How to Protect My Pet from Skin Cancer
The sun provides Vitamin D, warmth, light, and many other benefits necessary for life. That said, high exposure can also be extremely harmful to both humans and animals alike. It can feel like common sense to protect ourselves with sunscreen, but what about our furry friends? To make sure both you and your pet are safe from daily sun exposure, here is a quick guide to protecting your pet from skin cancer.
Is My Pet At Risk?
Different animals have different natural protection against the sun. They also have different behaviors and environments that may naturally limit their exposure, such as being primarily indoors or preferring to seek out shade.
That said, many animals will still inevitably encounter sun exposure. Your dog’s daily walks, for instance, invite a great deal more exposure than if they were to be inside all day. That said, a furry dog has more protection from direct contact with UV rays since fur reflects the sunlight.
Even fluffy dogs and cats, however, often have vulnerable areas with less fur. For many dogs, this could be the underside of their belly, where a large portion of skin cancer cases in pets are reported. The tips of the nose and ears have also been noted as vulnerable for cats and dogs alike.
Breeds will also play a role in vulnerability as certain breeds have different fur patterns. For instance, a pit bull who likes to sunbathe and expose their belly to UV rays will be more likely to get skin cancer than a husky. Similarly, a sphinx cat will have much higher risk than a persian. Know your pet and know what makes them vulnerable so you can notice possible warning signs of skin cancer in the future.
As with humans, the key to skin cancer prevention in pets is limiting exposure. While some sunlight is a great source of warmth and Vitamin D, it is important to be wary of how much sun your pet is getting.
Some ways to avoid unnecessary exposure include:
Shade: Veterinarians consistently say that the best protection against UV rays is regular and reliable and access to shade. This is especially true for outdoor pets. Animals do not sweat the way humans do and need ample access to shade and water to ensure they are able to cool off.
Clothing: In particularly hot and sunny areas—and with particularly vulnerable pets—clothing can be a valuable asset in protecting your pet from skin cancer. Many companies even make specifically UV-protective clothing for pets.
Sunscreen: Apply pet-friendly sunscreen to vulnerable areas of your pet’s body such as their abdomen, nose, and ears. “Pet-friendly” includes sunscreen specifically developed for pets or water-based sunscreen developed for babies. Standard adult sunscreens with zinc can be toxic if ingested.
Window Tinting/Treatment: Regular windows can still allow dangerous UV rays to access your pet, especially if they are regularly in a sunlit room or car. Be sure to treat your house and car windows to protect your pet—and yourself—from UV radiation.
As you can see, many of these preventative measures are fairly intuitive and similar to preventative measures for humans. This can make it easy to remember the proper precautions for you and your pet before going out in the sunlight.
No matter how diligent you may be in preventing unnecessary sun exposure, skin cancer can happen. This means it is important to notice warning signs to strive for early detection and treatment, rather than tragedy.
Much like with humans, it is important to notice and address any unusual developments on your pet’s skin. Make sure to give your pet a routinely “once over” every few weeks to see that everything seems the same. If you notice strange developments like growths, dark or red spots, sores that don’t seem to heal, or hard lumps, it is important to schedule an appointment with a veterinarian as soon as you are able.
Also important to note is that cats and dogs can develop melanoma of the eye. This presents as a dark freckle on the whites of their eyes, so new spots on your pet’s eye are also worth a trip to the vet.
If your fears are confirmed and your pet has developed skin cancer, it is important to know that there are treatment options available. Knowing the journey ahead of you can make it less scary and more prepared.
The skin cancer treatment options for pets are actually quite similar to those for humans. These treatment paths can include:
Surgery (fairly standard treatment for cancer in pets)
Topical Treatments (mostly for precancerous spots and as more of a preventative option)
Science is constantly progressing, even for medicine directed toward animals. This means that there are constant developments of new treatment options and preventative methods alike to help protect your pet from skin cancer.
Finally, while you can’t put a pricetag on your furry friends, there will be costs associated with any medical treatment for your pet—and they aren’t cheap.
According to the Veterinary Cancer Society, a single dose of chemotherapy for your pet will run you $150-$200. A full treatment series will thus run you around $3,000-$5,000. Radiation therapy is no different, running an average of $2,000-$6,000. Even if you have quality pet insurance, these prices can run outside the range of many policies’ maximums.
Compared to these costs, the price of a dollop of sunscreen, protective clothing, tinted windows, and vigilance is practically nonexistent. Protecting your pet from skin cancer not only keeps them safe and healthy—it also keeps expenses manageable.
Taking care of your pets is no small undertaking, and it is important to remember that if they get daily sun exposure, they need protection. By undergoing the necessary precautions and education yourself on detection and treatment, you are already on the right track to keeping your pet safe and protecting your pet from skin cancer.