Some dogs and cats prone to sunburn: How to protect your animal from skin damage

Humans are not the only ones who need to monitor their exposure to UV rays: animals are at risk too. Dogs and cats with white or thin coats are at particular risk, as are animals with very closely shorn fur or with certain pre-existing conditions. Dermatologist Christa Horvath-Ungerböck from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna explains which animals are particularly sensitive, how to prevent sun damage to the skin, and how to treat a sunburned animal.

Human or animals skin with little or no pigmentation is very sensitive to the sun in general. Hairless pets or pets with very short or thin fur can also be vulnerable. For dogs and cats this applies in particular to those parts of the skin that are regularly exposed to the sun. These include the ears, the bridge of the nose, the skin around the eyes, and the back. “Some animals particularly enjoy lying on their backs to bask in the sun. This exposes the skin on their bellies, which is often hairless, to the rays of the sun, increasing the risk of sunburn,” reports veterinary dermatologist Christa Horvath-Ungerböck.

A nose with little hair and underlying light skin are at higher sunburn risk. Photo Credit: Vetmeduni Vienna

Particularly vulnerable pets

House pets with white or short fur are at particular risk of sunburn. The Dogo Argentino breed, white bulldogs, Dalmatians, boxers, whippets, beagles and white or multi-coloured cats with white patches have skin that is very sensitive to light, especially on their heads. In summer animals with shorn fur can also have a problem. The short hair allows UV rays penetrate down to the sensitive skin and cause sunburn.

Hairless dogs and cats are naturally more sensitive to the sun, since they lack the natural sun protection fur affords. Here too though, skin pigmentation plays a role, and darker animals are less vulnerable to UV rays. Owners of vulnerable breeds should take particular care to protect their animals from the sun.

Sun protection for animals

“As a rule, animals should have a shady place to lie in. Especially at midday, when the sun is at its strongest and presents the greatest risk, not just for the skin but for the animal overall”, explains dermatologist Horvath-Ungerböck. Particularly sensitive animals require sun protection in the form of a waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 or a sunblock containing zinc oxide, for example.

For longer hikes through the mountains where the sun’s rays are particularly aggressive, sensitive animals should wear a t-shirt, coat or hat for protection.

The skin specialist advises owners not to worry: “Not every white dog or white cat needs sunscreen or clothing to protect it from the sun. If sun damage has already occurred though, or if an animal is highly sensitive, it is up to us to protect it from further damage.”

A custom-made umbrella can also be a suitable sunscreen for sensitive skin. Photo Credit: Vetmeduni Vienna

Treating sunburn in animals

If sunburn is visible as reddened, warm or flaking skin, the animal should be moved to the shade as quickly as possible. Cool compresses and ointments to soothe the skin can help relieve the initial symptoms. If the burn is severe, a veterinarian should be consulted as treatment with a cortisone product may be indicated to prevent inflammation. If the skin changes present as a secondary infection, antibiotics may be indicated. The affected animal will need to be well protected from the sun in future to prevent permanent damage.

Certain pre-existing conditions can increase skin sensitivity

Some illnesses and genetic defects that result in a thin coat can make the skin more sensitive to sunburn. Any longer-term stimulus that results in a loss of fur is a possible factor. These can include parasitic infections, chronic skin conditions, or congenital hairlessness.  In some cases, exposure to the sun can worsen an existing condition. Animals with autoimmune skin diseases must be carefully protected from the sun, for example. And areas of the skin that were covered by fur but are suddenly exposed due to hair loss, such as scar tissue after an operation or injury, should be carefully observed and shielded as needed.

Damage caused by sun exposure

In animals, sunburn results in an acute inflammation of the skin that can cause itching or even pain, depending on the individual animal. Frequent sunburns can lead to pre-cancerous conditions or even actual skin tumours. “We sometimes see squamous cell carcinoma on the heads of white, outdoor cats as the result of chronic sun exposure. The affected areas of the skin then need to be surgically removed,” Horvath-Ungerböck explains.

 (Via: ScienceDaily)

Lumps and bumps on your dog

A lipoma is a growth of fat cells contained in a thin capsule, usually found just below the skin. Lipomas are most often found on the torso, neck, upper legs and armpits, but they can occur almost anywhere. Lipomas are the most common noncancerous soft tissue growth, although other lumps and bumps may appear on your dog, especially as he grows older.


First of all, I want to make it clear that these growths are a sign of chronic disease and not an acute issue. Lipomas and other fatty tumors are the body’s way of ridding itself of toxins and other unwanted material but, because the body is out of balance, it can’t eliminate toxins through normal channels such as the kidneys, liver or intestines. When the endocrine and immune systems are not functioning at full capacity, the body does the next best thing and tries to encapsulate any unwanted material and eliminate it through the largest excretory organ of the body: the skin. Lipomas and other fatty tumors are like a lump of dirt that you would sweep under the rug when you don’t know what else to do with it.

Statistics show that 1.7 million dogs in the United States are treated for lipomas every year. This doesn’t include all the other lumps and bumps that appear on dogs as they reach middle age or older. I’m certain that close to a billion dollars or more is spent on the treatment of these various eruptions each year.

