The Hot Island Sun
Here in Turks and Caicos, we deal with some powerful sun and UV rays that are damaging to objects, humans and creatures alike. Imagine how we can suffer from sunburn, well the same is true for our animal friends with bare skin or light coats. They too need protection from the sun to prevent painful burns and skin cancer.
Damage to the Skin Barrier
Damage to these layers causes loss of water, ability for various microscopic items to gain access to the deeper layers and cause detrimental inflammatory reactions, ongoing skin irritation, pain and infections, lifelong allergies and of course skin cancer.
The Skin – Our Pet’s Largest Organ
The skin is the largest organ in our dog or cat’s body. It has several layers to protect animals from the elements, irritants and allergens in the environment. It also covers the largest surface area, which means it has a greatest exposure to the sun. Much like for humans, the sun can be very damaging to our pets and can cause painful sunburns, little but very abundant in number tumors, and malignant cancer later in their life.
What Pets are Most at Risk?
All pets are at risk for sun damage here in the very sunny Turks and Caicos, however; animals that have white or light-colored fur or skin on their nose, ears and underbelly, are similar to fair skinned people and are more at risk. This issue can affect any pet, including dogs, cats, goats, pigs, horses and cattle.
Prevention and Protection are the Best Defense
Protecting fair haired pets by keeping them in shaded areas during the hottest and direct sunlight portions of the day is imperative. Providing plenty of sun shelter and shade for pets is necessary, but they often prefer to sun themselves and this alone can be detrimental. It is best that these pets are kept in a porch or indoors other than around dawn and dusk when the sun is low, to prevent life-long issues due to chronic sun damage.
Pet sunscreens can be helpful for those pets that are going to be in the sun and are particularly useful to apply on areas where the fur is sparse, such as nose, ears and underbelly. Bark and Bliss carries a few brands of pet sunscreens to help keep them safe from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Solar dermatitis is a significant damage to the skin, secondary to chronic sun exposure. It often is visible on the bridge of the nose, muzzle and sometimes the ears. It appears as dark pink to red flakey and peeling skin, which can be ulcerated and bleeding in some cases. Solar dermatitis is similar to a severe sunburn that blisters and peels over time. It is the first level of severe sun damage.
Sun Tumors, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Melanoma
Benign sun tumors, called hemangiomas, often will show up in pets that have had chronic sun exposure around the age of 4 – 8 years of age. They look similar to blood blisters but continue to grow, ulcerate and ooze until several need removal. The pets continue to get them and require frequent surgery to have them removed the rest of their life. These tumors can become malignant, but often are just menacing and irritating.
Melanoma and Squamous Cell Carcinomas, however; are cancerous and aggressive tumors that occur secondary to sun exposure as well. Because of their aggressive nature, they tend to be in areas that are difficult to remove with clean margins, and can metastasize quickly to other parts of the body.
Treatment for Tumors
For the tumors, surgery is often what is required but in many cases the tumors are in areas where full removal is difficult. It is also good to keep in mind, the tumors occur due to sun damage that happened in the past so the change to the DNA has been done and more tumors are likely to continue to occur throughout the pet’s life.