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Jespah Sunbathing...
Credit: jespahjoy on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

It's not something that I thought about before, but certain dogs and cats are prone to sun damage. When I was researching my article 10 Interesting Cat Behaviours, I found out about a cat named Nubbins (shown next) who required extensive ear surgery to have tumours removed.

Just like humans, dogs and cats have varying levels of pigment in their skin. And, some have thin coats or are even hairless. Yet, even in those pets with dark coloured fur, certain areas are more sensitive to the sun.

Ears, nose, mouth, belly, and groin area have less natural protection, since fur is thinner in these areas. Certain conditions, diseases, treatements, medications, or just being shaved (I used to have my cat Pika shaved) also make dogs or cats more vulnerable to sun damage. In general, cats and dogs with white fur (or pink noses) are more at risk.

Meet Nubbins Who Does Just Fine Without Ear Flaps

Even in cats with some dark fur, sun damage can occur:

Bicolour catMykenik (Wikipedia) / Public DomainAs in the case with Nubbins, veterinarians sometimes diagnose squamous cell carcinoma on white, outdoor cats (mostly on their heads) because of chronic exposure to the sun. These areas require a biopsy for a diagnosis.

Unfortunately, sun damage around the nose of these cats is sometimes misdiagnosed (it can look like an injury, different coloured fur / skin, or just dirt).

Dermatologist Christa Horvath-Ungerböck from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna explained in a Phys.Org article Some dogs and cats prone to sunburn – How to protect your animal from skin damage the following characteristics in susceptible pets:

  • white / short fur (light or no pigment) 
  • hairless or shorn (short hair allows UV rays penetrate down to the sensitive skin and cause sun damage)
  • parts exposed to the sun matter (skin around mouth, ears, nose, skin around eyes, back and belly - especially pets that lie on their back to expose their belly).

Curly QTino Menchaca (†ino on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericI'm going to add in a few more based on speaking to my veterinarian:

  • groin area can be sensitive in those pets without tails, with short tails, curled up tails or shaved tails
  • belly area may also be vulnerable since UV rays can reflect off concrete (and other) surfaces
  • indoor pets that sleep in the sun, exposing these areas, are just as likely to be at risk of sun damage as outdoor pets
  • inside vehicles for extended periods of time without adequate shade or in carriers or crates exposed to the sun for long periods of time

A Cat with White Fur and a Pink Nose is More Vulnerable

Sharing the sun
Credit: Jamie Lantzy on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Susceptible Breeds of Dogs and Cats

Certain breeds of dogs that are more vulnerable include: 

  • Beagles (Puppies)DMighton (Wikipedia) / Public DomainBeagles
  • Boxers (especially those with light noses, ears, and facial fur/hair)
  • Dalmatians
  • Dogo Argentino
  • Whippets
  • White Bulldogs
  • Short-haired or hairless (Abyssinian Sand Terrier, Bolivian Khala, Chinese Crested, Egyptian Hairless, Elephant Dog, Mexican Hairless, Peruvian Hairless, and Siamese Hairless)
  • partial or total albinism

Let us outside, pleeeaase!Laura on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericTypes of cats most vulnerable to sun damage:

  • White fur or mostly white
  • Multi-coloured cats
  • Pink noses and ears
  • Short-haired (any breed)
  • Hairless (Bambino, Donskoy, Lykoi, Peterbald, Sphynx, and Ukrainian Levkoy)
  • partial or total albinism
  • Manx or tailless cats

What Not To Do and Key Points

For dogs: Do not put any form of human sunscreen on your doggie that contains zinc oxide.

For cats: Salicylates are toxic to cats (and almost all sunscreens are problematic). Do not use anything containing octyl salicylate on your cat.

Sunscreens made for children are not necessarily safe for pets. Remember, cats and dogs lick and ingest creams and sprays when they groom themselves. There are some child-safe sunscreens that can be used on dogs but I feel it's important to consult your veterinarian first.

Yes - there is a sunscreen made for dogs (and horses) called Epi-Pet but it is toxic to cats. Epi-Pet is FDA approved and endorsed by the SPCA and the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association). 

Since indoor cats love to laze around in window sills (especially when owners are out of the house), I feel that a reflective UV coating or shade over these windows/doors would be a wise investment. I found a window film which is held in place via static cling (no adhesive necessary) that claims to block 99% of UV rays.

Bottom line: provide shade and avoid direct sunlight from 10 am - 4 pm. This is the least expensive way to protect your cat, dog, or horse from sun damage. Keep your pet hydrated by providing plenty of fresh water throughout the day.

KXAN Ask The Vet: Sunscreen on Pets

Advice from Dr. John Faught with Addie (first 2 minutes):

Certain Conditions, Treatments, and Medications

may make a pet more vulnerable to sun damage

Whether or not you own a susceptible breed of cat or dog, there are certain conditions, treatments, and medications which can increase your pet's risk of sun damage. The following is a list of the most common reasons that I could find during my research (there may be others):

  • Onyx SurgeryBill & Vicki T (Grandpa & Grandma T. on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Genericautoimmune diseases
  • allergies
  • chronic skin conditions
  • illness/injuries (in general)
  • congenital defects
  • fur loss (even because of behavioural reasons such as biting or licking an area too much)
  • nasal depigmentation (aka Dudley nose)
  • parasites
  • pigmentation loss
  • radiation
  • surgical areas (and where fur/hair has been shaved)
  • Spud Puppy Take TwoVirginia Hill (valeehill on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Genericsome types of antibiotics
  • Benadryl (diphenhydramine) 
  • some types of chemotherapy drugs
  • some types of heart medications
  • some diabetic medications
  • some types of pain killers
  • some types of antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications
  • vitiligo

In Summary

Dog in watts wearing shadesvalli_mark on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericDr. Horvath-Ungerböck says, "Not every white dog or white cat needs sunscreen or clothing to protect it from the sun. If sun damage has already occurred though, or if an animal is highly sensitive, it is up to us to protect it from further damage."

One more point: when dogs and cats have a general anesthetic for surgery of any kind (commonly when spayed or neutered), they are often groggy when owners bring them home.

I think it's wise to keep groggy, sedated pets (who may also be on pain killers) out of direct sunlight for extended periods of time. 

If you can offer up any other tips (and yes, I've heard some people can get their pets to wear T-shirts, hats, and even doggles), feel free to leave me a comment.

Oh and one more thing: don't forget to avoid too much sun, use sun protection, and drink plenty of water yourself.

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