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DO ANIMALS GET SUNBURNED?

Posted Mar 11 2012 12:00am
The 85 degrees and beautiful sunny skies down in Phoenix this past Monday and Tuesday necessitated the liberal application of sunscreen for Desperado and Helpful Buckeye.  We both use the stuff pretty frequently here in Flagstaff but being outdoors in the Phoenix area this time of year accelerates the need for it even more.  On Monday we spent several hours walking through the Desert Botanical Garden, a fabulous offering of all the desert plants you can imagine...in addition to a very interesting enclosure full of many different butterflies.
Chain Fruit Cholla


Julia Butterfly

Then, on Tuesday, some good friends of ours wanted to treat us to a spring training baseball game for my birthday...on the condition that I explain to them what was going on during the game.  Baseball has always been my favorite sport and playing in high school and college has helped me understand the inside parts of the game.  But, I digress...we were talking about the use of sunscreen.
Helpful Buckeye also received an e-mail question this week from a youngster in Texas (Jamie in College Station) asking if he had to worry about his Golden Retriever being sunburned.  Well, that's a great question for this time of year when the sun is climbing higher in the sky.  Jamie, here's your answer:
Do Animals Get Sunburned?
Staffers at the National Zoo clue us in to how animals like elephants and hippos protect themselves from harmful UV rays
By Megan Gambino
Unfortunately, despite our best defenses, sunburn is a common summer malady for humans. But do animals get sunburned? And what do they do to protect themselves?

I posed the questions to Tony Barthel, curator of the Elephant House and the Cheetah Conservation Station at Smithsonian’s National Zoo. He oversees the daily care of these and other large mammals. “Most any animal that has exposed skin is susceptible to sunburn,” says the biologist. Whereas birds are protected by feathers and reptiles by scales (if reptiles overheat, they will die before sunburn is a factor), mammals such as elephants and rhinos, even freshly shorn sheep, as you might imagine, are particularly vulnerable. Occasionally a furry mammal gets sunburned too. “It depends on how dense their fur is,” says Barthel. He mentions pigs that have coarse hair on their backs as an example. “If they are out in the sun a lot, they’ll burn,” he says.

Little research has been devoted to studying sunburn on animals other than humans and lab mice. But when researchers began noticing blisters on whales, a group of scientists from England and Mexico decided to look into it. From 2007 to 2009, they collected high-resolution photographs and skin samples from blue whales, fin whales and sperm whales in the Gulf of California. Last November, they revealed their findings in a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Ninety-five percent of the biopsies contained “sunburn cells,” or skin cells damaged by ultraviolet radiation. On blue whales, in particular, the scientists had data spanning three years that showed that the incidence rate for sunburn is getting worse, possibly as either the ozone layer or cloud cover thins out over time. One factor contributing to sunburn occurrence, of course, is the amount of time whales spend on the surface. When foraging, sperm whales spend seven to ten minutes breathing at the surface between dives, while blue and fin whales take only two. Sperm whales also socialize at the surface for hours at a time. Yet the team of scientists found that pigmentation plays an even larger role. The paler blue whales are more sensitive to the sun than the darker sperm and fin whales.

Animals living in places that get a lot of sun have unique biological defenses. “If a giraffe sticks its tongue out, the first eight or nine inches are black, and then there is a line and it turns pink,” says Barthel. “Some people theorize that giraffes have black tongues because they are out of their mouths a lot, and they don’t want to get sunburned on their tongues.” Hippos also have an interesting adaptation. They excrete a pinkish liquid that wells up in droplets on their faces or behind their ears or necks. “Back in the old days, circuses would have signs saying, ‘Come see the hippos sweat blood,’” says Barthel. But when researchers from Japan analyzed the secretion on two hippos living at the Ueno Zoological Garden in Tokyo, they discovered that it is made up of red and orange pigments that absorb light in the UV range. The red pigment also prevents bacterial growth. In a May 2004 issue of Nature, the scientists concluded that the “blood” or “sweat” is actually a natural, antibiotic sunscreen.

