Yes, animals can and do get sunburn and skin cancers. The causes and treatments are similar for humans, and to some extent, the advice for how to avoid these sunburns is also similar.
Animals with little hair, light colored hair, or light skin are more susceptible to skin cancer than those with thick, dark hair. Pigs, for example, are well known for getting sunburned as are their relatives the hippopotamus and warthog.
Short haired dogs and dogs that have just been clipped often get burned as do dogs with white fur and light skin.
Further, there are parts of an animal’s body that can burn regardless of color. Noses, inside of the ear and eyes are all areas that are highly susceptible to the harm caused by exposure to UVR. And, according to the Cornell Center for Materials Research, “the problem can be worsened because animals may be exposed to certain substances from their feed, medications such as antibiotics, and spores of certain molds, that can photo-sensitize them, making them more likely to burn; extreme sunburn and sometimes large open skin wounds can result.”
So what can we do to help? Recognize that animals instinctively know to protect themselves. Pigs cover themselves with mud, dogs, cattle and horses seek shade, even elephants give themselves dust-baths–all with intention of protecting themselves from the sun.
If, however, no protection is available, you can take measures to help.
First, if you can avoid it, don’t clip your pet’s fur too short. Fur provides a shield to the sun’s rays. If your animal has very little fur, you can rub on sunscreen lotions. Sunscreens are actually recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association for some animals. The sunscreen should be fragrance-free, nonstaining and contain UVA and UVB blockers. Because most human sunscreens can be toxic if ingested by a dog or a cat (and they will try to lick it off) it’s best to use a pet-specific product. Doggles, Nutri-vet and Epi-Pet all produce pet-specific sunscreens and can be found online.
Second, make sure there are areas of shade your animals can get to. If you don’t have a tree, for example, you can buy a portable shelter or hut. Shade is essential sun protection for animals and they will seek it when it gets too warm.
Third, sun protective “clothing” is made for animals. Light, reflective blankets for horses, shirts for dogs, etc. are all available and can be found on-line or at local pet stores.
If your animal does get sunburned, be sure they get plenty of water, and know that you can provide some relief with lotions containing extracts of the aloe plant to ease the discomfort. Make a quick phone call to your vet if you are concerned.
Protect yourself, your family and your pets from dangerous UVR. Be safe. Be SunAWARE