Sunburn in pets
- Pets can get sunburnt just like people, especially if they are light coloured or have a thin/patchy coat.
- Sunburn is painful, causes skin damage, and can lead to certain types of skin cancer.
- Fortunately, it’s easy to prevent your pet getting sunburnt by limiting their time in the sun, providing shade and using sunblock.
Just like us, our pets can get sunburnt if their skin isn’t protected. Your pet is most at risk if they are light coloured (ginger/white), very short haired, or have any thin/bald patches of fur. The most common areas for pets to get sunburnt are the ears, nose, tip of the tail, and tummy (especially if they enjoy basking on their back in the sun!) Sunburn is typically very painful, causes skin damage and can sometimes lead to skin cancer.
The treatment your pet requires will depend on the seriousness of their burns.
If you are unsure how serious your pet’s burns are, call your vet practice for advice.
Mild sunburn often heals within a few days with treatment at home:
- Use cold compresses to cool your pet’s skin (but be very gentle when touching their sunburn).
- Keep your pet cool and out of sunlight until their skin has healed.
- Use sunblock to protect their sunburnt skin if they have to go outside.
- Alternatively, you can use sun protective clothing, such as a highly rated SPF fabric/T-shirt to cover their sunburn.
Severe sunburn should always be checked by your vet straight away. If your pet is severely sunburnt, they might need pain relief, anti-inflammatories, possibly a fluid drip, antibiotics, and wound dressings.
Which sunblock should I use on my pet?
As a general rule, if you are applying sunblock to your dog/cat/rabbit, try to use one that is:
- Pet or child safe
- SPF30 or higher
Apply two layers at least 15 minutes before your pet goes outside, and reapply as necessary.
Limit sunlight exposure
- Don’t allow your pet to sunbathe for long periods of time in direct sunlight.
- Make sure they always have access to plenty of shade.
- Avoid walking your dog in the middle of very hot days, instead, stick to the cooler mornings and evenings.
- Apply sunblock to any areas of unprotected skin on sunny days. Dogs often need it on the end of their nose and tummy, and cats tend to need it on their ears and the end of their nose. If possible, try to discourage your pet from licking their lotion off.
Published: June 2021
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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.
Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst