By Arden Moore
Ah, April. The month typically signifies the departure of snowbirds and the arrival of persistent hot weather, where temperatures registering in the mid-80s and up are not uncommon in Palm Beach County.
OK, so that statement is not worthy of making front page headlines, but this one is: One-third of all dogs and cats will be affected by cancer in their lifetimes. In fact, cancer ranks as the leading cause of death in dogs 2 and older.
Now for the real jarring news: Sunlight’s ultraviolet rays are causing solar-induced cancer in indoor cats and light-colored dogs.
“People are often surprised to learn that sunlight is a common cause of cancer in dogs and cats,” says Brenda Phillips, DVM, a veterinary oncologist at Veterinary Specialty Hospital of San Diego and a professional support of the Canine Cancer Campaign sponsored by the Morris Animal Foundation. “Indoor cats are not safe from UV rays, especially if they love to sunbathe on window perches. Pink-bellied dogs are also at risk, even indoors.”
UV rays can cause skin cancer, typically on a pet’s belly, inner limbs, nose, lips, ears and eyelids. White cats and dogs sporting pink noses and bellies as well as hairless breeds are at greatest risk due to this light pigmentation. Dark-nosed pets with brown or black coats, however, are not risk-free from developing skin cancer.
Certain breeds, including bichons, boxers, bulldogs, Dobermans, poodles, schnauzers and weimaraners are predisposed to developing skin tumors. So are active dogs who join their people on boats and on hikes.
“Fortunately, solar-induced cancer can be cured if caught early,” says Phillips. “Unfortunately, as an oncologist, I see these pets after the cancer has developed. Veterinarians in small animal practices need to have conversations with families with pets at risk for skin cancer.”
Here are some tips to protect our pets from the harmful UVA and UVB rays:
• Establish what’s normal for your pet’s coat. Work with your veterinarian to learn how to do a thorough nose-to-tail examination of your pet’s skin. Report any new bumps, lumps or suspicious lesions to your veterinarian right away. Also, inform your vet if any skin growths have increased in size from the past month.
• Do not shave down your pet’s coat. A buzz cut will only increase his exposure to UV rays and lead to sunburn or, worse, skin cancer.
• Dab on the sunscreen. Apply veterinarian-approved sunscreen products on your pet’s vulnerable areas, especially the nose, inner ears and belly. Epi-Pet Sun Protector, for example, is endorsed by the American Animal Hospital Association and is effective as a sunscreen for dogs, but is not to be used on cats. It is waterproof, quick drying and non-greasy, providing the equivalent of a 40 SPF found in human sunscreens. Consult your veterinarian for sunscreen products safe for use on your cat.
• Tint your windows. Various commercial companies make glare-reducing, insulating or privacy films that can be applied on windows to offer up to UV filtering protection while still maintaining a nice view. Look for companies serving Palm Beach County that have earned Better Business Bureau high rankings.
• Install solar shades or honeycomb shades. In particular, install these shades for all interior east- and west-facing windows to block UV rays. Select shade materials offering protection levels of at least 90 percent. Both types of shades come in top-down or bottom-up options for opening and closing.
My sun-seeking cat, Zeki sports a white-and-grey coat, pink nose, pink foot pads and pink inner ears. After learning more about skin cancer from Phillips, I am now taking protective measures to ensure Zeki can enjoy the sunshine without risking her health.
I encourage you to be your pet’s best health ally and protect him from the Florida sun. You can learn more about advances in combating cancer by visiting the Morris Animal Foundation at www.morrisanimalfoundation.org.
Arden Moore, founder of FourLeggedLife.com, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author, professional speaker and certified pet first aid instructor. She happily shares her home with two dogs, two cats and one overworked vacuum cleaner. Tune in to her Oh Behave! show on PetLifeRadio.com and learn more by visiting www.fourleggedlife.com.