I don’t recommend surgical removal unless the lipoma is threatening the life of the dog. For every one of these bumps that are removed, more will return and require further surgical removal. As a surgeon for 25 years, I saw how removing one lump resulted in multiple lumps appearing later on in the dog’s life. This is because surgery removes only the tip of the iceberg. Surgery will do nothing to address the toxins causing the fatty tumor and will leave scar tissue behind and this blocks the point of discharge the body needs to release those toxins. Once the scar tissue is created, the toxins feeding the tumor are forced deeper into the patient’s body, causing damage to deeper organs and organ systems.

Once present, lipomas are difficult to treat so prevention is the best approach. In my experience, key contributors to lipomas include:

Poor Diet

Carbohydrates, chemical preservatives and other toxins found in processed foods all contribute to fatty tumor growth. Water is also an important part of your dog’s diet and tap water should be avoided as the chlorine can damage your dog’s thyroid and upset his endocrine system.

Drugs and Chemicals

The products used on dogs to control fleas, ticks, heartworms and other worms are not only toxic to insects and parasites, they are toxic to your dog. There are natural and effective ways to control these internal pests without toxic residue. Vaccines and other pharmaceutical products are also loaded with contaminants and should be avoided whenever necessary.


Your dog’s environment is a major source of toxins, especially if herbicides or pesticides are used in your area. In the spring and summer, the pest trucks are everywhere, spraying poisons to kill ants, fleas, ticks and everything else in their path, including you and your dog. I recommend you never use any of these products in your home or yard – ever. As for the bugs, they’re supposed to be there so, for the sake of our environment, leave them alone. When you walk your dog in parks or areas where there is a likelihood of herbicides and pesticides being used, wash your dog’s feet off with soap and water when you get home to prevent him from licking or absorbing the toxins through the pads of his paws.


My choice of treatment for fatty tumors is to first stop supplementing the toxins by avoiding those mentioned above. Next, you must help your dog to remove any existing toxins and aid his body in its detoxification and healing process. I recommend a natural diet, filtered water, no drugs, chemicals, herbicides, pesticides or vaccines on or around my patients. Treatment choices include classical homeopathy, gemmotherapy, aromatherapy, bovine colostrum, fatty acid supplementation and glandular therapy. All of these modalities will complement the body’s healing capacity.

Remember that surgery is a suppressive treatment and will only drive the toxins and disease deeper into the patient. It should be used only as a last resort in any dog, no matter what issue you are dealing with.


Lame dogs brought to heal with stem cells

Up for a walk … Denise Stuckey, with her dog, Bella, who has had stem cell treatment from vet Joe Sulyok. Photo: Janie Barrett


Stem cell injections in dogs will become routine in the next two years and will probably cost less than $1000.

The first data, collated last week, into the use of the procedure where cultured cells are injected into the joints of dogs with hip dysplasia or canine osteoarthritis has shown a success rate of 96 per cent.

The procedure will be made available to veterinary clinics, promoted at dog shows and possibly in a television campaign.

It has been transformed in little more than a year with stem cells from one animal used to treat other dogs.


Previously, an invasive procedure was necessary, with incisions to remove subcutaneous or fatty tissue from the affected dog and stem cells isolated in a laboratory before being injected back into the dog.

The procedure resulted in a culture containing only about 10 per cent to 15 per cent stem cells, while the culture from a donor in a breed with a genetic line clear of arthritis can been screened to provide a culture containing 100 per cent stem cells.

The figures were collected from vets by Australian Veterinary Stem Cells, which supplies stem cell treatments and has a partnership with the immunology and stem cell research department at Monash University in Melbourne.

The sample size for the study was small at 150 but only about 1000 animals have had the treatment.

The results found that with an injection into the affected joint, 60 per cent of dogs had a ”significant improvement” while 96 per cent of dogs showed ”improvement”.

For dogs given an intravenous injection – usually older animals not suitable for a general anaesthetic – vets reported 79 per cent improved.

The executive chairman of the company, Peter Hansen, said: ”We have been treating dogs commercially since late 2010 but doing it specifically with a small number of vets to accumulate data. We have not marketed to the veterinary community – that is about to start.

”When you go into the joint, you need fewer cells so it is cheaper – going into one joint for a small dog we would have thought with off-the-shelf stem cells that vets should not be charging a four-figure amount.” The treatment of tendon and ligament damage in horses was also showing encouraging results, Mr Hansen said.

Other areas of veterinary research include treatment of diabetes in cats and dogs, renal problems in cats and dermatitis in dogs.

Peter Britton of the St George Animal Hospital in Carlton gave Australia’s first canine stem cell injection seven years ago – to an Airedale called Wooster. He said: ”In the next couple of years, things will become treatable that we cannot treat now … for some diseases, it will probably become routine.”

Wooster’s owner, Colleen Nacson, said: ”She was about six when she had it and it seemed like she was a 10 or 11-year-old. The result was fantastic, I could see a change within 48 hours.”