2017-07-20 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Dogs can get sunburns. People are aware of the connection between sunburn and skin cancer. Our pets aren’t. We know the warnings– to apply sun block before we go outside, wear hats with brims and stay out of the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when UV rays are the strongest. We have to protect our dogs, especially white and hairless breeds, from sun danger too.

Last weekend I moved “Merlin,” a blue merle Aussie pup, from Babylon Shelter to Last Hope. He has blue eyes, a mostly pink nose and lots of white fur. The hair is sparse on the bridge of his snout and pink skin shows. I kept thinking whoever adopts Merlin will always have to make sure he is protected from the sun when he is outside and not in the shade.

Although dogs do not sunburn as easily as people, dogs can suffer from sunburn (solar dermatitis). Sunburn is caused by direct UV injury to skin cells. Most often, dogs sustain a superficial partial thickness burn (first degree burn). At worst, sunburns may result in deep partial thickness burns (second degree burn). Full thickness burns (third degree burn) are rare. Dogs that get sunburns are more apt to develop squamous cell carcinomas later on which can be treated with surgery or radiation, if found early.


"Merlin,” the Aussie pup, will need protection from the sun because of his pink nose, white muzzle and blue eyes. "Merlin,” the Aussie pup, will need protection from the sun because of his pink nose, white muzzle and blue eyes. Vulnerability: The most common area sunburn occurs in dogs is on the top of the muzzle. The other frequent area is the trunk. Around the ears, mouth and eyes are at risk too. Sunburn occurs over the back or belly of dogs that like to lie in the sun. Except for ears, these are all spots that are pink and exposed on Merlin.

Dogs with short legs like Bassets are more susceptible to sunburn, because their bellies are closer to the ground. It’s easier for the tummy area to get sunburn from the sunlight being reflected off the ground.

Extreme care also needs to be given to dogs that have recently had their fur clipped short, and to dogs with preexisting medical conditions such as parasite infections, chronic skin allergies or recent shaving from surgery. Some breeds more susceptible to sunburn are: white Bulldogs, Pit bulls, Dalmatian, Boxers, Weimaraners, Greyhounds and Chinese Cresteds.

Sunburn treatment: Sunburn hurts dogs as much as it does us. The skin will be red, raw and possibly broken. It is a good idea to take your dog to the vet. Severe cases require hospitalization, and often giving the pup fluids and electrolytes. When treating superficial sunburn, a vet usually shaves the hair from the affected area and washes that area with an iodine or chlorhexidine. Next the burn is treated with a topical cream like silver sulfadiazine. Then the dog is sent home with further treatment instructions until healing is complete.

Other treatment suggestions include applying cold compresses and giving cool baths with colloidal oat flour added to ease itching. Some vets recommend over-the-counter spray anesthetics. Gel of aloe vera or witch hazel swabs can be soothing. You can break open a Vitamin E capsule and spread the liquid on the dog’s nose. This will aid healing and help prevent scarring.

Prevention: Keep your dog inside during peak hours of sunshine. Take your walks in the early morning or late afternoon. Apply a quality dog sun block. Some veterinarians recommend using a children’s sunscreen that contains avobenzone, also called Parsol 1789. You have to check the ingredients because certain chemicals used like zinc oxide can be toxic and cause hemolytic anemia when licked off. PABA and certain other chemicals must be avoided too.

There are a variety of canine sunscreens available now which prevent sunburn and have the strength factor of SPF-15 in a human product. A three-way sun block product protection would include sun wipes, a sun stick for areas like the nose and muzzle and a sun mist for the dog’s body.

When we are out in the sun, we wear hats, sunglasses and UV-protection clothing. There are “doggles” (www.doggles.com) with a head and muzzle elastic fitting as canine protective eyewear. You can also purchase canine rash guard shirts and visors with UPF 50 (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) that meet the recommendations for good-quality sun protection.

The visors made me chuckle. My late Afghan Trevor had a yellow visor with a chili pepper design he would sometimes wear on therapy dog visits to nursing homes. He would also wear it in the yard. Trevor was black and loved sunbathing. His long, silky ears anchored the hat perfectly.

Trevor was born at Grandeur in Mill Neck, and was conditioned as a show dog from the moment he was born. He was given to me as a pet because his bite wasn’t perfect. Trevor became the ultimate fashionista and took posing seriously. At times I’d see him showing off in a self-stack or perfect sit wearing his chili pepper visor. It never mattered to him that he didn’t have an audience or judge.

For Adoption at Babylon Animal Shelter (631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Rebecca” 7-134 is a lovable four-month-old kitten fostered by a shelter staff member. She is fine with dogs. “Captain” 16-644 is a volunteer favorite. He attends many adoption fairs where he is dog and kid friendly. He has his own Facebook page called “Captain Wants to Go Home.”

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