Let’s look at you first, even though we all like a tan; tanned skin is damaged skin. We all know we should apply sunscreen before going out in the sun, but how many of us do?? Here in the south, we get 1.5 more times the sun than the northern states do. Over 90% of skin cancers in people are on areas of the skin where there is more exposure to the sun. And if we forget the sunscreen, we will get sunburn which causes more severe skin damage.
So, what about our pets? Overexposure to the sun can be damaging to their skin also. Just like it is easier for fair skinned people to get sunburned, animals with lighter coat colors are more affected by sunlight also. And just like with us, the amount of time the pet spends in the sun is a huge factor also. So, a lighter colored dog that is kept mostly outside will have more risk for sun damage than one who is kept inside all the time. And like some of us, some dogs like to lie in the warm sun ( one of our dogs loves to lay in the sun, he will push me off a lounge chair to sunbathe). But, even if your pet stays inside while you are at work, do not forget that some like to sunbathe on the window perch, especially cats.
We will talk briefly about some of the diseases seen commonly in cats and dogs. Remember that many of these may look similar and they can mimic other skin diseases also. Most of the time biopsies are necessary to determine what is the cause.
Solar dermatitis, or sunburn, is caused by direct injury to the skin cells from ultraviolet light. The extent of the damage is associated with the duration and intensity of exposure. It is often seen on the top of the nose (muzzle) or on the underbelly. This may come and go, and if severe can produce scarring. Certain breeds are more prone, these are the Dalmatian, Boxer, Bull Terrier, Staffordshire, Beagle, and Bassett.
Hemangioma is mainly caused by chronic damage from the sun. This condition often presents as multiple lesions that are small, flat, purple discolorations. These may progress to nodules in the skin. These often will become ulcerated and bleed. It is possible for this condition to progress from an abnormality of the blood vessels to a malignancy (“cancer”).
Hemangiosarcoma is common on the underside of the chest and abdomen. There are usually multiple superficial lesions and it is considered a progression from other sun-induced skin diseases.
Actinic keratosis is sun-induced plaques. They are usually small areas of thickened and firm skin, and they can be multiple or singular. These may be a precursor to a more serious condition.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common skin tumor in dogs. It produces multiple ulcerated lesions that often bleed and drain.
As you can tell from their descriptions many of these skin conditions may appear similar. So your veterinarian will most likely want to remove and biopsy one or all of them. The more severe disease may require more radical surgery, possibly even reconstructive surgery if the nose/muzzle is severely affected. Depending on the severity of the disease, antibiotics may be necessary to prevent secondary skin infections.
There are some simple things you can do that will help your pet to stay safe in the sun (and they might help you, too). Sunscreen should be applied to areas of light-colored fur when your animal will be out in the sun for prolonged periods of time; there is sunscreen made for pets. The sun is at its most strong between 10 AM and 2 PM ( some say 4 PM), so you should try not to be out too long during these times.
Enjoy the sun! Be safe!!