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Canine Solar Dermatitis

By Kimberly S. Coyner DVM, Diplomate American College of Veterinary Dermatology, Veterinary News Netwo
Updated: 2010-02-09 10:20 PM 3309 Views    Category: Health and Behavior
 
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Canine solar dermatitis or chronic sun damage to the skin is a common skin problem in any hot sunny climate. However solar dermatitis can sometimes mimic other skin diseases such as allergies or skin infections, and be unrecognized and so go untreated until irreversible damage or sun induced skin cancers have developed. This article will review the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options for solar dermatitis.


Clinical signs:


Solar dermatitis most commonly affects short coated breeds such as pit bulls, boxers, Dalmations, bull terriers, and whippets, but any dog with white or lightly pigmented hair and skin is at risk. Sun damage most commonly occurs on thinly haired areas such as the groin, armpits and the top of the nose, but can occur on the back, sides and legs as well as other areas. In dogs that prefer to lay on one side of their body, damage may be worse on the side turned upward. The duration and intensity of sun exposure influences the degree of skin damage. The initial signs of sun damage are red scaly skin lesions which may be tender. With repeated sun exposure, inflamed hair follicles, follicular cyst formation and scarring occur. In dogs with black spots, there is often sharp demarcation between areas of normal skin with protective pigment and damaged unpigmented skin. With chronic sun exposure, damaged areas become thickened and scarred, with dilated plugged hair follicles, and ulcerated draining crusty areas. Secondary bacterial skin infection is common. Sun-induced skin tumors may occur such as squamous cell carcinoma, hemangioma and cutaneous hemangiosarcoma. Although the dogs may lick affected areas, itching is usually otherwise minimal, unlike dogs with allergies, but some dogs can also be affected by both allergies and solar dermatitis.


Diagnosis:


Symptoms, ruling out other causes for scaly red skin disease such as skin infections, and ultimately skin biopsy are used to diagnose solar dermatitis. Biopsies show inflammation and scarring of skin and hair follicles, sun damaged skin cells and collagen, and precancerous or cancerous skin cells.

 
Treatment: 


The main treatment recommendation for solar dermatitis is restricting sun exposure, by keeping the dog indoors during the day. If some sun exposure is unavoidable, then use of topical sunscreens (spf > 25, waterproof and baby safe) or T shirts may be helpful to decrease sun exposure; however it is often impossible to cover all at risk areas of the skin. A dog sunsuit is available at www. designerdogwear.com. Oral Vitamin A derivatives may help reduce sun damage, but must be used carefully to prevent toxicity.  It must be emphasized however that oral and topical medications cannot take the place of sun avoidance in the treatment and prevention of solar dermatitis. Once skin cancer has occurred, aggressive surgery and screening for cancer spread to draining lymph nodes and internal structures should be performed. Ultimately, the best treatment for canine solar dermatitis is prevention, by educating owners of at risk dogs in the need for sun avoidance starting at a young age.
 

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Dr. Kimberly Coyner is a board-certified veterinary dermatologist and practices at the Dermatology Clinic for Animals, Las Vegas, NV.
 
 http://www.petdocsoncall.com
 
 
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