Everyone has heard about the risks and dangers of skin cancer. We know that we should 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. But, what about our pets?
Can animals develop skin cancer, as humans can? They absolutely can. Many pet owners are surprised to learn that the family dog or cat is very susceptible to the damaging rays of the sun, and care must be taken for their welfare as well as ours. Common sense tells us to provide plenty of shade and limit our pets’ exposure to direct sunlight during peak hours.
Direct sunlight is not the only cause of skin cancer in pets, but it is certainly a major contributor. Other factors leading to skin cancer in animals are hormones, viruses, previous burns and inoculations. Just like humans, some animals also have a genetic predisposition to developing skin cancer. This disease can run in your pet’s family, just as it can run in yours.
Like their fair-skinned human counterparts, light colored dogs and cats are at greater risk of developing skin cancer. Pets with white fur are, of course, at the higher end of the risk scale. Any parts of the body where the coat is thin are at greatest risk. These include the stomach, inside of a dog’s hind legs, and the ear tips, pink noses, and outer eye areas on cats.
Hairless breeds of dogs and cats have no natural protection from the sun’s rays. Dalmatians, pit bulls, pointers and bull terriers are among the breeds of dogs most at risk. It’s interesting to note that when a Dalmatian develops skin cancer, the disease strikes only the white areas and misses the black spots.
When skin cancer strikes pets, like humans, it happens later in life. Once your dog or cat reaches about nine years of age, it’s wise to schedule veterinary checkups every six months. If skin cancer is 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.
Changes in eating habits, weight loss and a general disinterest in playing, going for a walk and other everyday activities are all signs that it’s time for a checkup.
Watch your pet closely for physical changes, as well. Note any changes to moles and watch for newly developed sores on your pet. If you spot anything, get your pet to the vet quickly.
Pets will often hide their discomfort to avoid disappointing their owners. Dogs and cats are very sensitive to the moods of their owners and, naturally, they want to please. Other animals follow their innate instinct to hide their symptoms out of fear. Illness equates weakness in the natural world, and weakness brings death, so it’s only natural for your beloved pet to hide his or her illness from you.
Pets, like humans, can develop skin cancer from excessive exposure to the sun. Your pet naturally loves to spend time outdoors, and you need to be the protector. Provide a cool, shady resting spot or simply limit the time spent outdoors to early morning or late afternoon and evening hours.