We all know about the risks and dangers of skin cancer. We are careful to cover our children with a high SPF sun block before they go out to play in the sun, and we understand that we need to protect our own adult skin as well. Should we protect our pets as well?
Are animals at risk of developing skin cancer? Absolutely. Most people are surprised to learn that the family dog or cat is very susceptible to the sun’s damaging rays, and care must be taken for their welfare as well as ours. Common sense tells us to limit our pets’ exposure to direct sunlight during peak hours, and provide plenty of shade.
Direct sunlight is not the sole cause of skin cancer in pets, but it is certainly a major contributor. Hormones, previous burns, viruses and inoculations are among the other factors that can cause animals to acquire skin cancer. Pets, like humans, have a genetic predisposition to the development of skin cancer. It’s a disease that can run in your pet’s family, the same way it can run in yours.
Light colored cats and dogs, like fair-skinned people, are at greater risk of developing skin cancer. Of course, pets with white fur are at the highest end of the risk scale. On any pet, the areas of the body where the coat is thin are also at risk. The stomach, ear tips, inside of a dog’s hind legs, pink noses and the outer eye areas on cats are all prone to developing skin cancer.
Hairless breeds of dogs and cats have no protection from the sun’s rays. Those breeds of dogs most at risk are Dalmatians, pit bulls, pointers and bull terriers. It’s interesting to note that when a Dalmatian develops skin cancer, the disease will only strike the white areas, going around the black spots.
Skin cancer in pets, as in humans, usually strikes later in life. If your dog or cat has reached about nine years of age, it’s wise to begin veterinary checkups every six months. When detected early enough, your pet will have a better survival rate.
Early detection is important, but it’s not always enough. Skin cancer can progress quickly in six months, so you need to be aware of your pet’s normal behaviour. Watch for signs that your pet has pain or discomfort. As caregiver, you need to be aware of changes in behaviour that can dictate the need for a thorough physical check-up.
You may also note changes in eating habits, weight loss or a disinterest in taking part in everyday activities like playing or going for a walk.
Be on the lookout for physical changes to your pet. If you note changes to moles, or newly developed sores on your pet, get him or her to the vet quickly.
Your pet may his or her discomfort to avoid disappointing you. Dogs and cats are keenly in tune to the moods of their owners and they naturally want to please. Sometimes, animals will follow an innate instinct to hide symptoms out of fear. In the natural world, illness equates weakness, and weakness brings death. Therefore, it can be a natural response for your beloved pet to hide his or her illness.
Like humans, pets can develop skin cancer from excessive exposure to the sun. If your pet loves to spend time outdoors, be sure to provide a cool, shady resting spot, or simply limit the time spent outdoors to early morning or late afternoon and evening hours.