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Dogs and Cats Get Sunburn, Too

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jessie-sunbathing2.JPGBy Dr. Chris Rainey

RISMEDIA, April 29, 2008-(MCT)-The approach of summer will bring constant reminders about the danger of overexposure to the sun and the need for sunscreen.

The dangers are real, and we should all take appropriate measures to prevent skin damage and skin cancer. But, did you know that the family pet is susceptible to many of the same diseases? Dogs, cats and even horses suffer from sunburn, solar dermatitis, and skin cancer.

The skin of a sunburned animal is red and painful, just as in people. Hair loss may also be evident. The most common sites for sunburn include the bridge of the nose, ear tips, skin around the lips, groin, abdomen and inner legs. Pets that have light-colored noses and skin, thin or missing hair, or have been shaved for surgery are at greater risk for solar induced skin diseases.

Sunburn can progress to solar dermatitis which is characterized by redness, hair loss, crusting and ulceration of the skin. With continued sun exposure skin cancer (such as squamous cell carcinoma) may occur.

The best way to prevent sunburn is to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This can be done by keeping the animal inside or providing shaded areas in the yard. Horses can be protected in a barn. Using a black felt-tip marker or tattooing depigmented areas of the nose can help absorb some sunlight, but alone will not prevent sunburn.

Sunscreens may help prevent sunburn in our pets. They are not only a good idea, but are actually recommended by The American Animal Hospital Association in appropriate animals. The sunscreen should be fragrance free, non-staining, and contain UVA and UVB blockers. Because most human sunscreens can be toxic if ingested by a dog or a cat it is best to use a pet-specific product. Sunscreens should be applied liberally and reapplied every 4-6 hours during the brightest part of the day (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

Doggles, Nutri-vet, and Epi-Pet all produce pet specific sunscreens and can be found on-line. Be sure to inquire which product is right for your pet as some products should not be used on cats.

Ideally, it is better to prevent sunburn than to treat it. However, if sunburn does occur your veterinarian can provide you and your pet with treatment options.

Dr. Chris Rainey is a veterinarian at Northwood Hills Animal Hospital in Gulfport, Miss.

© 2008, The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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