Sunburn, Cancer & Pets

I find people are often surprised when they learn that animals can get cancer from sun exposure just as we can.  Pink skin is much more susceptible to developing squamous cell carcinoma than pigmented skin.  Pictured below is a Jack Russel Terrier mix named Chewie who has an area of pink skin on the bridge of his nose.  Although Chewie’s markings are really cute, I worry about the pink area getting sunburned and eventually developing cancer.  Other breeds that share this problem are Brittanys, Collies, Shetland sheepdogs, German shepherds, German shorthaired pointers and Siberian huskies. 

Squamous cell carcinomas may develop in species other than dogs.  I have personally diagnosed this condition in cats, rabbits and an albino ferret.  In all of these cases, the ears where effected. 

To prevent this aggressive cancer, protect pink skinned pets from the sun.  Avoidance is the best approach if possible.  Limit sun exposure from 10am to 4pm.  Watch sun loving pets who look for sunbeams for a nap.  When outdoors, pets may wear protective hats and t-shirts or sunscreen.  Use zinc-free sunscreen with a high SPF.  I do not recommend sunscreen in cats because most contain salicylates which is toxic if ingested chronically or in high doses.   


Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

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