Imagine what you’d pack for a day at the beach—sunscreen, refreshing beverages, protective clothing and an umbrella to create a shady spot. Your furry companions need all that gear, too!
Cats and dogs are at risk for the same summer skin threats as humans, including sunburn, heat stroke and even skin cancer. Before the temps start to rise, learn what you can do to keep your pets safe from the sun.
Cats and dogs get sunburned, too
Our furry friends need sunscreen just as much as we do because they can easily develop skin damage. Sunburn looks very similar on both pets and humans. Prolonged exposure to the sun can lead to burns that crop up as red, swollen and painful rashes. You’re most likely to notice these symptoms on areas with the least amount of fur, such as the nose, ears, lips, groin and belly.
Severe cases of sunburn may result in additional symptoms like excessive fur loss and dry, flaky skin. In some cases, your pet might develop painful blisters on the skin. The presence of blisters warrants a trip to your veterinarian because they can get infected, especially if your cat or dog licks or bites at the area repeatedly.
Too many owners make the mistake of assuming fur will protect their four-legged friends from the sun. The truth is, all dogs are at risk for getting sunburned. Dogs and cats with white and short fur have the highest risk. However, breeds with darker pigmentation and long, shaggy fur are still prone to sunburn on the vulnerable areas mentioned above.
Other risks of sun exposure
Sunburn isn’t the only summertime threat to your fur baby’s skin and health. Too much fun in the sun can lead to heat exhaustion, especially when the temperatures are super high. Pets with long, dark fur are most at risk for heat exhaustion because their coats absorb more of the sun’s rays compared to those with a lighter pigmentation. However, any pet who’s had extensive time under direct sunlight might be at risk of overheating. Pet owners need to be on the lookout for signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke, including lethargy, staggering, vomiting and an increased heart rate.
Over time, pets who are unprotected from the sun can reap even more negative consequences. Cats and dogs who love the sun are at risk for numerous types of skin cancers caused by prolonged sun exposure. Squamous cell carcinoma is one of the most common forms of skin cancer, causing tumors on the outermost layers of skin.
A skin condition called actinic keratosis may also develop from too much sun exposure, which is often a precursor to skin cancer. Symptoms of actinic keratosis include red, raised bumps with a flat top. Speak with your veterinarian right away if you notice these symptoms and other signs of extensive sun damage.
Safety tips for sunny days
A couple of simple steps are all that’s needed to protect your pet from the sun. For starters, apply a coat of sunscreen every few hours. An easy way to remember this step is to reapply their sunscreen every time you reapply your own. Make sure your furry companion is using a pet-friendly lotion, because sunscreen designed for people contains chemicals that may be toxic if ingested.
Heatstroke is a whole different concern. Make sure your pet takes frequent breaks in the shade and has access to cold, fresh water. If there’s a cool area inside where your pet can rest, encourage them to seek it out. Remember, humans get exhausted from being under the sun, and so do our pets! Cats and dogs need a lot of the same things humans do on a hot summer day.
Additionally, avoid going outside when the sun is at its peak. Pets and humans alike are most at risk for sunburn and heatstroke between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Plus, that sizzling pavement can burn their sensitive little paws. If it’s too hot for you, then it’s too hot for them!
While the sun can pose a real threat, don’t feel like you have to keep your pets cooped up inside the house all summer long. Cats and dogs can participate in the summer fun when owners put protective measures in place first. Now slather on that sunscreen and enjoy the nice weather!