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Can Dogs and Cats Get Sunburn?

Like humans, some cats and dogs are at risk of getting sunburn. UV rays from the sun can damage unprotected skin, leaving it red, sore and tender. Pets with short, thin or white coats are most at risk 1.

Pale skin such as the nose or belly, has little pigmentation making it sensitive to the sun. Owners of cats or dogs at risk from sun damage should be aware of the precautions and treatments available.

Which Cats and Dogs are Vulnerable to Sunburn?

Pets most at risk are those with little hair to provide natural protection against the sun. Hairless pets such as the American Hairless Terrier or Chinese Crested can also be vulnerable. Often hairless breeds have darker skin, which provides some protection from the sun.

Exposed skin such as the ears, nose and stomach can be damaged by the sun.

“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.”
Veterinary Dermatologist Christa Horvath-Ungerböck.

A dog showing sunburn around the nose. Dickdavid / Flickr
A dog showing sunburn around the nose. Dickdavid / Flickr

Examples of breeds more at risk from sunburn include:

  • Dogo Argentino
  • White Bulldogs
  • Dalmatians
  • Boxers
  • Whippets
  • Beagles
  • White cats or cats with white patches

These breeds tend to have short, white fur. Their skin is typically very sensitive to the sun’s UV rays. Particularly where the hair is thinnest, such as the head. Short hair provides little resistance to UV rays, allowing them to reach the skin and potentially cause sunburn.

Protection from Sunburn

A Doggy Sunstick makes applying sunscreen to noses simple
A Doggy Sunstick makes applying sunscreen to noses simple

The same guidelines for protecting yourself in the sun apply to your dog or cat too. The best advice is to always provide a shaded area for your pet to lie in. Your dog or cat will seek out shade if the sun becomes too much for them. This is particularly important around midday when the sun is strongest. Easy access to water is also important on these hot days.

Animals that are particularly sensitive to the sun may need extra protection. Sunscreen with a good SPF is an option that may be preferred over clothing to cover the skin. Pet sunscreen is available in various applications such as sprays, sticks and wipes.

If using sunscreen on a dog or cat, only use pet-specific products. Human suncreams sometimes contain zinc oxide, which can be toxic to dogs and cats. You only need to apply sunscreen to exposed, pink areas such as the nose – so one bottle can go a long way!

Long-haired dog breeds are protected from the sun by their coat. The skin underneath can be vulnerable to sunburn. Because of this, it is best to avoid shaving the coat right down during summer months.

For those most vulnerable to the sun, a range of summer dog coats are available. These are really only for those most at risk; such as hairless dogs, pets with skin conditions, or those experiencing hair loss.

Treating Pets With Sunburn

Sunburn affects cats and dogs in a similar way to humans. The affected skin will become red, tender and sore. Over time the skin will peel and heal. Like humans, sun damage can increase the pet’s risk of melanoma. In animals, sunburn results in inflammation of the skin that can cause itching or even pain. Frequent sunburns can potentially lead to skin tumours.

If sunburn is visible as reddened, warm or flaking skin, the animal should be moved to the shade as quickly as possible.

Cool compresses can soothe the skin and help relieve the initial symptoms. An aloe vera gel can help with the irritation of the skin. If the burn is severe, a veterinarian should be consulted.

Summary: Sunburn in Cats & Dogs

  • Dogs and cats can get sunburn.
  • Areas of skin with little or no hair covering are most at risk (e.g. nose, ears, stomach).
  • Pets with short, white fur or hairless breeds are at risk too.
  • Shade and sunscreen can protect a pet from sunburn – but avoid zinc oxide products.
  • Sunburnt skin becomes red, tender and sore. Avoid repeat incidences of sunburn as they could lead to permanent damage.


References:

  1. Vetmeduni Vienna. (2016). Some dogs and cats prone to sunburn. [online] Available at: https://www.vetmeduni.ac.at/en/infoservice/presseinformation/press-releases-2014/some-dogs-and-cats-prone-to-sunburn/ [Accessed 12 Jun. 2016].

About James Watts

BSc Bioveterinary Science. Editor of PetSci. When I'm not writing, learning, discussing, or reading about animals, you know it's the weekend! Currently developing PetSci HealthTrak, the fast and easy way to monitor your pet's weight and calorie intake. HealthTrak offers a simple way to track your pet's progress, helping them achieve a healthy weight and a long, happy life.

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