging in the sun by a window. Glass does not completely prevent dangerous rays of the sun from reaching the skin.
How do I know if my dog has sunburn?
Signs your dog or cat may have sustained a sunburn include:
- Skin that is red or warm to the touch
- Acting painful when petted or touched
- Itching or scratching, which may lead to open sores and skin infection
- Blistering or scaling of the skin
- Lethargy in more severe cases
Sunburn may also lead to the development of skin cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma, malignant melanoma, and hemangiomas in dogs and cats.
An Ounce of Prevention…
Many options exist to prevent our furry loved ones from suffering from sunburn.
- Minimizing time outdoors other than necessary bathroom breaks
- Walks or other outdoor activities are best done in the early morning or late afternoon. Spending time in the shade is helpful but won’t completely eliminate the sun’s effects.
- Provide shades or UV blocking film for windows.
- UV blocking, animal-specific clothing that covers the majority of the skin.
- Application of sunscreen specifically formulated for dogs and cats. Many human products contain ingredients that, if ingested, may be toxic to dogs and cats. Do not use sunscreen that is labeled for human use unless specifically recommended by your vet. An animal-appropriate sunscreen should be applied 10-15 minutes prior to sun exposure as well as reapplied after extended periods outdoors.
- Certain medications, such as doxycycline, can make skin more sensitive and likely to burn. If your dog or cat is taking a medication that increases sun sensitivity, it’s best to keep them out of the sun as much as possible.
What can I do to provide some relief to my pet?
It’s always best to have your vet examine your pet if you feel they are in pain or believe they may have experienced sunburn. While you are waiting for your pet to be seen, a cold compress may provide some relief. You can easily make one by placing a damp washcloth in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
Sunburn is a painful, unpleasant condition for our pets and us. With a little bit of planning, it can easily be minimized or prevented.
Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your pet’s sunburn or another condition?
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