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The fun-in-the-sun summer months have officially arrived, which can only mean one thing: It's time to start thinking about sun protection for your pets.
That's right — furry family members can also suffer from the damaging effects of the sun's powerful rays.
The sun gives off different kinds of ultraviolet rays. UVB rays cause sunburns, while UVA rays lead to sun-induced aging and skin cancer.
At the moment, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is in the midst of revising its rules for regulating sunscreen labels, so until those regulations take full effect (it won't be in time for the 2012 summer season), you need to be a discerning consumer when purchasing the best product for you or your pet.
The type of sunscreen that you want for both you and your pet is the "broad spectrum" variety, which means that it blocks both types of harmful rays.
That said, not all products are OK to use on a pet.
The thick, white cream that lifeguards slather on their noses contains zinc oxide, a common ingredient in diaper rash ointments. Zinc oxide is effective as a sunscreen for humans, but it's toxic for dogs. If ingested, it can damage your dog’s delicate red blood cells, causing them to explode. The resulting anemia can be severe and require a blood transfusion.
Bottom line: Never use sunscreens that contain zinc oxide on your dog.
The same goes for cats when it comes to sunscreens that contain salicylates — even a small dose can land your feline in the kitty ICU.
One veterinarian I consulted, who specializes in dermatology, recommends a Bullfrog sunscreen that does not contain octisalate for pet patients at risk of sunburn and skin cancer due to thin coats or pale noses.
Bullfrog contains three broad-spectrum ingredients: oxtinoxate, oxybenzone and titanium dioxide. In other words, no zinc, no salicylates.
When we go out in the sun, we tend to don hats, sunglasses and special UV-protective clothing.
Your dog can too!
Doggles makes protective eyewear for canines, with a UV-protective coating on shatterproof lenses.
There are also canine rash guard shirts and visors, with UPF 50, that meet the recommendations for good-quality sun protection. Just keep in mind that these products aren't perfect — if your dog likes to sunbathe on her back, for example, rash guard shirts don't cover the delicate skin between the hind legs.
For pets who spend ample time outdoors, you can also consider outfitting an exercise pen or a crate with a sunscreen cover, which functions like a beach umbrella and blocks the sun’s rays.
Ultimately, the best protection is sun avoidance. Keeping your dog or cat out of the sun, especially between the peak sun hours of 10:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M., offers the ultimate in foolproof protection.
Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a practicing veterinarian for 25 years, is board-certified in both oncology and internal medicine. She maintains her clinical practice at The Animal Medical Center in New York City, providing primary care to her long-term patients and specialty care to pets with cancer and blood disorders.
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