Protecting pets from too much sunshine: Pete the Vet on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show

white cats have sunburnt ears that can go on to be cancer

Listen to the podcast at the foot of this page

This week has been classic pre-exam weather, with plenty of sunshine and clear skies.
While the air is still cool enough around us, there is a danger to pets caused by solar radiation.


White areas of the coat lack the protection offered by skin pigment, which makes the underlying skin prone to getting sunburn. This can cause redness and discomfort, but more worryingly, especially in cats, it can lead to skin cancer. Owners of white animals should be aware of this risk.


The combination of unpigmented fine thin skin with relative hairlessness means that the tips of the ears and the tip of the nose are particularly vulnerable to both sun burn and, later, skin cancer in cats with white ears and noses. Owners of such animals need to do two things:

  1. Protect these sensitive parts of their pets, either by applying sunblock every day (use one marketed for cats, or alternatively, a hypoallergenic, waterproof, unscented sun block for babies). Apply this every morning before the cat goes outside.
  2. Indoor cats may also need to be protected Glass that is transparent to visible light absorbs nearly all UVB. This is the wavelength range that can cause a sunburn, so it’s true you can’t get a sunburn through glass. However, UVA, which does not cause sunburn but which can lead to skin damage and genetic mutation that can in turn lead to cancer, is much closer to the visible spectrum than UV-B. About 75% of UVA passes through ordinary glass. so clearly your pet is not protected from skin damage caused by the sun’s rays. It is possible to buy special glass that blocks UVA (eg used by museums to protect valuable art works) , or to apply stick-on filters that block UVA. If your cat likes lying in particular sunny spots indoors, it could be worth doing this.


Some dogs do get sun burn, but skin cancer is less common – all the same, care should be taken to monitor pets to make sure they don’t get sunburnt.
White dogs are most vulnerable, and in particular, dogs that lie on their back, basking in the sunshine, exposing the thin, hairless skin of the abdomen. If dogs are in the habit of doing this, they should have sun block applied.
There are also some specific skin diseases of dogs that are aggravated by sunlight. In particular, there is a condition called “Collie Nose”, also known as Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE), an uncommon autoimmune disease of the basal cell layer of the skin. This has a genetic background, being more common in Collie type breeds, as well as German Shepherds and German Short haired Pointers. The skin around the nose and over the muzzle becomes severely irritated, and the problem is much more severe if the animal exposed to sunlight. The hair falls out, and affected areas develop scabs, oozing discharge. If not treated properly, affected areas can become extensive and very painful. Treatment involves sun block, as well as anti inflammatory medications topically and orally. Severe cases need other medication supplied by your vet, and it can be very expensive.


This is a separate topic, but of course, when it’s sunny, areas that are enclosed, with glass all around (such as cars or conservatories) are prone to overheating, and dogs are especially vulnerable to this risk so it’s worth mentioning. Also dogs should not be exercised heavily in full sunshine, as they will absorb heat from the sun, and this combined with the heat generated by their active muscles can be enough to drive them into heat stroke.

Questions from listeners

  • I am in France for a few months. Finnegan my dog insists on sunbathing but he has a bald spot from a scar. Any advice on preventing sunburn on his bare flesh? Thanks Kate
  • I’d be very grateful if you asked Pete to discuss diabetes. My 9 year old Jack Russell just been diagnosed, and started her insulin injections. Can he please discuss any possible emergency issues that could occur? I have just cancelled a two day badly needed holiday as she needs injections twice daily, but my 5 dogs come first. Thanks. Clare in Galway
  • My Jack Russell keeps sniffing trees and grass when I walk him in the park. No matter how much I call him he just ignores me I’ve tried using treats to get him to come. To no avail. He is not neutered.
  • I have a 16 week old female Cavachon who appears to scoot a lot. The Vet cleaned out her anal glands last week – they were full but she has been scooting once or twice again in the last few days.I got her when she was 11 weeks old and gradually changed her food to the Burns dry food.She is outdoors by day and comes inside in late evening.Will her food help ease the scooting? Is there anything else I can do? as she really dislikes having the glands cleaned out.
  • Rebecca asks “I have a pitbull with a pink nose, very light blonde hair and no hair on her pink belly. She loved sunbathing, what can I do to stop her being burnt?”

To find out the answers, listen to the podcast below.


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