Sun burn or solar dermatitis, or chronic sun damage to the skin, is a common dermatologic disorder in hot, sunny climates. It can also affect animals that live in high altitudes or that spend a great deal of time outside, even in temperate zones.
Unfortunately, solar dermatitis can sometimes mimic other skin diseases such as allergies or pyoderma and, thus, go unrecognized and untreated until irreversible damage or sun-induced skin cancers have developed.
Solar dermatitis most commonly affects the white-haired and non-pigmented skin of short-coated breeds such as pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, bull terriers, boxers, Dalmatians, American bulldogs, and whippets, but any dog with white or lightly pigmented hair and skin is at risk.
It may affect nose and ears of cats with white or light-colored skin coat. Sun damage usually occurs on nonpigmented thinly haired areas such as the flank, inguinal and axillary areas, and the dorsal nose, but it can occur on the dorsal and lateral trunk and lateral limbs as well as other areas . In dogs that prefer to lie on one side of their body, lesions may be worse on the more chronically sun-exposed side.
Diagnosing solar dermatitis involves considering a patient’s signalment and clinical signs and ruling out other causes of scaly, erythematous dermatitis or folliculitis (e.g. bacterial, Demodex species, and dermatophyte infections). Lack of resolution of skin lesions with empiric therapy should raise your suspicion of solar dermatitis and the need for further investigation.
The best treatment for canine solar dermatitis is prevention. Sun avoidance should be started at a young age, and oral and topical medications cannot replace sun avoidance in treating and preventing solar dermatitis.