We don’t often think about our pet’s exposure to UV light, but it’s an important factor to consider year-round, especially for pets who spend a lot of time outdoors. Because our pets have a natural barrier to UV rays in the form of fur, you may think that the risk of sunburn (or worse, skin cancer) is slim to none. And you would be mostly right.
Pets who are prone to sunburn
Cats and dogs with white fur are particularly susceptible to the damaging effects of the sun’s rays because UV light can penetrate to the skin. Furthermore, white-haired pets tend to have lighter pigmented skin on their noses, ears, and around their eyes. This pinkish skin is more susceptible to burns.
Pets with short hair are more apt to burn because their skin is more exposed to the sun than long-haired pets. This is true for long-haired pets who get shaved, too.
Pets who sunbathe on their backs
Unhaired skin found on the underbellies and groins of pets who lounge in the sun on their backs is prone to sunburn.
Pets who have hair loss for any reason
Where there is no hair to protect the skin, sunburn can occur.
I mentioned white pets specifically, but I do want to address the ears and muzzles of all pets because it is in these areas where the fur coat is usually pretty thin. As is the case for pets with hair loss, areas like the nose and ear tips where the hair is thin are particularly prone to sun damage. White cats seem to bear the brunt of sun damage on their ear tips, which can succumb to squamous cell carcinomas overtime if unprotected, but any pet with chronic sun exposure is at risk.
How to keep them safe
So, what’s an outdoor-loving family to do? You apply sunscreen to yourself and your kids, and you encourage your family members to wear hats and rash guards to keep their skin protected from the sun. These same guidelines can be applied to your pets!
You can’t force your pet to sit in the shade, but do provide a spot out of the sun for them to rest. Putting water bowls in a shady area will encourage them to visit this spot more often. Shade is also important for staving off heat stroke, which is still a danger during warmer weather.
Yes, even our pets need sunscreen. Look for sunscreens that are formulated specifically for pets. Using proper sunscreens is especially important in cats, who are fastidious groomers and who are also more susceptible to toxins than their barking brothers. Infant sunscreens can also be used for pets, but if your pet is a known licker, stick with pet-safe versions. Cover all skin that doesn’t have a thick fur coat, and don’t forget the ear tips and nose!
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