Sometimes we forget that, even though our dogs are covered in fur they can still develop skin cancers, some of those cancers being related to sun exposure. Light colored or dogs with thin coats are susceptible to developing skin cancer anywhere on the body. Most dogs, however, are protected from the harsh UV rays of the sun by thick coats of fur. There are some areas of the canine body lacking in full fur protection, like the ears, nose, around the nails and pads of feet. Not surprisingly it’s these areas of the body where dogs tend to develop skin cancers most frequently.
Fortunately, we can protect our canine companions from overexposure to the sun. One way to prevent canine skin cancer is to offer constant shade in dog runs, backyards or wherever our dogs spend a significant amount of time outdoors in the sun. We can also protect our dogs, much the same way we protect ourselves from the sun, by applying sunscreen.
It will be relatively easy to use a sunscreen on a dog’s ears but if you are applying sunscreen to a dog’s nose or coat you’ll want to be more selective in the products you choose due to the fact that dogs have a tendency to lick those areas of the body. There are several dog specific sunscreens on the market. Unfortunately, they are all composed of chemical sunscreen agents. Non-chemical alternatives like Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide can quickly build to toxic levels in dogs. Zinc Oxide is toxic to dogs and can make them very ill. If you are using human grade sunscreen on your dog be sure it does not contain Zinc Oxide whatsoever. The risk of skin cancer is not as great as poisoning from these types of sunscreen!
If your dog won’t cooperate with sunscreen or is suffering from fur loss or a skin condition consider buying your pup UV blocking, lightweight, dog clothes. Playa Pup makes a UV blocking light weight shirt and there are also ray blocking, evaporative cooling shirts for dogs as well.
Fortunately most skin cancers on dogs can be cured if they are diagnosed quickly. So always be on the lookout for these signs of skin cancer in dogs:
- lumps or sores that won’t heal
- tearing, goop or swelling in the eye area
- a toenail that appears infected or irritated
Don’t rely on your dog to demonstrate discomfort as a sign of skin cancer, most skin cancers don’t cause your dog pain or irritation; but that doesn’t mean they can be overlooked. If there is any question about a change to your dog’s appearance or behavior a trusted vet can help you figure out if it’s one of the “normal” dog lumps or bumps or something more serious, like cancer. We can’t prevent all canine skin cancers with good sun protection, but we can prevent a lot. Your dog needs sunscreen too and will appreciate you making sure he has the protection he needs.