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Sunburn in canines and felines

By Gay Published: July 6, 2009

The dog days of summer (Dies Caniculares, for you Latin lovers) are so named because the Dog Star, Sirius, rises and sets with the sun during the hot, humid days of mid-July through mid-September. What ever you call them, they are the hottest days of the year—usually. Those of us living north of the Mason-Dixon line have seen no signs of global warming. It has been downright cold. I had to drag out a comforter when I woke up freezing one night, went down to check the temperature and saw it registered at 57. I don't care if we have a blizzard (it's happened before, but before the time of any of us reading this), the heat does NOT go on until October 1. And even then, it has to be cold enough to warrant it.

During the summer months, with the sun high and hot, your animals are susceptible to sunburn. I don't understand it, but my cats crave the sun, no matter how hot, and stretch out, exposing their tummies and their paws and the tips of their noses to the damaging rays of the sun. Our dog is a cold –weather type, but I've seen friends' dogs delight in the warm rays, and they, too, stretch out for all the world like a swimsuit clad youngster soaking up rays.

It's cute, but it can be harmful; your animals can get nasty sunburns. Those at most risk are fair-haired animals or those with less fur or those who expose the spot with less hair—the tummies—to the sun. Animals living in high altitudes are more likely to get sunburn.

At best, it can be painful. At worst, continuous exposure can cause skin cancer, just like humans chance when they bake without sun block.

If your dog is sunburned, here are some ways of relieving his discomfort:

Water witch: Mix equal parts witch hazel and water and make compresses to lay on his belly or back. Wrap his paws in it. Bathe his nose.

Keep the moisture in after you've got him good and wet. Olive oil is useful. Some people would say petroleum jelly, but because I use only natural ingredients in my business, I steer away from petrolatums (although they are really good for waterproofing a pair of boots).

Soothe the burned area with aloe vera. You can buy it in it's pure form, either a liquid or a gel. I think gel is best because it stays on. If you have aloe vera plants, break a few stems open and squeeze the juice onto the affected area.

Put him in water. Don't soap him up—just let him lay in the water. If you have a child's plastic swimming pool, fill it up and let him relax.

Cats are a different matter. They will lick practically anything you put on her. Get her wet (good luck!) if she'll let you. Seal the moisture with olive oil, and try some aloe vera. Give her a big helping of her favorite thing to eat, and she will postpone grooming and keep the remedy in place longer.

Keep your animals in the house during the time the sun is hottest, say, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (or 11-3 DST).

Encourage them to find a shady spot. Cat will love to lie in cat nip, so plant some—or some cat grass—in an area that is shady at least part of the day. Keep water nearby in a shady area—otherwise, the water will heat to a dangerous temperature.

Encourage your dog to find a shady spot by placing his favorite toys or pillow or lovey in the area.

If your dog or cat has very white fur and pink skin but insists s/he wants to be tan, you might resort to a shirt. Yep, a good, old t-shirt will slip over the neck and the front paws will go through the sleeves, and you've got an SP sunsuit. If it's a cat or a very small dog, use an infant's t-shirt. They might fuss a bit at first, but if you get them a REALLY cool shirt that says, "Cavs" or "Indians" or "Buckeyes", well, they will be proud to wear the colors.

On a beautiful, sunny (do we remember those days? anyone?) day, it would be fun to have a picnic with your pets. Gather your kids and some neighborhood kids and sit in a shady place. Have balls for the kids and some for your pets. Serve lemonade to the kids and cool water to the pets. Bring out the ice cream cones! Even your cat will like a little bit of ice cream. One of my cats actually eats a good bit of the cone.

Stay cool and stay safe.

By Gay Fifer, owner, Parsley Hollow, Inc.

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