Sun-Induced Skin Cancer In Dogs & Cats
We’re all familiar with the role the sun plays in contributing to skin cancer in people, right? But are you aware that sun exposure can also lead to the development of skin cancer in cats and dogs? It’s true, and the most common type is called squamous cell carcinoma (which is also a common sun-induced skin cancer in people!).
While any cat or dog that spends any time outside (or lounging on a windowsill) on a sunny day is at risk, there are certain other factors that increase their risk. Some of these include:
- Light-colored fur
- Sparse or no fur — this could be by breed (e.g. Chinese Crested dogs and Sphinx cats), by condition (e.g., underactive thyroid in dogs or fur loss resulting from allergies or infections in either cats or dogs), or by location (commonly the tips of their ears, their nose, and their belly)
- Geographic location — areas where there is more sun exposure, and also areas at higher elevation
Since squamous cell carcinomas can be particularly nasty tumors, it’s a good idea to not only talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s risk of developing them, but to also take some simple precautions to help prevent them.Apply pet-safe sunscreens — especially to their more sparsely covered areas. Epi-Pet is the only FDA-approved pet sunscreen, but it’s only approved for dogs (and horses), NOT for cats. For cats, unfortunately the picture is a bit more “cloudy,” as there aren’t any sunscreens specifically FDA-approved for cats. They still need protection though and there are some that would be safer than others, the biggest thing in terms of choosing a sunscreen for cats is to avoid any sunscreens with PABA, zinc oxide, and octisalate or any other salicylates.
Put on UV-blocking, UPF-rated clothing. You'll have to do your homework and check to make sure that the manufacturer's protection claims have been studied and backed up. There are lots of options out there, but if you want to provide as much protection as possible, click on the photos (cat in sweater and dog suits below) to see a few of the many choices for dogs and cats.
Provide (reliable) shade. Trees are great but not every yard has them. Portable sun shades, patio umbrellas, and shaded pet beds can help. Even a well-insulated dog house with good air circulation can provide the relief your dog needs.
Keep your pets indoors during the sunniest parts of the day, or ensure that they have easy and reliable access to shade. If they do go out and “sunbathe,” be sure to limit their time doing so and be sure to apply sunscreen, as mentioned above, or put UV-blocking clothes on them.
Keep in mind that cats and dogs can still get sunburn and have an increased risk of skin cancer from sunbathing through a window or glass door. And, if your cat or small dog likes to sunbathe on an open windowsill, also beware of “High-Rise Syndrome!”
Lumps, Bumps & Spots
If you notice any strange bumps or “spots” on your pets, it’s best to have them checked out by your veterinarian to see if they might be cancerous. If they are, all hope is not lost, as many cancers in pets can be treated well and effectively, especially if they are caught early. See this article by the Veterinary Cancer Group for specific information about treating Solar-Induced Squamous Cell Carcinoma in cats and dogs. And for more general information on treating pet cancers, see our My Pet’s Been Diagnosed With Cancer, What Now? and Pet Cancer Specialists: What They Are and How To Find One articles.