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Sun Protection Do’s and Don’ts for Pets

It’s that time of year where the UV index is high, which means we’re at risk for sunburn and other UV damaging effects. Perhaps you slather on sunscreen, use protective clothing, find a lovely patch of shade, or completely avoid the sun during peak hours to protect yourself from the sun. But what about your dog or cat? Do they need protection from the sun? The short answer is that most pets do not require specific sun protection. But here’s what pet owners need to know about their pets and the sun:

Pets at most risk include pets with:

  • Light colored skin
  • No hair, very short hair, thinning hair or shaved hair
  • Underlying health conditions worsened by UV rays (example: immune-mediated skin disease like discoid lupus erythematosus)

What parts of the body are most at risk?

  • Bridge of the nose
  • Ear tips
  • Skin around the lips
  • Underside of chest, abdomen and groin for sunbathing pets that lay on their back

Sun protection DO’s:

  • Avoid hours of high UV index. Keep pets indoors or under good shade cover during the peak sun hours (about 10am-4pm). Note these hours are often the hottest parts of the day, so avoiding activity and lengthy outdoor time can also help prevent heat stroke.
  • Monitor your indoor cat for sun damage. Glass windows can filter some, but not all UV rays, which can put indoor-only pets at risk. This is particularly important for the light colored, sunbathing cats. The key places to look are the nose, ear tips and lightly haired region in front of the ears. Early signs of UV induced skin damage include redness, scaling/flaking and hair loss in these regions.
  • Talk to your family veterinarian to see if sunscreen or sun protection is recommended for your pet. ​UV protective clothing can be helpful. Sun protective eye wear also exists for dogs with underlying eye conditions that worsen with UV exposure.

Sun protection DON’Ts:

  • Do NOT use human sunscreens on pets. Many contain ingredients (i.e. zinc, salicylates, PABA) that are toxic to pets if ingested. There are pet specific sunscreens. Always check with your veterinarian before using a new product.
  • If sunscreen is deemed important for your pet, don’t forget to reapply if your pet stays outdoors for several hours.
  • Don’t keep your pet completely indoors for fear of sun damage! Plan your activities wisely to avoid extensive exposure to full sun during peak hours.

Now go forth and enjoy your summer adventures! 

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