Sunburned noses aren't solely the domain of small children in summertime. Certain breeds of dogs also can be sensitive to sunlight, causing them to develop lesions on their noses, eyelids and lips. Known as nasal solar dermatitis (NSD) or "Collie nose," it is an inherited disorder and is usually worse in locations with a sunny climate.
Although it's commonly called Collie nose, the condition is often found in other breeds that have little or no pigment (coloration) on their face. In addition to Collies, breeds like Shetland Sheepdogs can be affected.
The lesions caused by this syndrome appear as raw, pink or red areas of skin. Often they will form ulcers with crusty, scab-like coverings. Cases can be relatively mild or else range in severity all the way up to deep lesions that can cause the dog to hemorrhage. In typical cases the lesions begin on the inside area of the nose first, followed by the bridge of the nose and then the lips and eyelids. Symptoms are usually worse in summer.
If this condition is allowed to go untreated it will worsen until the dog's entire nasal tissues are irritated and the animal is in extreme discomfort. In the worst cases the affected skin will crack, bleed and can even interfere with breathing. For best results, treatment should begin early. If the disease is allowed to progress, in addition to pain and disfigurement, it can often turn into a deadly form of canine cancer.
Some skin diseases and autoimmune disorders can display the same symptoms as NSD and may also worsen in the summer months. Because of this, your veterinarian will have to rule out diseases like lupus and skin cancer before making a final diagnosis. Lupus, especially, is an autoimmune disorder whose symptoms can closely mimic those of Collie nose. A biopsy of the affected tissue can be tested to confirm that the problem is indeed NSD.
Owners of dogs with Collie nose usually must keep their animal's sunlight exposure to a minimum. Corticosteroid ointments often are prescribed to stop inflammation and speed the healing process. Sunscreen lotions sometimes help, but these are usually licked away and must be reapplied several times a day in order to be effective.
In some cases, a permanent black ink can be tattooed onto the affected areas of the face, to serve as a barrier against sunlight. Often this tattooing is done on young animals with lightly pigmented noses, as a way to prevent Collie nose from occurring in animals that are at higher risk.