Q: Last week I went to a local dog event where pet owners were encouraged to bring their dogs. Not only was it super hot out, but there was almost no shade. I saw one white dog with a thin covering of hair whose skin was clearly turning a shocking shade of pink. Could you please tell people that dogs get sunburn, too? I can’t imagine what that dog suffered after going home that day!
A: I can’t tell you how many pet events I’ve been to where more than one hot weather hazard was being ignored by a large number of its participants. Heatstroke is an obvious threat but pad burns (to the feet) and sunburn often seem to be wholly discounted as possibilities.
In fact, many pet owners simply don’t know that pets can burn their feet on hot pavement or get sunburned just like we can. Dogs with light-colored fur and sparse haircoats who live largely indoors are especially predisposed, but all dogs are susceptible.
What’s more, these pets are more prone to skin cancer than others (though all pets who spend time in the sun, directly or indirectly, are more likely to develop skin cancer than others).
But then, it only makes sense that a pet with minimal protective pigmentation would be at a higher risk of sunburn and skin cancer. So, too, does it make sense that indoor dogs with soft, tender pads might fare poorly as weekend warriors during outdoor hot weather events.
Indeed, pad burns (which occur commonly in dogs walked on hot asphalt during midday in the South Florida sun) can become debilitatingly painful and may require serious intervention should they blister and slough.
While minimal exposure to the sun and to hot streets during certain times of the day is the wisest approach, there are plenty of things pet owners can do if they want to participate in dog-friendly events during the hottest months of the year:
Use sunscreen on sensitive, hairless areas like the bridge of the nose and the tips of the ears (ask your veterinarian to recommend one), carry a UV-blocking umbrella, consider protective booties, try sunblock pet clothing (they make lots of cute items in all sizes), or bite the bullet and put your pet in a covered stroller (hint: baby strollers are less expensive and often more solar-protective than dog strollers).
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.