Sunscreen for Pets

Sunscreen can and should be used on cats and dogs. Animals that have light-colored noses and thin, very short, or missing fur are most in need of protective sunscreen, or sunblock. The groin, inside legs, and abdomen can also need sunscreen because hair is very thin there and UV light can reflect off of concrete surfaces to affect that skin. Also, dogs who like to expose their belly to the sun may need sunscreen. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends use of sunscreen in appropriate animals. Pets with light skin and short or thin hair coat are particularly prone to sunburn or skin cancer. Pets who have suffered hair loss from allergies, hot spots, disease, surgical preparation, or radiation can benefit from sunscreen. If your dog’s coat is shaved so the dog is cooler during the summer, sunscreen may be helpful.

In pets, sunburn can appear as red skin or hair loss. Sunburn can irritate or exacerbate existing conditions, such as allergies or hot spots.

Sunscreen can be applied to the bridge of the nose, ear tips, skin surrounding the lips, and any area where pigmentation is low. The sunscreen should be fragrance free, non-staining, and contain UVA and UVB barriers similar to SPF 15 or SPF 30 for humans. (SPF labeling and claims are not permitted in products marketed for use on pets, however, because the FDA has not established a test to determine SPF values in pets.) Some protective ingredients include Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Octyl Salicylate, Homosalate and Benzophenone-3. Octyl Salicylate products should not be used on cats.

There are some sunscreens created specifically for pets, but using baby sunscreen is also an option. Most human sunscreens have ingestion warnings because the ingredients can be toxic if a child or dog ingests them, so if your pet is likely to lick it, look for a pet-specific sunscreen. One thing to remember about sunscreen is that you need to use plenty of it, and you should re-apply regularly during sun exposure. It is recommended to use at least 1 tablespoon of lotion or cream for each body area treated! Sunscreen should be re-applied every 4 to 6 hours during the brightest time of the day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

While Veterinary Partner doesn’t normally mention specific pet products to avoid commercialism, there are so few pet sunscreens available that we will make an exception for pet sunscreens, which are much better for your dog and cat than human products. [Veterinary Partner does not provide these products recommended by Dr. Foil.

  • Doggles has an SPF 15 spray sunscreen.

  • Nutri-Vet offers an SPF 15 sunscreen both in a lotion form and a spray.

  • Epi-Pet Skin Care Line has just introduced Epi-Pet Sun Protector. It’s labeled for use in dogs and horses and all animals except cats and has SPF equivalency of 30-40.

By Carol S. Foil, DVM, MS, Diplomate A.C.V.D. Board-certified specialist through the American College of Veterinary Dermatology Copyright 2007 – 2009 by the Veterinary Information Network, Inc. All rights reserved.