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Too much time in the sun poses similar health risks for our dogs and cats as it does for ourselves. Like humans, pets can experience sunburns — which not only can be painful, but also can increase risk for certain types of skin cancer. Topically applied sunscreen can protect your pet from the harmful effects of the sun, but should always be used in conjunction with efforts to reduce overall sun exposure by providing shade and other sun barriers whenever possible. Use a non-toxic, hypoallergenic sunscreen formulated specifically for use on pets, as your pet could lick and ingest some of the product after it has been applied.


If your dog frequently accompanies you on outdoor activities, such as hiking and playing at the beach, plan for ways to reduce your dog’s sun exposure on such adventures. “I most frequently see skin damage in light-skinned dogs that spend a lot of time outside with their owners,” says Dr. Elizabeth Falk, a veterinarian whose practice is limited to dermatology. “Sunscreen can help reduce sun damage, but owners need to be focused on reducing exposure as well.” According to Falk, areas of your dog’s skin that are hairless and non-pigmented need to be protected from the sun. “If you look carefully, you’ll notice that where your dog has white hair, his skin is likely pink, and where his fur is colored, the skin is likely darker with pigment. The darker-pigmented skin has more natural sun protection than the lighter pink skin, and areas with hair covering the skin are more protected than hairless areas.” Apply an appropriate sunscreen to exposed areas of non-pigmented skin, as well as the bridge of the nose, tips of the ears, belly and groin areas, which can be especially vulnerable. Lightweight clothing can offer sun protection, but be careful to avoid overheating your dog in hot summer months. Provide shade whenever possible, and don’t forget to reapply the sunscreen at least every 4 to 6 hours.


While cats are not typically brought to the beach or taken on outdoor hiking excursions with their owners, they are still vulnerable to sun exposure even if they’re indoor-only cats. Many cats enjoy sleeping in windowsills and lying in the sun for several hours a day. According to Dr. Falk, light-skinned, white-haired cats that spend a lot of time lying in windowsills are at risk for developing a certain type of skin cancer on the tips of the ears called squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer initially appears as a red, crusty or ulcerated spot on the tips of the ears. You can reduce exposure of your cat to harmful UV rays in the sun by applying sunscreen frequently and by adding shades or a reflective film on your windows to filter UV rays. Cats are fastidious groomers, so successfully applying sunscreen to them may prove difficult. Since they’re likely to ingest topically applied sunscreen, purchase a product specifically formulated for use on cats.


Veterinary dermatologists recommend sunscreens that contain the equivalent UVA and UVB barriers of human SPF 15 or SPF 30. Hypoallergenic, fragrance and dye-free products should always be used. If a suitable sunscreen made for pets cannot be found, it is acceptable to substitute a product that has been manufactured for infants for your dog. Cats may be more sensitive to ingredients in sunscreen and may be more likely to ingest products applied topically, however, so sunscreens for cats should be manufactured specifically for them if possible, and should not contain the active ingredient Octyl Salicylate. Never use products containing zinc oxide on your pets — ingestion of zinc oxide can cause toxic side effects and gastrointestinal disturbances. If your pet has a rash or reaction to any topically applied sunscreen, wash the product off and consult your veterinarian immediately.