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Sun Can Be Harmful to Pets as Well as Humans

October 23, 2012

Too much exposure to sunlight can be harmful not only to humans but to animals as well. In fact, veterinarians have started to notice an increase in the number of skin diseases that animals develop because of too much exposure to sunlight. 

Animals possess natural protection from the sun's rays. Their hair coat physically blocks out solar rays and protects their skin from harmful ultra-violet light. Many animals also have heavily pigmented skin with an abundance of melanocytes, the cells that help to protect the skin from the sun's damaging rays. Animals, unlike some humans, also have the common sense to avoid direct sunlight.
As a result, sunburns and sun-related skin problems tend to occur infrequently in animals, but they do occur. However, for sun damage to occur in pets, a combination of factors must come into play. For example, if the skin is poorly pigmented or lacks pigmentation, it is at high risk.  Furthermore, a sparse hair coat or areas of the body that are hairless are also more susceptible.  These sensitive areas must be regularly and frequently exposed to the sun in order to cause skin diseases.
The sun's ultraviolet radiation can cause a number of skin problems in pets. Sunburn, which is actually an inflammation of the skin, can occur in pets. Certain breeds of dogs (such as Dalmatians and White Bull Terriers) and white cats are highly susceptible. Certain parts of the body, such as the nose and ears, are also more sensitive than others. Pets that have been recently groomed have a thinner and less protective hair coat and are, therefore more susceptible. Repeated sunburns can eventually lead to malignant skin cancer. If you suspect a sun-related skin problem, you should consult your veterinarian to make sure it is not serious.
You can take safety precautions to minimize the risks the sun's rays pose to your pets. If practicality permits, apply a sunscreen to those parts of your pet's skin that are not pigmented and/or have little or no hair. In many cases, this may be impractical since the pet will immediately lick it off.  Keep your pet out of direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day when the sun is strongest (i.e. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Whenever possible, provide shade and do not clip your pet's hair coat, especially for the summer. Remember that the hair coat acts as insulation, keeping cold out during the winter and cooling the pet in the summer (pets "sweat" by panting).  The hair also acts as a natural barrier, protecting the skin from the sun.