Sun Protection For Pets

Pet Health

Laura Vissaritis

Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world.  It is alarming to think that by the age of 75, 1 in 24 men and 1 in 34 women will have been diagnosed with a melanoma. And, with our sun loving approach to life, it would seem to me that humans are not the only ones at risk of developing skin cancer. Those who we spend our times with outdoors are also in danger of suffering from this disease, and the first pet that comes to mind, is our dogs.

Whilst our pets may generally be covered in fur, there are obvious bare areas that are much more prone to burning, namely; the nose, ears, armpits and belly. Also, there are certain breeds who are more susceptible to sunburns, including; staffies, dalmations, chinese crested, greyhounds, whippets and boxers.

Certainly, there are certain breeds that are most susceptible to sunburn; just as there are with humans.  For us, this includes skin colour, family history of skin cancer and sun exposure. If you have pale skin, burn easily and have a family history of skin cancer, you are more likely to suffer skin cancer yourself. Similarly, pets with pale skin, those who burn easily and have a history of skin cancer are theoretically more likely to suffer skin cancer themselves.

What is most interesting about dogs and melanoma however, is that most melanomas are benign tumours, meaning they are harmless. They tend to be presented in dogs with darker skin and appear as a small brown/black mass. Whilst melanoma is more likely to be benign rather than malignant, the only way to be sure is via a biopsy. This means that it is important to remove the lesion, so that you can confirm its diagnosis and prevent further damage. Malignant melanomas should be caught quickly and treated immediately due to their aggressive nature.

Sunscreen is one tool that can be useful in preventing sun damage in your pets, however, shady environments and avoiding sweltering weather are also important choices in favour of your pet’s welfare.

There are a number of pet sunscreens on the market these days. It is important to always choose a barrier that contains no zinc oxide and low amounts of octisalate — a salicylate that is a frequent ingredient in sunscreens. Zinc oxide, if ingested, can be toxic to dogs. Applying it after bathing, and every couple of hours during exposure is most helpful, especially to the breeds mentioned above and dogs with pink and bare noses/ears. Applying sunscreen to cats is uncommon and not recommended.

If you consider your pet as family, which I know you do, consider treating your pet as you would yourself during sun exposure. The old saying of slip, slop, slap applies to our animals as much as us, and whilst it may be unrealistic to expect your dog to wear a rashy at the beach, it is worthwhile ensuring that they are protected from the sun, with the use of shade, sunscreen and avoidance of sun exposure between 10am and 2pm.

So, yes, protect your pet with a safe sunbarrier cream, but additionally, consider all the rules of safe sun exposure. The sun may a main source of flourishing life on earth, but in our beloved country, the sun can also cause harm. Keep your pets safe, just as you would keep yourself and your children safe. Protecting everyone in your family means that you can all enjoy the great outdoors, without the worry of that big star in the sky.

Laura Vissaritis

Please note: Laura's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your veterinarian.

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