Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Warm weather brings some extra risks for pets. Some animals need protection from sunlight, and all animals need protection from hot temperatures.
Sun-Related Skin Conditions
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight causes skin damage in animals just like it does in humans. Fur and melanin (dark pigment) protect the skin from UV rays, so animals with short white hair or no hair are at higher risk than those with thick dark fur. Most animals with sun-related skin disease spend a lot of time outdoors, but even indoor cats can develop skin disease caused by UV rays coming through windows.
Sun-related skin damage typically affects areas of the body that don’t have thick fur and are exposed to the sun. Any part of the body with thin or light-colored hair can be involved, but these are the most common areas:
Solar dermatitis, also called actinic dermatitis, is skin disease caused by exposure to UV radiation. It can be mistaken for allergic skin disease because the lesions are similar and it is often seasonal. Affected skin is red, painful to the touch, and scaly or flaky. Bumps and oozy lesions might develop. Over time, the skin becomes thickened and scarred. Because solar dermatitis usually causes a secondary skin infection, the lesions might improve with antibiotics, at least at first.
UV radiation causes mutations within skin cells, so solar dermatitis can transform into skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma or hemangiosarcoma, for example). These cancers are malignant: they can spread throughout the body. Solar dermatitis and skin cancer are diagnosed with skin biopsy.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening risk to animals during warm weather. Unlike solar dermatitis and skin cancer, it doesn’t require direct exposure to UV rays. The outdoor temperature doesn’t even have to be very hot for an animal to develop heat stroke. The temperature inside a parked car quickly rises higher than the outside temperature, so animals inside parked cars are at risk even in moderately warm weather. Brachycephalic (short-nosed) animals like pugs and bulldogs are at especially high risk.
Signs of heat stroke include panting, dark red or purple gums, vomiting, collapse, and seizures. Heat stroke requires immediate first aid (cooling with water, not ice) and emergency veterinary care. For more information, see the blog post on heat stroke.
How to Protect Your Pet
The best way to protect animals is to minimize their exposure to UV rays and heat:
Image source: Elisa Kennemer on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.