Pet Health: Can Pets Get Sunburned?

March 28, 2019
Even though most dogs and cats are covered in fur, that doesn't mean they aren't at risk of damage from the sun. Learn more about this potential health issue in this article.

When an animal is out in the sun for too long, it can get heat exhaustion, we all know that. But on days when the sun isn’t so strong, you might feel like taking your pet along with you on a long walk, or something like that. That might have you asking, can your pets get sunburned?

We’re going to tell you the answer to that in this article. We’ll start with how the sun affects animals and what precautions you should take.

Can pets get sunburned?

A dog and cat sniffing each other.

You probably already know that too much exposure to the sun can give you sunburns and skin cancer, but that’s not just true for humans. Even though most pets have fur and pigmentation to protect them from the sun, being exposed to it for too long can still cause some major, irreversible damage.

Dogs have a lot of melanin in their skin. Melanin is a kind of micro-pigmentation that protects your skin from the sun. But having it doesn’t make you invincible.

Not only can pets get sunburned, excessive exposure can also lead to things like solar dermatitis. In the worst case scenario, it can also lead to cancer. It could also change their skin pigmentation and form dark spots that are more vulnerable to the sun’s UV rays.

So, you should avoid taking your dog out when the sun is extremely strong. If you do, just keep it short and put some sunscreen (at least 30 SPF) on the parts where its skin is light or doesn’t have much fur.

How to tell if your dog has solar dermatitis

The symptoms of this are easy to miss if you’re not paying much attention to your dog. Here’s a few of them, some easier to spot than others:

  • Scratching: your dog might hurt itself by scratching a lot because of the heat or its sweat.
  • Dry skin: the sun can really dry skin out. So, if your dog is experiencing that it might have solar dermatitis.
  • Peeling and rashes: This comes after dryness. If you realize that your dog had dry skin before this started to happen, rub a hydrating lotion on its skin. Try to find one without chemicals, because that could make the situation worse. For example, aloe vera is a great choice.
  • Fur loss: if your dogs fur starts to shed more fur than normal, it might have solar dermatitis.
  • Sores: if these show up on your dog’s body (especially the nose, eyelids, or ears), it could be from over-exposure to the sun.

What about hairless pets?

A thick-furred light gray cat.

There are lots of dog and cat breeds with no hair or no skin pigmentation. Obviously the sun is especially harmful to them, so you need to take special precautions to make sure these pets don’t get sunburned. You should ideally avoid any exposure to the sun.

It wouldn’t take much time for them to be at risk for solar dermatitis and even cancer. As the saying goes, “better safe than sorry.” Unless it’s absolutely necessary, just keep it out of the sun and you’ll be doing its health a big favor.

If you’re not sure what kinds of protective lotions to give your dog, try talking to your vet about it. They’re always the best person to go to for things like this, and can give you some helpful advice on how to take the best care of your furry friends.

Lastly, just remember that the sun’s rays aren’t just harmful during the summer when they’re at they’re strongest. They can be harmful at any point in the year.