As we head into the summer months and the hottest temperatures of the year, we must think about our furry friends’ sun exposure in addition to our own. When we spend time outside enjoying the beautiful sunshine we lather up with sunscreen, wear hats, and use other sun protective gear, so why not do the same for our pets? If you are not already doing this for your pet, now is the time to start!
It is crucial that pet owners practice sun avoidance. This is actually true not just in the warm summer months, but year-round - especially in this part of California where we have nice, warm sunny days year-round. Many pets love to sunbathe, which makes them even more at risk for UV light induced skin disease. Dogs and cats can often develop many of the same UV induced skin diseases that are seen in people due chronic sun damage.
Similar to fair-skinned, light haired people, light colored pets are at higher risk for sun damage as compared with their darker coated counterparts. White, cream, or light tan colored dogs with short hair coats are considered high risk individuals – whippets, bull terriers, and pit bulls are some of the breeds we think of when it comes to sun damage. White colored cats are the most at-risk felines.
Have you ever noticed any purplish/red skin growths on your pet? Many pet owners think they may just be “blood blisters,” but these are most likely cutaneous hemangiomas or hemangiosarcomas. These are a type of skin tumor that can occur anywhere on the skin and are most commonly related to chronic sun damage. The most common locations for these growths to appear are areas of sun exposure - the underside of the body, inner thighs, and face. Many patients will have these masses surgically removed, but small ones can even be removed using local anesthetic (lidocaine) and laser surgery. Unfortunately, cutaneous hemangiomas and other UV induced skin diseases are a result of additive sun damage. These problems can take years to show up on the skin, and can continue to occur due to past sun damage even after pet owners take steps to reduce/eliminate sun exposure.
Other sun induced skin disease that we see include squamous cell carcinoma (a cancerous skin tumor) and a syndrome called actinic dermatitis. Both of these are serious conditions that can cause various problematic symptoms for the patient.
We recommend that both our dog and cat patients (especially those with light colored fur or very short coats) have their skin protected prior to going outside. Long periods of sun exposure should always be avoided. We recommend applying sunscreen – Neutrogena Ultra Sheer, providing plenty of shade for pets, and the use of UV protectant sun suits (www.k9topcoats.com) for excellent prevention of sun damage and associated skin diseases.