All pets can get sunburn and skin cancer, especially animals with light-colored or sparse fur, light-colored noses and fair eyes. Even a cat sleeping in a window for hours can get sunburned. If your pet enjoys sunning on her back, watch that belly, too.
Shaving your dog makes her more vulnerable to sunburn. Instead, the fur can be thinned out with a good bath, combing out the undercoat, and using thinning shears to give her a breezier summer coat.
The American Kennel Club recommends that if you are taking your dog out in the sun a lot, you should ask your vet for dog-appropriate sunscreen. Zinc oxide and PABA are toxic to animals. An alternative may be a sunsuit. You can get them in sporty or tropical styles.
Pets can also get paw pad burns. Even if the outdoor temperature is 77, the pavement has been accumulating sunlight all day, so your pet may be walking on a surface that’s 125 degrees. Pets with short legs can get belly burn, too, from heat reflecting up from the pavement. Walk your dog on the grass instead. A cool morning walk or an invigorating sunset walk will be much more enjoyable.
If your pet gets sunburned, a cold, wet compress and aloe ointment is a good first aid, but if skin is more than a little rosy, if the skin is cracked, peeling or blistered, or if it is painful, then a vet should look at it.
Pets should always have fresh water and shade available so they won’t overheat and collapse or die from heatstroke. Signs of dehydration include lethargy, nausea, tacky mucous membranes, sunken eyes, headache and disorientation. This requires an emergency trip to the vet.
Over time, especially with sunny-window cats and sparsely-furred dogs, you might see permanent red spots, scaly, ulcerated or crusty areas, scabs, tumors or lesions develop on their face or ears. These could be cancer or precancerous conditions. A trip to the vet is in order.
It’s best to keep pets indoors from midday through the afternoon until after 4 p.m., when the sun is strongest, except for very short outings. If going for a walk, it’s also helpful to bring a sun umbrella to block out UV rays – a benefit for both of you.