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The danger of sun damage for our pets – Wilbur’s story

17 November 2023

The harsh New Zealand sun can be dangerous. Just like humans, animals are susceptible to sunburn too, and with the predicted El Niño weather system settling in across the country (which is expected to bring hot and humid conditions this summer), it’s more important than ever to protect our pets.

The danger of sun damage for our pets – Wilbur’s story

Animals with white hair and pink skin where fur is thin – particularly on the nose and ears – are at higher risk of sunburn. Wilbur was a stray cat who fell victim to this.

Wilbur came into our care after concerned neighbours noticed sores on his ears, which appeared to be getting worse with time. When he arrived at our SPCA Centre in Gisborne, he was examined by the vet, who found pre-cancerous cells on his ears from the tips down.

Removing these pre-cancerous cells was the only option to stop the cancer cells from spreading, and unfortunately that meant removing the external parts of his ears altogether. The vet performed surgery to do this and clear Wilbur of all associated cancer risk.

Wilbur recovering post-surgery
Wilbur recovering post-surgery

Despite his ordeal, Wilbur came through the surgery and made a wonderful recovery! In time, this sweet boy adjusted to his change, and his stitches were removed. Our Gisborne team were thrilled when a family came along and fell for Wilbur’s charm, despite his unique appearance. It’s always rewarding to see vulnerable animals like him go on to their loving forever home.

Wilbur living the good life in his forever home
Wilbur living the good life in his forever home

How to protect your pets in summer

Sunburn can cause both short and long-term harm to our pets, so it is important to protect them wherever possible. Situations like Wilbur’s can be minimised or avoided completely by taking simple steps:

  • Use pet-friendly sunscreen: Do not use human sunscreen, as it can be toxic to our furry friends. Use a pet-friendly sunscreen on areas with thin hair cover that are likely to burn such as their noses, ears, stomachs, and around their mouths. Be sure to reapply the sunscreen every few hours, as animals are known to lick or rub it off!
  • Shade: Encouraging your animals to play or relax in the shade is a great way to protect your animals from the sun. It is also important to have shaded areas indoors to protect animals who like to bask in the rays. This can be done easily by closing blinds or curtains.
  • Avoid the hottest parts of the day: To avoid the chance of your pets getting sunburnt, it is best to try and avoid being outside at the hottest parts of the day. If you have a dog, consider walking them at sunrise or sunset.

If you are concerned that your pet is sunburnt, please contact your vet in the first instance.

Examples of animals that have fair hair and pink skin that would be at risk from sunburn.
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