You already know how important it is to protect your skin from the sun — if you're not smart about diligently applying (and reapplying) sunscreen and let yourself roast indiscriminately, you risk damaging effects from the superficial (accelerated signs of skin aging) to the fatal (skin cancer). Believe it or not, that also applies to some animals, particularly those with hair loss or lighter-colored coats — like Sherlock the schnauzer, who has a rare form of canine albinism that makes sun protection absolutely essential. The 10-month-old resident of Melbourne, Australia, was born without melanin in his skin, giving him a pure white coat, bright blue eyes, and an extreme sensitivity to sunlight.
Sherlock was abandoned by his previous owners when he was just a newborn pup, so he found a temporary home with Netta McKay, who's been fostering animals for a decade. "I knew it would be very difficult to find him a home that would fit his circumstances and to find people who would know how to care for an albino dog," McKay told Caters. Luckily, the search didn't last long: McKay and her husband quickly fell in love with little Sherlock and decided to add him to the family.
Because of his albinism, Sherlock must take special precautions before spending time outdoors. For starters, he can only play in the McKays' shaded courtyard, and only goes for walks in the late afternoon when the sun is about to set, or when it's very overcast — and even then, his parents have to slather him in doggy sunscreen before he can leave the house. "He can’t just have free access to go outside where he could sit and sunbake or he would get really burnt," McKay explained. "They get sunburnt so easily and are more likely to get skin cancer, which could be fatal." Sherlock's eyes are also extremely sensitive to the sun, so he never leaves home without his signature pair of sunglasses. Yes, Sherlock wears sunglasses.
With his unique and striking appearance, Sherlock is quickly gaining a following on social media — and it's easy to see why. In fact, McKay said, "I tell my husband that he is never allowed to walk him on his own because Sherlock is real chick magnet — especially with those sunglasses." She recently signed Sherlock to Animal Magic, a Melbourne-based pet talent agency, in hopes of furthering his career.
Sherlock's case may be extreme, but all pups should be aware of the risks of sun exposure. Heather Peikes, VMD, Dipl. ACVD of All Paws Dermatology and Allergy in Bloomfield, NJ, tells us, "Sunscreen should be applied every 2-3 hours to sparsely haired areas, such as the bridge of nose, ears, and abdomen." As with any topical, a small amount of the product should be applied to a test spot prior to using on a larger area, and dogs should be distracted after application to prevent them from licking off the product.
Also beware of zinc oxide, which can be toxic if too much is ingested — Dr. Peikes recommends Epi-Pet, the only FDA-compliant sunscreen for dogs. "There are many companies that even design sun suits for dogs to prevent solar damage," she says. If Sherlock wouldn't be the perfect model for a sun-suit company, we don't know who would be.