Sunburn – it affects our pets as well

2nd July 2017

Given how much our pets like to lie out in the sun, it always surprises us how little sunburn we actually see in our pet population. However it does occur and it is something we should all be aware of.


How does sunburn happen?

In the summer, when the sun is high in the sky, the atmosphere filters out less of the harmful UV light. If the skin is exposed to too much UV light, the developing skin cells are damaged and become inflamed. Initially the skin becomes red and can hurt but ultimately the damage, if excessive, can cause blisters and ulcers.


What should you look out for?

  1. Simple sunburnt skin – this will be hot, painful and puffy.
  2. Badly sunburnt skin – the skin will be blistered and ulcerated and it’s particularly evident in the least hairy areas.
  3. Chronic sunburnt skin – look for non-healing scabs or ulcers, typically seen in older animals and particularly on cats' ear tips or collie noses
  4. Cancer - some skin masses can be triggered by sunburn. Again, typically older animals with thin coats. The growths can be pigmented or pink, and they are often ulcerated or scabby rather than smooth.


Natural protection

Our pets are generally resistant to sunburn as they have a lovely layer of fur over most of their skin. This acts as a UV barrier, akin to us wearing a UV resistant long sleeve body suit.

How good this barrier is depends on their breed as some animals have more hair and some have less. As a simple guide, it’s thought that if you can see the skin easily through the hair and fur then they are likely to be more vulnerable to UV damage.

  • Think Bull Terrier verses a Husky - very short, open coat verses thick double coat.
  • Think Devon Rex verses Ragdoll cats - almost no hair verses long, thick coat.


Which body areas are most vulnerable?

  • Even with a thick coat, cats and dogs are just the same as us with exposed areas of their bodies, such as the ear tip margins, the eyelid margins and the bridge of their noses, over which the hair growth is typically low.
  • Just as in people, animals with paler skin are more at risk than those with pigmented skin, so cats with white ears and collies with white noses are seen to be at much greater risk.
  • Just as in people, animals who enjoy sunbathing or sleep for long periods outside are more at risk.


How to prevent sunburn

  • Avoid letting your pet out in the hottest part of the day. This is when most damage will happen.
  • Provide shaded areas in the garden or back yard.
  • Sun cream can be used, but they are not always effective if your pet licks or rubs it off. We also have to consider what would happen if your pet swallows the cream – is it safe? As a rule, avoid products which contain Zinc Oxide in dogs and salicylate (asprin like) containing products in cats.


Contact us for advice on sun creams


What should I do if I am worried?

  1. If you think your pet has been sunburnt, call us. Our vets will be able to help take away their pain.
  2. If the skin is blistered or ulcerated, we should see your pet urgently.
  3. If you find a skin lump, a non-healing ulcer or scabby areas on the skin, you need to book an appointment.



Remember some exposure to some sunlight is important!

Too little sunlight is also harmful to your pets as they rely on some daylight to reset their internal clocks and to make Vitamin D active in their bodies. As with all things, moderation is sensible; a little sunshine is good for you but too much in one go can be harmful.