Can My Pet Get Sunburned?

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Golden retriever puppy sunbathing in a hammock on the beach

School’s out for summer, and it’s time to hit the beach, lake and pool! Did you ever think about whether your dog or cat could get a sunburn while you were putting sunscreen on your friends or family?

The answer, surprisingly, is yes! The likelihood is more dependent on the breed, but all pets can in fact get sunburned. Look for these signs of sunburn in your pet, and follow our safety tips for preventing your pet's risk for sunburn.

Which types of pets are most susceptible to sunburns?

In general, pets with white fur and light skin will be more susceptible to sunburns than pets with darker skin and thicker coats. In terms of dogs, hairless dog breeds like the Chinese Crested Dogs and American Terrier, and lighter-colored breeds such as Australian Sheepdogs, Boxers, Greyhounds, French Bulldogs, Dalmatians, Pit Bulls and Bull Terriers, will be most vulnerable to sunburn. For cats, hairless breeds like the Sphynx and Bambino and white-haired breeds like the Siamese and Cornish Rex are the most susceptible. 

How do I know if my pet has a sunburn?

Much like a human sunburn, a sunburn on a pet will make their skin appear red and inflamed, and it may result in itchiness or flakiness on their skin too. Be aware of the precancerous phase of a sunburn on a pet, which looks like raised patches with scabs forming and their hair falling out, according to the American Kennel Club.

Sadly, repeated sun exposure can lead to different types of cancers in your pet. It’s very important to apply as many preventative measures as possible during the warmer months to protect pets from getting skin cancer or worsening other medical conditions like autoimmune disease.

How can I prevent my pet from getting a sunburn?

Keeping your pet in the shade or indoors during the the heat of the day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. will always be the best method to protect them from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

You can also purchase sunscreen for your pet. It’s very important to find a sunscreen that does not contain toxins for your pets because they may lick themselves and accidentally ingest it. According to the American Kennel Club, zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) is toxic to dogs and can lead to hemolytic anemia, and octisalate is toxic to cats.

Look for broad spectrum sunscreen with at least 15 SPF, but preferably 30+ SPF, and make sure that it is waterproof and fragrance-free. You can either use a sunscreen specifically designed for pets or find a baby-safe sunscreen without dangerous toxins. Be sure to follow the instructions from the label, such as reapplying sunscreen every 4-6 hours. It's a good idea to apply sunscreen to your pet 15 minutes before sun exposure, and be sure to reapply after they get wet.

Other sunscreen alternatives include a sun shirt or suit. You can also buy doggy goggles to protect your dog's retinas against UV damage. In terms of grooming, it’s never okay to shave your pet because they need their fur to protect themselves against UV rays. However, you can talk with your groomer about grooming your pet in a way that makes them cool and comfortable for the summer while still being protected from the sun. 

How can I treat my pet’s sunburn?

Treatment for a dog sunburn or cat sunburn is very similar to a human sunburn. You can apply aloe vera or a similar cream to the affected areas, but if the burn is severe, it is advisable to visit your local vet office for further examination. Your vet may need to prescribe an antibiotic ointment if the sunburn is severe enough.

For more summer safety tips for pets, read our blog or follow us on Facebook or Instagram.