A dog lounging in the sun that needs sunscreen.

Don’t Forget Sunscreen for Your Pets

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Fear of skin cancer, aging skin, and a thinning ozone layer make “lubing up” with sunscreen a routine part of any outdoor adventure. But did you know that your pet’s exposed skin needs the same kind of protection from the sun’s UVA and UVB rays? Newer and safer products can now help you and your pet enjoy playing outside in the sunshine without worrying about sunburns or skin cancer.

Yes, Your Pet Can Get a Sunburn

Who doesn’t love stretching out in the sunshine for a good nap? Unfortunately, many of us have learned the hard way, from the painful sting of a sunburn, that falling asleep in the sun without sunblock doesn’t end well. The same is true for your furry friends who love to sunbathe as well.

Sunburns happen when two wavelengths of sunlight, UVA and UVB, heat up the skin’s shallow layers, damaging tissue and skin cells. In the short term, sunburn causes pain, swelling, and blisters if severe. However, sunburns break down the skin’s structure (collagen) and cause pre-cancerous changes in the long term.

Our pets’ fur coats provide some natural protection from the sun’s damaging rays, but breeds with short or fine coats are at greater risk of sunburn. Dog breeds like Boxers and Pitbulls are more likely to get skin damage from the sun than dogs with thicker coats. Also, light-colored hair coats, such as white and fawn, are less protective against the sun than darker hair. In both dogs and cats, hairless or thinly-haired areas are also more easily burned.

Cats and Dogs Can Get Skin Cancer

Sun-loving cats can sometimes develop a sun-related skin condition known as solar dermatitis. Solar dermatitis can progress to skin cancer in the form of malignant tumors (squamous cell carcinomas). Vets typically see skin cancer in white-furred cats who spend most of their time outdoors. The most common sites of solar dermatitis are the ears, nose, and face areas with thin skin.

There are several different types of skin cancer in dogs, but squamous cell carcinoma, malignant melanoma, and hemangioma are the types most often caused by too much sun. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), sunburn can also worsen allergic and autoimmune skin disorders.

How to Choose the Safest Sunscreen for Your Pet

While some human sunscreens may also be safe for your pet, you need to choose carefully – especially if there is a chance your furry friend will try to lick it off.

Look for a product that is:

Different formulations work better depending on your pooch and your plans. Balms are great for rubbing on noses and ear tips, like Lucky Pup’s affordable Sunscreen Dog Balm. Sunscreen wipes like Petskin SPF 15 Doggy Sun Wipes work well for exposed bellies or armpit areas. Horse and dog owners recommend Epi-Pet’s Sun Protector Skin Treatment Spray to cover thin coats or large areas with a fine mist.

Choosing the right sunscreen for cats can be trickier, since they are more likely to lick it off and can be more sensitive to some common sunscreen ingredients. Resourceful cat owners choose non-sunblock options to protect at-risk kitties, like the hairless Sphynx, from the sun’s rays. Specially-designed UV-filtering jackets and pet playpens are creative ways to keep sun-loving cats sunburn-free.

Where to Put Sunscreen on Your Cat or Dog

The parts of cats and dogs that need sunblock protection are:

Some Other Sun Protection Tips for Your Pet

  1. Not all windows have UV-blocking film, so your furry friend can get a sunburn indoors or in the car on a road trip. You can purchase UV-blocking window films for your home and your car to keep your pet’s favorite sunny spot safe.
  2. Don’t forget winter sun protection for your pets if you take your dog out snowshoeing or on long winter hikes. The sun’s rays are more intense at higher elevations and reflect better off of snow and ice.
  3. Plan longer walks or outdoor adventures outside of the peak sunburn hours of 9 – 4 PM.
  4. Seek out shady play spots.
  5. Though dogs don’t need to wear sunglasses, some dog owners who bring their pets along for rides on their motorboats or motorcycles swear by Doggles. They’re known to protect pups’ eyes from sun damage, dryness, and bugs.

Sunscreen Keeps Your Pets Safe and Comfortable in the Sunshine

Pet-specific products designed for today’s active pets make it easier to safely protect them from sunburns, skin irritation, and skin cancer. Make sure to use sunscreen on your pets if they’re playing or exercising outdoors, especially if they’re hairless, aging, or have a light coat.