More often, though, animals protect themselves through learned behaviors. “Elephants will throw sand on their backs and on their head. They do that to keep them from getting sunburned and to keep bugs off,” says Barthel. They also douse their young with sand. “That is probably part of the teaching process,” he adds. “Not only are they taking care of their youngsters, but they are showing them that they need to do that.” Adult elephants will also create shade for their young by standing over them while they sleep. Rhinos and pigs wallow and coat themselves in mud, which protects them from the sun and helps to keep moisture in their skin.

Sunburn is a concern at the National Zoo, says Barthel, but not a big problem. He can’t recall a bad case in the nearly ten years he has worked there. “Care 101 is to provide the necessary requirements so that it doesn’t happen,” he says. The Zoo designs its facilities to provide enough shelter, shade or substrate—mud or sand or water—that the animals need to protect themselves.
If an animal does get sunburned, though, Barthel says it looks like you might expect. “We’ll see their fur lighten up when they are out in the sun a lot more,” he says. “You see their skin get red, and then you might see sores or blisters if it got bad enough.” Though he concedes it might happen, he has never seen an animal with sunburn peel.

Marie Galloway, an elephant keeper at the Zoo, can only recall one case. For a time, about 20 years ago, Shanthi, a female Asian elephant from Sri Lanka who lives at the Zoo, had blisters appear on her back, because, unlike the other elephants, she didn’t cover herself with dirt or seek shade. But for the most part, animals seem to have good sense.

“More than we do, I think,” says Barthel.
Adapted from: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Ask-an-Expert-Do-Animals-Get-Sunburned.html?utm_source=smithsoniansciandnat&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=201107-science
Now that we realize that sunburn is a concern for all mammals, what about dogs and cats?  Well, they are mammals too so, yes Jamie, your Golden Retriever can be sunburned.
Sunburn in Dogs
Although they do not sunburn as easily as people, dogs can suffer from sunburn. Most often, dogs sustain a superficial partial thickness burn. At worst, sunburns may result in deep partial thickness burns. Full thickness burns are rare. Light-colored or hairless dogs are more at risk than other types of canines.
Types of Burns


Superficial partial thickness burns are similar to first-degree burns. Only the top layer of skin is involved. The hair (if present) may still be attached to the skin. The skin appears red and no blisters are seen.
Deep partial thickness burns are similar to second-degree burns. The surface layer and some deeper layers of skin are involved. Unlike in humans, these burns usually do not have blisters. The skin is red and some layers of the skin may be exposed.


Full thickness burns are similar to third-degree burns. The burn extends through all layers of skin and may even include tissue beneath the skin. Immediately after the burn, the skin may look like leather or the surface of the burn may appear white.
Sunburn usually occurs in the summer months when at-risk animals (such as white dogs and hairless breeds) spend too much time in the sun.

 
Veterinary Care

DiagnosisThe diagnosing of sunburn is based on the time of year and possible prolonged exposure to the sun. The skin will have characteristic signs of a thermal burn.
  Blood tests are not initially necessary to make a diagnosis. Depending on the severity of the burns, blood tests may be done later to determine the overall health of the animal.
  Treatment


Treatment of sunburn is based on the severity of the burn.

Superficial Partial Thickness
• For these burns, the hair is carefully shaved from the burned area in order to ease treatment and better monitor healing.

• The wound is gently cleaned with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine.

• Topical creams such as silver sulfadiazine are quite effective in burns.

• Most superficial partial thickness burns can be treated on an outpatient basis with the remainder of treatment and care done by the owner.
  Deep Partial Thickness
• For these burns, hospitalization is necessary.

• Intravenous fluids are necessary to provide hydration and needed electrolytes.

• Daily wound cleaning with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine.

• Daily bandage changes.

• Topical cream such as silver sulfadiazine.

• If over 15 percent of the body is burned, skin grafts may eventually be required.


