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If your dog or cat loves to spend time outside in the sun, it is essential to take all the required precautions to protect them from the damaging effects of sun rays. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is a risk factor for skin cancer in pets. Pets with no or minimal fur, light-colored skin, or underlying health conditions are vulnerable to UV rays. The amount of sun exposure your pet gets determines the likelihood of suffering from sunburn and skin cancer.

UV radiation 

UV radiation is energy produced by the sun and by some artificial sources such as tanning beds and arc welders. The ozone layer absorbs most UV rays in the Earth’s atmosphere. However, the leftover UV rays that reach us are sufficient to cause skin damage. While we can see the visible light from the sun, our eyes are not sensitive to UV rays; however, our skin can feel it in the form of sunburn during prolonged exposure. There are three types of UV radiation from the sun:

    1. Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays: UVA rays make up 95% of the UV rays that reach the Earth’s surface. They have a longer wavelength and can penetrate deep into our skin, damaging our skin cells.
    1. Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays: UVB rays have a shorter wavelength than UVA rays and constitute only 5% of the UV rays from the sun. While UVB rays cannot penetrate deep into our skin, they can elicit adverse effects on the top layer. It is the most prevalent cause of redness and sunburn. UVB rays can damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to skin cancer.
    1. Ultraviolet C (UVC) rays: UVC rays have the shortest wavelength and cannot reach the Earth’s surface because of the ozone layer.

UV radiation and skin cancer

Overexposure to UV rays causes most skin cancers. Prolonged and repeated exposure can damage the DNA present in skin cells. If the cell cannot repair this damage, it may cause the skin cells to divide uncontrollably, leading to cancer. The first risk factor for developing skin cancer is sunburn.

Prevention of sunburn in pets

You can take many precautions as a pet owner to ensure your pet is well-protected against too much UV exposure. Consider the following when being outside with your pet:

    • UV rays are stronger in the middle of the day. A healthy amount of sun for your pets is about 15-20 minutes at a time when the UV radiation is at its weakest, during the early morning (before 11 am) or early evening (after 4 pm). Pets with shaved fur, white fur, light coats, or exposed skin should avoid prolonged direct exposure to sunlight, especially when the UV radiation is at its highest.
    • Seek shade. You should provide your outdoor pets with several well-shaded areas to reduce sun exposure. It is important not to rely on cloud coverage, as some UV rays can get through.
    • Be aware of elevation. UV exposure can be more substantial depending on the elevation where you live. For example, a pet in Boulder, Colorado will have greater UV exposure than a pet living at sea level.
    • Use sunscreen.  If your pet has sparse fur, you can apply sunscreens to sensitive areas, such as the nose, ears, and abdomens.


Spending time outside with your pet is a great way to keep you both healthy. Taking the necessary precautions to prevent damage from the sun is even more beneficial. If you and your pet are going to be in the sun, limit your exposure, choose times of day where the UV strength is lowest, and ensure plenty of shade is available. Check your pet’s skin regularly for sunburn and signs of cancer and consult your vet with any skin concerns.

The Pet Cancer Foundation’s Website Editorial team is comprised of veterinarians, veterinary oncologists, and veterinary technicians, as well as scientific writers and editors who have attained their PhD’s in the life sciences, along with general editors and research assistants. All content found in this section goes through an extensive process with multiple review stages, to ensure this extended resource provides pet families with the most up-to-date information publicly available.

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Keep Your Pets Healthy Editorial Team

Last Updated: August 16, 2022

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The Pet Cancer Foundation’s Medical Illustration team is comprised of medical illustration specialists and graphic designers that work in consultation with our team of experts to create the medical art found throughout our website. Though not all medical concepts require the assistance of imagery, when a page does contain a medical illustration, credit to the artist and our medical art director will be noted here.

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The following sources were referenced to write the content on this page:

Millanta, F, Parisi, F, Poli, A, Sorelli, V & Abramo, F 2022, ‘Auricular non-epithelial tumors with solar elastosis in cats: a possible UV-induced pathogenesis’, Vet Sci, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 34-42.

Nishiya, AT, Massoco, CO, Felizzola, CR, Perlmann, E, Batschinski, K, Tedardi, MV, Garcia, JS, Mendonça, PP, Teixeira, TF & Zaidan Dagli, ML 2016 ‘Comparative aspects of canine melanoma’, Vet Sci, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 7-29.

Willcox, JL, Marks, SL, Ueda, Y & Skorupski, KA 2019, ‘Clinical features and outcome of dermal squamous cell carcinoma in 193 dogs (1987-2017)’, Vet Comp Oncol, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 130-138.

The Pet Cancer Foundation’s medical resource for pet owners is protected by copyright.

For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.