Some dogs and cats prone to sunburn – How to protect your animal from skin damage

Jun 27, 2014
White cats are particularly sensitive to the sun. Skin damage to the nose is often not identified as sunburn. Credit: Vetmeduni Vienna

Excessive sunbathing damages the skin. Humans are not the only ones who need to monitor their exposure to UV rays: animals are at risk too. Dogs and cats with white or thin coats are at particular risk, as are animals with very closely shorn fur or with certain pre-existing conditions. Dermatologist Christa Horvath-Ungerböck from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna explains which animals are particularly sensitive, how to prevent sun damage to the skin, and how to treat a sunburned animal.

Human or animals skin with little or no pigmentation is very sensitive to the sun in general. Hairless pets or pets with very short or thin fur can also be vulnerable. For dogs and cats this applies in particular to those parts of the skin that are regularly exposed to the sun. These include the ears, the bridge of the nose, the skin around the eyes, and the back. "Some animals particularly enjoy lying on their backs to bask in the sun. This exposes the skin on their bellies, which is often hairless, to the rays of the sun, increasing the risk of sunburn," reports veterinary dermatologist Christa Horvath-Ungerböck.

Particularly vulnerable pets

House pets with white or short fur are at particular risk of sunburn. The Dogo Argentino breed, white bulldogs, Dalmatians, boxers, whippets, beagles and white or multi-coloured cats with white patches have skin that is very sensitive to light, especially on their heads. In summer animals with shorn fur can also have a problem. The short hair allows UV rays penetrate down to the sensitive skin and cause sunburn.

Hairless dogs and cats are naturally more sensitive to the sun, since they lack the natural fur affords. Here too though, plays a role, and darker animals are less vulnerable to UV rays. Owners of vulnerable breeds should take particular care to protect their animals from the sun.

Sun protection for animals

A nose with little hair and underlying light skin are at higher sunburn risk. Credit: Vetmeduni Vienna

"As a rule, animals should have a shady place to lie in. Especially at midday, when the sun is at its strongest and presents the greatest risk, not just for the skin but for the animal overall", explains dermatologist Horvath-Ungerböck. Particularly sensitive animals require sun protection in the form of a waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 or a sunblock containing zinc oxide, for example.

For longer hikes through the mountains where the sun's rays are particularly aggressive, sensitive animals should wear a t-shirt, coat or hat for protection.

The skin specialist advises owners not to worry: "Not every white dog or white cat needs sunscreen or clothing to protect it from the sun. If has already occurred though, or if an animal is highly sensitive, it is up to us to protect it from further damage."

Treating sunburn in animals

If sunburn is visible as reddened, warm or flaking skin, the animal should be moved to the shade as quickly as possible. Cool compresses and ointments to soothe the skin can help relieve the initial symptoms. If the burn is severe, a veterinarian should be consulted as treatment with a cortisone product may be indicated to prevent inflammation. If the skin changes present as a secondary infection, antibiotics may be indicated. The affected animal will need to be well protected from the sun in future to prevent permanent damage.

A custom-made umbrella can also be a suitable sunscreen for sensitive skin. Credit: Vetmeduni Vienna

Certain pre-existing conditions can increase skin sensitivity

Some illnesses and genetic defects that result in a thin coat can make the skin more sensitive to sunburn. Any longer-term stimulus that results in a loss of fur is a possible factor. These can include parasitic infections, chronic skin conditions, or congenital hairlessness. In some cases, exposure to the sun can worsen an existing condition. Animals with autoimmune skin diseases must be carefully protected from the sun, for example. And areas of the skin that were covered by fur but are suddenly exposed due to hair loss, such as scar tissue after an operation or injury, should be carefully observed and shielded as needed.

Damage caused by sun exposure

In , results in an acute inflammation of the skin that can cause itching or even pain, depending on the individual animal. Frequent sunburns can lead to pre-cancerous conditions or even actual skin tumours. "We sometimes see squamous cell carcinoma on the heads of white, outdoor cats as the result of chronic exposure. The affected areas of the then need to be surgically removed," Horvath-Ungerböck explains.

Explore further: Tips for staying safe in the sun

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Tips for staying safe in the sun

May 26, 2014

(HealthDay)—The Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, and that means it's time to remind you about sun safety to reduce your risk of skin cancer.

Kids are at risk for sun damage during spring break

Apr 02, 2014

As families prepare to escape the winter weather for somewhere warmer this spring break, they should exercise caution when exposing their skin to the sun after a long winter indoors. Loyola University Health System (LUHS) ...

Recommended for you

Kimberley survey nets plenty of crocs

1 hour ago

Parks and Wildlife officers have conducted a capture and release survey of freshwater crocodiles (Crocodylus johnsoni) with Bunuba Rangers at Winjanna Gorge National Park in the West Kimberley in preparation ...

Study shows sharks have personalities

15 hours ago

Some sharks are 'gregarious' and have strong social connections, whilst others are more solitary and prefer to remain inconspicuous, according to a new study which is the first to show that the notorious ...

Genetic secrets of the monarch butterfly revealed

21 hours ago

The monarch butterfly is one of the most iconic insects in the world, best known for its distinct orange and black wings and a spectacular annual mass migration across North America. However, little has been ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

adrian_pentchev
not rated yet Jun 28, 2014
The squamous cell carcinoma often looks as the first image. If your pet has such lesions which tend not to disappear, shedding scales and growing slowly, take it to the vet.