We all know the dangers of too much sun exposure. While clothing and shade provide protection from the sun for humans, the coat of an animal acts in the same way. However, animals with thin coats are susceptible to sun damage just like we are and it certainly is the time of the year, especially for those in more northern climates, when we are getting out and enjoying the sun and warmth returning to the air.
Sunburn is caused by the suns’ ultraviolet rays damaging cells in exposed skin. Cell death occurs and fluid accumulates leading to blistering with subsequent peeling of the outermost layers of dead skin. To some extent, this process is protective because it removes the possibility of severely affected cells from multiplying and passing along damaged DNA. If such cells persist in the deeper layers of the skin, they can develop into various forms of skin cancer, often years later. Long term effects of sun exposure may include skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. Like humans, animals are at risk of these skin cancers!
Coat color can make a difference when thinking about the damaging effect of the sun’s UV rays. Lighter colored animals are much more prone to sunburn and skin cancer than their darker colored companions. Cats, dogs, and horses that spend a lot of time in the sun and have a light colored coat or lacking the black pigment around the eyes, ears, and nose, can get sunburned. Cats in particular, love “sunbathing”, as any cat lover knows!
Animals that have been shorn or clipped are at higher risk as well, having just lost their protective coat!
So what can you do to protect your pet?
• Provide easy access to cool shade at all times.
• For horses with sensitive eyes, a fly bonnet can be used to protect from the sun.
• Sunblock can be used — depending on the pet and the location of sensitive skin. Note: cats and dogs are quite adept and licking topical lotions and creams off, so speak to your veterinarian as to what would be appropriate for your pet. Ingestion of a topical lotion might be worse than the sun exposure, so use caution.
• A light T-Shirt can be put on the animal (so many cute T’s are now available in specialty pet stores) but be sure they don’t overheat in it!
Interesting side note: In nature, thin-skinned animals like pigs, hippopotamus, warthogs and elephants will cover themselves in mud or dust to protect against the sun and stay cool!
If already sunburned, Aloe and Calendula are two wonderful healers for damaged skin. They can be used in combination to provide relief of the discomfort of sunburn and help reduce inflammation.
Prevention beats cure, so provide animals with adequate shade and they should have enough good sense to avoid sunburn.