Home Care

If you suspect your pet has a sunburn, veterinary care is recommended. Dogs do not burn as easily as people, so more damage has occurred to the skin than you may be able to initially see. After diagnosis and initial treatment, daily treatment with wound cleaning and topical medication may be necessary.
Preventative Care


For dogs at risk, apply sunscreen before spending time outdoors. As in humans, it is suspected that repeated sunburns may result in permanent skin damage and even possible skin cancer.
Adapted from: http://www.petplace.com/dogs/sunburn-in-dogs/page1.aspx?utm_source=dogcrazynews001et&utm_medium=email&utm_content=petplace_article&utm_campaign=dailynewsletter
And then there are the cats:
Sunburn in Cats 
Cats, especially those who are light colored or hairless, can suffer from sunburn. Most often, the burn is a superficial partial thickness burn. At worst, sunburns may result in deep partial thickness burns. Full thickness burns are rare for a sunburn.
Types of Burns


Superficial partial thickness burns are similar to first-degree burns. Only the top layer of skin is involved. The hair (if present) may still be attached to the skin. The skin appears red and no blisters are seen.

Deep partial thickness burns are similar to second-degree burns. The surface layer and some deeper layers of skin are involved. Unlike in humans, these burns infrequently have blisters. The skin is red and some layers of the skin may be exposed.
Full thickness burns are similar to third-degree burns. The burn extends through all layers of skin and may even include tissue beneath the skin. Immediately after the burn, the skin may look like leather or the surface of the burn may appear white.
  As expected, sunburn occurs in the summer months when animals at risk spend prolonged time in the sun. White cats, thinly haired breeds and Sphinx cats are primarily at risk.
Veterinary Care
Diagnosis


The diagnosis of a sunburn is based on the time of year and possible prolonged exposure to the sun. The skin will have characteristic signs of a thermal burn. Blood tests are not initially necessary to make a diagnosis. Depending on the severity of the burns, blood tests may be done later to determine the overall health of the animal.

Treatment
Treatment of sunburn is based on the severity of the burn.

Superficial Partial Thickness
• For these burns, the hair is carefully shaved from the burned area in order to ease treatment and better monitor healing.

• The wound is gently cleaned with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine.

• Topical creams such as silver sulfadiazine are quite effective in burns.

• Most superficial partial thickness burns can be treated on an outpatient basis with the remainder of treatment and care done by the owner.
  Deep Partial Thickness
• For these burns, hospitalization is necessary.

• Intravenous fluids are necessary to provide hydration and needed electrolytes.

• Daily wound cleaning with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine.

• Daily bandage changes.

• Topical cream such as silver sulfadiazine.

• If over 15 percent of the body is burned, skin grafts may eventually be required.
Home Care

If you suspect your pet has a sunburn, veterinary care is recommended. Cats do not burn as easily as people. More damage has occurred to the skin than you may be able to initially see. After diagnosis and initial treatment, daily treatment with wound cleaning and topical medication may be necessary.

Preventative Care


For cats at risk, apply sunscreen before spending time outdoors. As in humans, it is suspected that repeated sunburns may result in permanent skin damage and even possible skin cancer, especially in white cats.
Adapted from: http://www.petplace.com/cats/sunburn-in-cats/page1.aspx
As you can see, the situation is pretty much the same for both dogs and cats...however, I kept them separate in order to stress that each is at risk.  Sunburn is almost always going to be an avoidable problem, so keep your pets out of the direct sun as much as possible and use the sunscreen.
SPORTS NEWS Just finished watching Michigan State beat the Ohio State Buckeyes in the final of the Big 10 Conference Tournament.  Both teams held several leads in the game but Michigan State proved to be just a little bit better today.  I fully expect both teams to go deep into the NCAA Tournament which begins on Thursday.

PERSONAL STUFF
Helpful Buckeye was able to ride his bicycle outdoors yesterday for the first time this year, the earliest date yet.  Even though it was chilly, windy, and there were still some cinders on the road, it was a wonderful outing!  In the 24 miles of my ride, I saw 2 Bald Eagles, a Coyote, 4 Great Blue Herons, 12 Mule Deer, and 7 Elk...a zoologist's dream.  It felt great to be riding outside again....
Let's finish with a few more photos from our week:
Pin Cushion Cacti

Cardon Cactus

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly


Zebra Longwing Butterfly


Graham County Courthouse, Safford, AZ...love the combination of palm tree and snow-capped mountains


Silo House, Safford, AZ

Helpful Buckeye appreciated this anonymous quote this past week, in reference to the relative importance of one birthday over another: "A birthday is just the first day of another 365-day journey around the sun.  Enjoy the trip.”   ...and, I surely have, thanks to Desperado and all of my "buds"....


~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~
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