I am writing this in preparation for summer as Auckland is in the middle of a cooler spell of wet weather. Three seasons in one day here sometimes. Most of us are looking forward to getting outside more and spending time with our four footed family members.
We have all heard "slip, slop, slap and wrap" but it is important to also be aware that our pets have similar risks from the sun. October to March are the highest risk months. The risk of sunburn, skin cancer and other solar-induced skin diseases (solar dermatitis, actinic keratosis, actinic dermatitis) applies to all pets that spend any time in the sun. The risk is significantly greater to those pets that have areas of unpigmented (white or pink) skin or a short or thin coat.
It is best to limit your pet’s sun exposure. Encourage them into the house or to shady areas between 10am and 4pm in the high risk months. If you are unable to supervise them, provide access to shaded areas while you are out, especially if your pet is a known ‘sunbather’. Provide enticing shady areas for your pets, to encourage them to use those areas.
Sunbathing behind glass (eg a window) reduces sun burn (associated with UVB rays), the UVA rays that are associated with increased risk of skin cancer (in humans so most likely animals as well) are still able to penetrate glass so allowing your pet to sunbathe inside is still not recommended.
There are ‘sun suits” for dogs that have thin coats, or after clipping. Ideally train them to get used to coats in the winter months so they will accept a light one in the summer. Make sure the coat is designed for the summer months and is a light colour to reflect the heat, as well as being a UV resistant fabric.
Some sunscreen products have been specifically created for pets. If you intend to use a sunscreen on a cat, be certain that the product labelling specifically states that it is appropriate and safe for cats as it can be toxic if licked. Sunblock is especially good for areas such as the ears, nose and belly that can’t be covered by a coat.
Dog goggles or sunglasses are available from many pet suppliers.These are an excellent way to reduce sun damage to the eyes of pets.
If you live in an environment where it is very difficult to assist your pet in completely avoiding the sun and the resulting damage, think carefully about the breed and colour of pet you choose. We can assist you with this choice.
There have been a number of updates to the Animal Welfare Legislation. It covers dogs being left in hot cars, but also covers details like collars, chaining or tethering, muzzles, type of shelter, dogs on moving vehicles, docking tails, and removing dewclaws. More details can be found online.
Leaving your dog in the car on a warm day is a risk. Dogs quickly suffer and die in hot cars. If you leave a dog in a hot car and it becomes heat stressed, you and the owner of the vehicle can be fined $300.
Dog paws are just as sensitive to burning hot surfaces as our bare feet. A simple test is to check the footpath with the back of your hand. Follow the seven-second rule and check the surface for heat before you leave the house. This also applies to sand at the beach. Even better is keep to natural grass surfaces. Ideally walk early in the morning or late in the evening when surfaces are cooler. If you have no choice invest in a pair of booties to help avoid burning paws, however it is likely the sun will be too hot then anyway.