Does Your Pet Need Sunscreen?

There is nothing worse than the tight, painful contraction of the skin as sunburn sets in. Your pet couldn't agree more. Most people know to slather sunscreen on themselves before going out to play in the sun, but many pets need that same consideration before running out the doggie door.

Pet sunscreens are gaining popularity, and with good reason. According to Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the Animal Medical Center of New York, there are many pets that should use sunscreen.

"For pets who are shaved, that shaved area is at risk of being burned," Hohenhaus said. "The little nose tip, especially if you're a pale-nosed dog or white-nosed cat or dog, those areas are prone to sun-induced tumors."

Dogs that like to sunbathe on their backs can also get tumors in the inguinal area, the space between the back legs. Any area where the skin is thin and there is no hair should be protected, she said.

There are specific sunscreens designed for pets, but sensitive skin or baby sunscreens can be used as well. Dr. Mark Macina, Animal Medical Center's dermatologist, said he has found Bullfrog sunscreen SPF 15 or greater works well for animals.

Pet owners, particularly dog owners, need to be careful with sunscreens, because some ingredients can be toxic if they are licked off. Zinc oxide should never be used because dogs can become dangerously anemic if it is ingested, Hohenhaus warns.

But while you should protect your dog or cat's sensitive areas, it does not need additional coverage over its hair. "We humans go out and bake all day, but animals are wearing their own hat. It's really these couple of spots that are a problem," Hohenhaus said. "You don't need to spray it all over, you'll only be making your pet sticky."

Heat Stroke

An much bigger concern for pets is heat stroke, particularly dogs. One study found a 50 percent mortality rate for heat stroke in dogs, and it does not take a long in the summer humidity for a pet to be in danger. Hohenhaus offers advice for every dog owner to follow when the weather heats up.

— "First thing is that on days when heat and humidity are high, if you have a dog, you need to exercise early, exercise late, that's especially true that large breed dogs," she said. "A study from Israel found large dogs are twice as likely to suffer from heat stroke, you have to be very careful taking it out. And a black coated pet is going to soak up the heat faster than a lighter coat."

— "Second thing is dogs with flat faces like bulldogs, pugs, or boxers, because they have less of a nose, and their wind pipe in narrower, they're more prone to overheating," Hohenhaus said. "It's an absolute no to take them outside on hot days. They are at a huge risk for overheating. Let them go to the bathroom then take them right back in."

— "If your pet overheats and collapses, it needs to go to an emergency clinic right away. In a study, it didn't make a difference if you try to cool it off beforehand. If you can, put freezer packs around your dog on the drive. A vet can cool an animal down much more efficiently" she explained. "Animals die from heat stroke, it's more important to get to the vet fast."

— "The car is terrible. You should never leave a pet in the car, because they'll just cook. Even a small stop can turn into a dangerous amount of time," Hohenhaus said. Just as children should never be left alone in a car, pets should also not be left alone, especially in the heat.

— "The signs (of heat stroke) are sudden and catastrophic," she warns. "They include panting, collapse and seizures. You can tell if your dog lies on its side and its panting and panting and its gums and tongue are redder than usual. But prevention is really very important, and in general, it is a preventable disease."

Hohenhaus said you do not have to break the bank on air-conditioning to keep man's best friend safe and comfortable. During the day, she recommends leaving the blinds down and maybe one fan on for the dog to lie near. And, although it sounds simple, remember to leave your pet some extra water during the dog days of summer.