Sun Exposure and Skin
Posted May 19, 2011
Summer time generally means vacations, water, and a lot of fun
in the sun. However, the same concerns that affect people can also
cause problems for pets.
As the weather warms up, many people take to bathing their pets
outside. It seems like a good idea, as pets may dry faster and
cause less water mess. However, according to Dr. Alison Diesel,
lecturer in small animal dermatology, at the Texas A&M College
of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, it is important to
remember that water coming initially out of the hose may be very
"One of the problems we see related to hot weather is thermal
burns from hoses that have been sitting outside in the sun all
day," says Diesel. "Make sure to let the water run through the hose
for several minutes before bathing your dog. If it is too hot on
your own hand, it will be too hot for the dog's skin."
It is well known that staying out in the sun too long without
any type of protection can cause sunburns in people. The same is
true of animals, especially those that are lightly pigmented or
have thinner coats. White animals, animals that like to spend time
sunbathing, and even certain parts on every animal, such as the
nose (especially pink noses), ears, or abdomen, are especially
prone to becoming sunburned.
"In order to prevent their animals from becoming sunburned, one
of the things that people can do is to apply sunscreen on lightly
pigmented or thinly furred areas before the animal goes outside or
lays in a sunbeam to bathe," states Diesel. "As with people, the
sunscreen will need to be applied once every couple of hours.
Sunscreens that have high SPFs (50+) and that are safe for infants
are safe for a dog or a cat."
"Another thing an owner can do," notes Diesel, "is prevent
sunbathing during the peak times of the day, or when the sun is at
its strongest. This is typically from the early afternoon until
evening. Cats that sit in windowsills particularly need to be
As with people, one of the main concerns with animals becoming
sunburned, besides the initial burn itself, is the possibility of
cancer developing from the sun exposure. If you notice a change in
the appearance of your pet's skin, including increased redness,
raised skin legions, bumps or wounds, your pet needs to be
evaluated by its veterinarian.
"Actinic keratosis, a condition that causes raised, red,
flat-topped areas of skin that may have a dry appearance, is
associated with increased sun exposure and may progress into cancer
in the future if not addressed," warns Diesel. "As the thinly
furred parts of animals are the highest risk areas for becoming
sunburned, these are the areas where this condition is often
An additional problem exacerbated by sun exposure is discoid
lupus, an immune-mediated skin disease of the nose. Some dog breeds
that are particularly affected by this are Huskies, Malamutes, and
other northern breeds and shepherds.
Explains Diesel, "The normally dark colored nose loses its
pigment and turns pink. It can also become crusted and ulcerate;
this may be noted as bleeding by the owners. The decreased pigment
puts the nose more at risk for sunburn. It is important that dogs
diagnosed with this condition have infant-safe sunscreen applied
several times daily to avoid intensifying the disease."
While lighter-pigmented animals are more prone to developing
burns, darker colored animals are not without their own
"According to studies in cattle that observed the effects of
hide color and the risk of heat stress, darker pigmented animals
were more at risk for heat stress since their coat did not reflect
as much light as lighter colored animals," explains Dr. Diesel.
"This does not usually cause skin problems; however, darker animals
are more at risk for developing the side effects of heat stress,
which include over-heating and heat stroke. These are emergency
situations that require immediate evaluation by a
In spite of the many risks the rising temperatures bring with
them, it is possible for you and your pets to enjoy the summer out
of doors, provided the proper precautions are taken. Train yourself
to reapply your pet's sunscreen each time you reapply yours, and
make sure your outdoor pets have access to fresh water and shady
places to find some respite from the sun's rays. Check the
temperature of the water before bathing your pet out of doors. And
remember to enjoy your vacations with your best friend!
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