First published in Animal Wellness magazine.
Spending lots of time outdoors with your dog this summer? Research shows that canines are just as prone to getting skin cancer as humans, so be sure to invest in an effective form of dog-friendly sun protection!
Whether you’re out for a walk with your dog or a quick swim at the beach, he’ll be exposed to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Dogs have sensitive skin, and if exposed to more than thirty minutes of sun, he can get sunburned, just like you! In this blog, we’ll discuss why it’s important to bring out the pet sunscreen before taking part in outdoor activities with your pooch.
Skin cancer – it affects animals, too!
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), skin cancer is the most common type of pet cancer in the United States, resulting in more than a million cases each year. The AVMA also adds that skin cancer is the costliest to treat with annual and direct costs estimated at $2.5 billion.
Canine skin cancer
Research shows that mast cell tumors are pets’ most common skin cancer. Golden Retrievers are the breed most affected by mast cell tumors, but any breed can get skin cancer, with dogs that have lighter or white skin being the most at risk.
“Most dogs have pigmented skin,” explains veterinarian Dr. Nancy Scanlan. “White dogs have pink skin, but most of it is protected from the sun by hair. Skin cancer from excess exposure to the sun most often occurs in two places: the noses of white dogs, or dogs with pink noses or white markings on top of the muzzle. Short-coated dogs that enjoy sunbathing while lying upside down in the sun are also more prone to skin cancer.”
Of course, dogs that enjoy being outdoors and participating in outdoor dog sports during the summer months are most at risk for sunburn and skin cancer because they are subjected to ongoing sun exposure.
Protecting your pup
It only makes sense to keep your dog indoors when the UV index is high and do your best to walk him in the early mornings or evenings when the sun is low. But you can take a few precautions to avoid having too much time indoors. Opt for specially designed apparel for dogs to protect them against the sun’s harsh rays, and use a sunscreen made especially for canines!
When choosing a safe sunscreen for your pet, choose one that offers both UVA and UVB protection and is pet specific.
Today, over 94% of veterinarians recommend the use of pet sunscreen! “The muzzle and ears are the most common places to apply sunscreen,” says Dr. Scanlan. “It is impossible to use sunscreen on the nose itself because dogs will lick it off almost immediately.”
Because most dogs will lick the sunscreen after application, you need something that won’t harm your canine if he ingests it. Choose a product that’s safe and non-toxic as well as effective. Sunscreens don’t need to contain unhealthy synthetic or chemical ingredients, yet many do. Buyer beware!
Tips for finding a pet-friendly sunscreen
- Never use a product that contains PABA, as it can be fatal if licked off.
- Avoid sunscreens containing zinc oxide; ingestion could lead to hemolytic anemia in dogs.
- Opt for SPF 10 or higher products that contain beneficial and natural ingredients like shea butter, kukui nut oil, and vitamin E to offer sunburn protection and relief.
- Look for an FDA-approved sunscreen that is formulated especially for dogs. It should contain tocopheryl, an antioxidant that promotes healing for burned or damaged skin. All sunscreens for pets should be paraben–free.
- Natural sunscreens made for children may be used on dogs.
- Purchase green, vegan sunscreens whenever possible.
- Water-resistant sunblock is ideal, especially for dogs that spend a lot of time in the water. It should be applied every two hours.
- Doggy sun wipes are not only effective but provide a fast and safe way of applying sunblock to Fido. Most contain a non-greasy formula with an SPF sunscreen that is safe for dogs.
- Doggy sun sticks also work well and are easy to use. These can be applied quickly with minimal fuss.
UV sun shirts for dogs
Veterinarian Dr. Douglas H. Thamm recommends using UV-blocking sun shirts for dogs. This is a good alternative if you are unable to find natural sunscreen – especially if your dog is a licker! “Behavior modification such as keeping dogs out of the sun is the best preventative, but UV blocking shirts and suits for dogs are a good alternative as well,” says Dr. Thamm. Lightweight sun shirts are great for outdoor activities like swimming and boating and will keep your dog’s coat cool throughout the day. Dog sun shirts should be made from UPF 50+ rated fabrics to block harmful UV rays.
You can take sun protection for dogs one step further by equipping your pup with visors or UPF goggles to shield his eyes. By reducing your dog’s time outdoors during peak summer hours and applying sunscreen whenever you head outdoors, you’ll minimize his risk of sunburn and skin cancer. Use your judgment when taking him outdoors, and be sure to keep him hydrated, too! With a little extra care, he’ll be able to safely enjoy those fun summer days with the family.
Woofs & Wags!