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Can my dog or cat get sunburn?

on November 19, 2020

Can my dog or cat get sunburn?

The sun’s UV rays are actually harmful to cats and dogs

Although it’s not technically Summer until 20th June, as far as we’re concerned the sky is blue, the sun is shining, the BBQs are lit, the flip-flops are out…yes, Summer is here early! 

Things may not quite be what we’re used to, but we can still try to make the best of the beautiful British weather.  So, to keep your pets safe in the sunshine we’ve had a socially distanced discussion with our Vet Know-how team at our in-house practice, Vet’s Klinic to get the lowdown sunburn and how it can affect our four-legged friends.

So, in-fact both cats and dogs can get sunburn. Like us, they are affected by the sun’s UV rays, and need to take care to protect themselves from sun damage. Although fur coats offer a degree of protection, light-coloured, fine or short-haired pets are still at risk of sunburn. In fact, did you know that cats are especially prone to catching the sun on the tips of their ears and noses? What’s more, sunburn in cats and dogs can cause ‘solar dermatitis’ that can progress into a malignant form of skin cancer called ‘squamous cell carcinoma'.

How to prevent sunburn in cats and dogs?

Here’s some advice from the Vet Know-how™ team to help prevent your gorgeous pets from getting sunburned - some of it is familiar advice that we listen to ourselves!

  • Avoid going out in the sunshine between 11 am-3 pm when the sun is at it is strongest.  Use sunscreen on the areas that are exposed - like tips of ears and noses.  
  • Sun cream alone is not enough protection for furless breeds such as the Sphynx cat and Chinese Crested dogs - try to keep these breeds supervised and out of the sun.

Vet Know-how Tip: Human sun creams containing chemicals such as zinc oxide can be toxic to dogs as well as cats so opt for a pet safe dog and cat sunscreen/cream.

What can I do if I think my pet has sunburn?

Sunburn in dogs and cats looks very similar to that on humans and just like us the severity of the sunburn will determine what treatment is best. Mild sunburn will heal by itself however pets should be kept out of the sunshine until it has healed. In more serious cases where the area has blistered it is likely that wound cleaning, pain relief and topical ointments will be required and in more extreme cases specialised dressings, fluids and antibiotics may be needed.

Vet Know-how Tip: Rubbing ice over the damaged skin is not recommended as it has been shown to delay healing and can cause further damage.

As mentioned, sunburn can lead to ‘solar dermatitis’ which can lead to more serious problems for your pet. Signs to watch out for include:

  • Inflammation of the affected area
  • Skin can be pink and scaly
  • Hair loss around the inflamed areas
  • Your pet could experience some pain as skin becomes crusted and ulcerated       
  • Discomfort can prompt pets to appear irritated and try to scratch the area that is sore - consequently bleeding is not uncommon.

If your pet has any of the above symptoms, it is best to get them checked out by your vet.

In the cases where your vet is concerned about signs of skin cancer, they may recommend performing a biopsy to get a clear diagnosis. The key is getting the diagnosis early enough to treat. Treatments for skin cancer usually involve removing the cancerous section and, although this may alter your pet’s appearance, if it is caught early enough it often cures the problem completely. The most common procedure is for the ear tips of cats to be removed in what’s known as a partial pinnectomy.

Vet Know-how Tip: If you suspect your pet dog or cat has sunburn or Solar Dermatitis seek veterinary advice immediately.   Early diagnosis can help limit discomfort to your pet.

At Vet’s Kitchen™ we’re passionate about keeping your pets healthy so they can live long and happy lives.  We use the expertise of our in-house veterinary practice, Vet’s Klinic™, to bring you helpful guides and advice on topics that can keep you and your pets safe and well.  They have also helped us to design a delicious range of nutritious pet foods to deliver real health benefits to your dogs and cats that you can try, find out more at our Vet Know-how pet store.

With Vet’s Kitchen™ you can trust that you’re caring from the inside out.