Last weekend I took a short-sleeved, cargo-shorted walk with the dogs at a beach. I slapped on sunscreen and felt smugly protected - there'd be no foolish spring sunburn for me this year, thanks very much! But how much thought did I give to keeping the dogs safe in the sun? None, actually.
Yet dogs can get sunburn - especially those with wispy coats and those that love to sun their bellies and other fur-less parts. And so can cats - especially those that are white.
A Four Legs Good reader named Sharon has a pure-white cat, named Lily, who's eight months old. As a good pet owner, Sharon heeded the advice of the SPCA and her vet, and resolved to protect Lily (pictured right) as much as she could from the sun and from the cancers that are a curse for snowy cats, particularly on the ears. Hence a daily wrestle with Lily to get her ears and nose sunscreened, using a spray that Sharon ordered from Britain called PetScreen.
Sharon has a feline lifetime ahead of her spent gilding the unwilling Lily every day with that stuff. But the effort is worthwhile if it prevents the skin cancers that often form on white cats' ears and can spread and cause death. "I'd rather do battle with her every day than have her suffer," says Sharon. (Any of you white-cat-owners have such a routine?)
And Lily, wouldn't you know it, loves the sun.
Sharon has raised my awareness of white pets' sun-weakness. Now, whenever I see a white cat wandering or basking in the sun, I'll wonder how safe it is (another thing for a worrier to worry about). In fact, owners of white cats often keep their pets inside during the middle of the day (just as we humans are warned to do), make sure there are shady places where the cat can rest, and like Sharon anoint the cat with one of a range of sun-blocking lotions. I suppose it has to become a part of a daily routine just as much as feeding.
Or indeed just as much as it is for fair-skinned people like me to coat ourselves in sunscreen at least daily when there's an "r" in the month.
I've had a pretty good routine, and have enjoyed several burn-free summers. But my problem time is right now, in the spring, when it doesn't feel like summer but when the sun is already revving up its UV furnaces so fridge-complexioned folk like me can cop a fierce burn.
So now is a good time to think about the pets and their safety in the sun, too. I figure that Connor may be the most sun-vulnerable of our pets: his wiry coat is thin around his ears and on his underside. So I may try a sunscreen on him before any long daytime walks.
I have to make sure that there's plenty of water around - usually we keep two bowls topped up during the warm months, and sometimes leave ice cubes for the cat and dogs to lick at.
Above all, and I've blogged about this before, we have to remember how hot the inside of the car can get, and how quickly, and to not leave the dogs at risk.
It may not feel all that warm yet, but I think it's worthwhile starting to act as though it were.
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