Sun safety: skin cancer in pets
We’re well aware of the dangers of spending too much time in the sun. But did you know that pets can suffer from sunburn, too? And, just like with humans, sun damage can sometimes lead to skin cancer.
So, how can we protect our pets from the sun’s harmful rays? And what signs of skin cancer do we need to look out for?
When do pets need protection from the sun?
If it’s hot enough for you to feel the need for sun cream, your pet will probably need protection too. While their fur provides a little protection, they can still get sunburn, especially in areas where their fur is thinner. The areas that are more prone to sun burn are the tips of the ears, the nose and anywhere where your pet’s fur is thin. Just like people, pets can even get sunburn on a cloudy day.
Some pets need more protection than others:
- Pets with white or pale fur
- Pets with thin or patchy fur
- Pets that have pink skin exposed on their ears, nose or belly.
How can I protect my pet from the sun?
The best way to protect your pet is to keep them out of the worst of the sun:
- Avoid walking dogs in the middle of the day when the sun is at its strongest.
- Make sure your pets have access to shade. Trees and shrubs make great shade for garden-loving dogs and cats. A blanket or tarpaulin draped over the corner of their run can offer up shade to small pets like rabbits and guinea pigs.
- Use a pet safe sun cream on sun sensitive areas, like your pet’s ears and nose. Remember to reapply it throughout the day.
- Speak to your vet if you’re worried about your pet’s skin.
Signs of skin cancer in pets
The sun’s harmful UV rays can make damaging changes to our skin cells. Over time, these changes can lead to skin cancer. The same thing can happen in our pets.
There are different types of skin cancer and not all of them are caused by the sun. However, sun damage can lead to some pets developing a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. It is not common but it is important to get treatment quickly as it is quite an aggressive tumour.
It’s a good idea to know the warning signs of skin cancer:
- Look out for any changes to your pet’s skin such as wounds that don’t heal on the tips of the nose or ears.
- Pay attention to any new lumps and always get them checked out by your vet.
Take a look at our guide to common lumps and bumps on pets.
What can the vets do if my pet has skin cancer?
Cancer is a scary word and if your pet has been diagnosed with skin cancer you’ll understandably be worried.
Your vet will be able to give you lots of advice about the right kind of treatment for your pet. The treatment options will depend on the type of skin cancer your pet has. Your vet might be able to make an educated guess about this, based on a lump’s appearance and location, but to make sure it’s usually best to send a sample from the tumour to the lab for testing to confirm.
If your vet thinks your pet has a tumour caused by the sun (squamous cell carcinoma) then they may advise surgery to remove the tumour. Tumours in difficult to operate on areas – like eyelids or nose - may be more difficult to remove completely. In this case, your vet may recommend more advanced treatments such as radiotherapy. If the tumour is treated early – before it has spread – then the outlook is usually good for this type of cancer.
Your vet will also give you advice about how to protect your pet from the sun and stop them suffering from more skin problems.
Bobby’s owner was shocked when her much-loved cat was diagnosed with skin cancer. He was more at risk from the sun because of his white fur.
Bobby came to see our vets when his owner noticed that the tips of his ears were turning black. Our vets quickly diagnosed the problem and explained that Bobby would need the tips of his ears removing to stop the cancer spreading.
Thankfully, Bobby’s cancer had been spotted early and our vets were able to treat him successfully.
After his treatment, Bobby’s owner said, ‘I was shocked as I didn’t realise cats could get skin cancer. PDSA have kept me and Bobby together and I'm so very grateful.'