You can find millions of people toasting in the sun along the world's coasts, pools and lakefronts. The warm caressing touch of the solar rays has a relaxing therapeutic effect that we all love. The search for a tan has given birth to the artificial tanning industry. People and animals have been seeking the sun since the beginning of life on earth.
We all know that the light and the solar energy from the sun drive many life functions of plants and animals. Animals and humans are affected by the intensity and the duration of daylight. Seasonal and daily variations of light and temperature are responsible for the myriad behaviors of nature, such as reproduction, hibernation, feeding, migrations, diurnal or nocturnal activities and many more.
One of the important functions of sun light is the activation of vitamin D by the ultraviolet rays, a process that takes place at the skin level of both humans and animals. Vitamin D is responsible for calcium absorption and bone development, maintaining normal blood calcium and phosphorus levels, regulating the immune system and more.
Many pets are kept indoors and have very little exposure to natural sunlight. Some species can manage lack of sunlight better than others and get by with the vitamin D in their diet. Others, like reptiles and some birds, are very sensitive and develop vitamin D deficiency induced diseases if not provided with natural or artificial sunlight. Some of the common health problems are metabolic bone disease, rickets, osteomalacia, bone fractures, weakness, seizures and more.
Sunlight also stimulates production of melatonin, a hormone responsible for body rhythm regulation as well as many immune and nervous functions. Recently there appear to be indications that natural sunlight is beneficial for certain kinds of cancer.
Too much sunlight may, however, cause damage. Apart from overheating and sunburns, some animals with white or hairless de-pigmented skin, (especially around the nose, ears, and face) develop skin reactions and even skin cancer. Certain plants, food and medications may sensitize the skin and induce reaction (hives, redness, swelling, ulcerations) upon exposure to sunlight. This is called photosensitization. Some diseases (liver disease) and hereditary conditions are also known to cause photosensitivity. Standing water exposed to sun and high temperatures (usually in late summer) can grow blue-green algae, which cause sudden death, nerve toxicity and phototoxicity if ingested.
As long as your pet is healthy, moderate exposure to natural sunlight is very beneficial and even a necessity. White or light colored hairless pets should avoid prolonged outdoor activities. Stay away from blue standing water and prevent water accumulation in back yard containers. The sun can be good or bad, depending on how we manage it.[Back]