Think Cancer – Think Dogs.
Living in Australia, we’re all conditioned to protect our skin from the harsh sun, as the threat of skin cancer looms. But what about our dogs? We do not often consider how Australia’s extreme sun can affect man’s best friend. And we should.
Like humans, our pooches can suffer the consequences of too much sun. Medically, the cancer story is the same as that for humans, with canines also experiencing skin damage, primarily caused by over-exposure to dangerous radiation (UV) as well as genetic factors.
UV Damages the cells in the same way UV can damage human cells and therefore dogs too will develop forms of skin cancer often referred to as Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma.
Studies have shown that some breeds have a higher disposition to skin cancer than others, and the breeds most at risk are not-surprisingly those that feature non-pigmented, skin that is either sparsely haired or hairless.
Greyhounds, whippets, and Italian Greyhounds are examples of high risk breeds, which is why these breeds should wear UV-rated protective clothing during their time in the sun. It is the main reason you see jackets, suits, and coats over these particular breeds.
Over 100 types of cancers can exist in dogs, each requiring specialised treatment and diagnosis. Much like their human counterpart the signs that can indicate a cancerous growth can be hidden for some time, almost always until it is too late.
Statistics show the occurrence of skin cancers in dogs that develop cancer to be around 33% of all cancers. In 2016 there were approximately 1,500 insurance claims for skin cancer treatment in dogs in Australia. With less than 10% of dogs insured this is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. Putting estimates around the actual number is difficult as there is no central registry, however according to estimates from Roy Morgan, in 2018 less than 10% of dogs are insured in Australia.
This would put the number of dogs suffering skin cancer to be around 15,000 dogs.
As with humans, the majority of these sun-related cancers could be prevented by simple and sensible prevention practices. So the message is clear, when you are considering how to protect you and your family from the sun this spring and summer, do not forget to consider how you protect your best friend.
There are several ways to prevent or reduce the chance of skin cancers developing from UV damage. The most obvious is to cover your dog with a suit they can wear during the day. This is particularly necessary for dogs with fair skin and/or short fur that have exposed skin, such as Italian Greyhounds.
Top 10 things to consider when choosing sun smart clothing.
There are certain things that you should be aware of though when choosing any clothing. Here is the top 10 list;
- Make sure the material used is UV resistant.
- Make sure the suit covers the exposed parts of your dog’s bare skin, under the
chest area, around the legs and in some cases the head area.
- Make sure the suit does not suffocate them during hot days (the material should
- Light coloured materials will keep them cooler as they absorb less light.
- Always use suits in conjunction with a dog-friendly sunscreen.
- Avoid potentially poisonous creams, such as zinc, which dogs can lick and ingest.
- Choose a suit from an environmentally friendly manufacturer that does not
contribute to landfill. Organic manufacture of material does not go far enough.
- Keep your suits clean and intact.
- Even if indoors, ensure your dog has adequate clothing to protect from UV rays
coming through windows.
- Finally and most importantly be aware of all the options for your breed of dog.
For dogs that really cannot settle into wearing clothing, the best option might be to remain indoors and out of the sun on high UV days.
Top 9 things to do to minimise the chance of skin cancer in your dog
It doesn’t stop at a top 10 list though. There are some things you should also consider to help reduce the chance of skin cancer in general:
- Keep your dogs indoors during peak UV times.
- Ensure your pet has ample shady spots during the day.
- Even if they stay inside, make sure the UV from the window is minimised.
- Perform regular nose-to-tail checks looking for any wounds that don’t heal,
raised bumps or crusty skin lesions. If you find one, consult your vet.
- Apply canine-approved sunscreen only. Human sunscreen is not effective for
dogs and can be dangerous.
- If you have a dog with long hair, avoid close shaves during the summer months.
Try not to expose too much skin.
- Dress your dog in sun-safe clothing, particularly if you have a short/light-haired
- Apply common sense where practical: if you see your dog is getting an
excessive amount of sun then chances are it is being damaged by excessive UV
rays as well.
- Finally and most importantly, don’t forget to protect yourself as well. No good
having a healthy dog if you are not healthy enough to look after them.
So with summer just around the corner, it is time we remind ourselves to chase your four-legged family member and slip, slop and slap (wolf). After all, what’s a day at the beach without playing fetch with Fido, safely!