Sun Protection for Pets

Dr. Laci Schaible

Sun Protection for Pets

Providing shade, along with fresh water at all times, when your pet is outside is an important way to protect his skin from the sun’s harmful rays, but pet sun protection has evolved beyond this cornerstone. Dogs and cats with white fur and those that have a hair cut or naturally thin (or nonexistent) hair coats are particularly sensitive to the sun, and may suffer sunburn and skin cancers. In addition, many people choose to shave their pets down during the warm summer season, unknowingly decreasing their nature-provided sun protection.

In pets, sunburn can appear as red skin or hair loss. Sunburn can irritate or exacerbate existing conditions, such as allergies, hot spots, or post-surgery delicate skin. Fortunately, sunscreen and special sun gear aimed at our pets is becoming more readily available.

Sunblock

Sunscreen can and should be used on cats and dogs. The muzzle, tips of ears, top of nose, groin, inside legs, and abdomen need sunscreen because hair is very thin there. But, depending on the type of sunscreen you use, it’s likely not safe for your dog or cat. Dogs and especially cats are quick to lick off topical lotions and sprays and these substances can be toxic to pets.

If you choose to use a human sunscreen on your dog, choose one that is fragrance-free, non-staining, and contain UVA and UVB barriers of SPF 30. Zinc-based sunscreens and those containing PABA should be avoided as they are very toxic if ingested. Feline sun block is a bit tougher. For cats specifically, two of the ingredients commonly used in sunscreens, octyl salicylate and ethyhexyl salicylate, break down to salicylic acid, which is very toxic to felines in small amounts. Homosalate should also be avoided in cats. Products containing titanium dioxide as an active ingredient are okay to use for dogs and cats.

Pets don’t have as wide a range of options as you and I do, but dogs do have a safe option made especially for them. Epi-Pet Sun Protector Spray, the first pet sunscreen that complies with U.S. Food & Drug Administration standards, has UV protection equivalent to about 30-40 SPF in human sunscreens according to the creator of the sunscreen, Michael C Fleck, DVM. SPF labeling and claims are not permitted in products marketed for use on pets at this time because the FDA has not established a test to determine SPF values in pets.

Epi-Pet sunscreen is pH-balanced for pets and designed for dogs and horses. It is a non-greasy, quick-dry formula that is safe if licked after applied. It is water and sweat repellant. The sunscreen is even virtually silent when sprayed, so Fido won’t be startled by the application. It is toxic to cats, but a cat-safe version is in the works.

Special Sun Gear

A little worried your pet may not be compliant for sun block application? The pet clothing industry has recently expanded into offering solar-protective gear. From protective eye ware for canines to shirts and visors with UPF rating of 50, there are several companies that can help protect our sun-worshiping pets, including PlayaPup and Doggles.

Sun Protection Doesn’t Equal Overheating Protection

Ultimately, the best protection is sun avoidance and routine skin exams. Be on the lookout for suspicious skin lesions and take your pet to the veterinarian if you have any concerns. Keep your pet out of the sun during peak sun between 10:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M. And remember, even the best pet sun protection offers no protection from overheating and heat stroke. If you are heading out for a sunny and hot adventure, leaving Fido at home may be the safest choice. Finally, sun protection isn’t just a seasonal safety habit to follow; sun protection is important year-round. 

While you can't predict when your pet is going to get sick or injured, you can protect yourself from expensive veterinary bills. Embrace Pet Insurance gives you the freedom to do what’s best for your pet without stressing over the cost. Easily personalize your coverage to fit your budget and your pet’s needs, then visit any vet for nose-to-tail coverage. Check out what the Embrace plan covers or compare pet insurance providers to learn more.