Summer is just around the corner and here in New Mexico our pets are enjoying the longer days basking in the sun, both indoors and out. As pet parents it is important to educate ourselves about the potential risks to our pets’ health from sun exposure. Just like us, our pets can experience negative effects from sun exposure. They get painful sunburns that scab and peel. And, they can get skin cancer associated with sun exposure including: malignant melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. At particular risk are animals that have light skin pigmentation and/or have very short fur, including pets that have been shaved for the summer.
Here are some steps that you can take to keep your pet healthy this summer, while still enjoying our amazing Santa Fe weather.
- Routinely check your pet’s skin for abnormalities. When examining your pet pay particular attention to the muzzle, ears, lips, and to the skin around the eyes and nose. Exams on dogs should also include a thorough inspection of the belly and inner thighs. Look for red or black spots / crusts – they can be as small as a pinprick – and scabs / wounds that do not heal. It is a good idea to schedule a monthly reminder to check your pet’s skin and ask your groomer or anyone else involved in your pet’s care to let you know if they notice any suspicious areas.
- Consider keeping your pet in the house during peak sun hours (in New Mexico that is from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
- When your pet is outside, ensure that there is a safe, shady spot to rest.
- Close your blinds to keep cats out of sunbeams during peak sun hours.
- See your veterinarian regularly for an exam, and immediately if you notice anything suspicious.
- If you have a pet that you believe is at risk because of their pigmentation, we are happy to schedule a wellness exam. We will evaluate your pet for areas of concern and teach you in more detail what to look for. We are located in Santa Fe, New Mexico, call us at 505-982-4492 to schedule an appointment.
Applying sunscreen is a great option. But because most pets will lick off at least some of the sunscreen, it is not safe to use human sunscreens. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are particularly toxic to dogs. Many sunscreens contain salicylates (benzyl salicylate and octyl salicylate) that can be very dangerous for cats if ingested.
Luckily, there are now a number of options for dog-safe sunscreens on the market. Two options are Epi-Pet and My Dog Nose It. Epi-Pet is FDA compliant, but should only be used in dogs and horses. My Dog Nose is another option that is safe for dogs. Keep in mind that some pets can have allergic skin reactions to sunscreen, even when using a pet-friendly product. Try applying it to a small area and watch for redness and irritation, with or without hives.
Currently finding a cat-safe sunscreen is pretty tricky. The safest recommendation for cats is to limit their exposure as much as possible and to vigilant about checking the areas around their eyes, nose, and ear tips for crusty black or red spots.
Finally, applying sunscreen is not a license to keep your pet outside, without shade, during peak sunlight hours. As with humans, limiting sun exposure for our pets is the safest approach! Now go enjoy scratching some heads and bellies!