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Humans often take precautions to protect themselves from the sun, but should we be doing the same for our dogs? Can dogs get sunburned, and do dogs need sunscreen?
The answer is yes. Just like people, dogs are prone to sunburn and other complications and diseases associated with sun exposure. Taking certain safety measures can lower your dog’s risk of developing serious sun-related medical issues. This includes choosing a dog sunscreen that’s formulated for your pet.
Sunburn isn’t just painful for dogs. Sunburn can lead to more serious problems, including certain types of skin cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma, malignant melanomas, and hemangiomas. Sunburn also exacerbates certain conditions, such as autoimmune disorders and dermatitis, and can cause discomfort at surgery sites. Luckily, a little careful planning can prevent your dog from catching too many ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Dog Breeds Predisposed to Sunburn
Some dogs are more at risk for sunburn than others. Hairless dog breeds, such as the Xoloitzcuintli and American Hairless Terrier, need sun protection when they are outside for long periods of time. Dogs with white or thin coats and dogs with light-pigmented noses and eyelids are also more at risk for sunburn. This includes breeds like Collies, Dalmatians, Bulldogs, Whippets, and any dog with light or white pigment on their ears or near their nose.
Even some dogs with thick coats of hair may experience hair loss from seasonal shedding or a health condition that may cause their coats to become very thin and may then be at greater risk for sunburn.
Does your dog just love to lie out on your patio and feel the sun’s warmth? According to Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the AKC, dogs that lie outside on concrete or on light surfaces, especially those dogs who lie on their backs, can suffer sunburn.
Sunscreen for Dogs
Sunscreen protects dogs from sunburn. But using the wrong type of sunscreen can also cause problems. It’s important that you use sunscreen formulas that are specifically intended as sunscreen for dogs. Sunscreens that are formulated for dogs should not contain zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), as these ingredients are toxic to dogs if ingested, and dogs will often lick their skin and accidentally ingest the sunscreen. It’s also a good idea to look for a waterproof, unscented dog sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30.
How to Apply Sunscreen to Dogs
So how do you get your dog-safe sunscreen on your wiggly pup? Carefully.
First, test a small amount on one spot to be sure it doesn’t cause an allergic reaction. Next, be sure to put it on the spots most exposed to sunshine, such as the bridge of the nose, ear tips, skin around the lips, groin, and inner thighs – and anywhere else where pigmentation is light. When applying it to your dog’s head, be sure not to get any in their eyes. And once you apply the sunscreen, watch that your dog doesn’t lick it off for about 10 or 15 minutes – until it’s been fully absorbed.
You should apply sunscreen about 20 minutes before your dog goes out. And while they are out in the sun, reapply the sunscreen every 4 to 6 hours or after your dog goes swimming.
Dog Sunscreen Alternatives
Rather than lathering sunscreen over your dog’s entire body, consider investing in protective clothing. Several companies make sun shirts or suits for dogs that cover large areas of their bodies, saving you the worry that your pup will lick any sunscreen off. Dog sun suits and dog beach rash guards can offer protection against harmful UVA and UVB rays.
Dog sun hats and even dog goggles are also available to protect your pup when they’re out in the sun. Alternatively, try to keep your dog out of direct sun during the hottest parts of the day, and provide plenty of shade while you are enjoying outdoor activities like swimming. All dogs, especially puppies and older dogs, are at risk for heat stroke, so it is very important to make sure they have access to lots of fresh, cool drinking water at all times.
Remember, you can always ask your veterinarian for advice on how best to protect your dog from harmful UV exposure. Finally, consider keeping your dogs in the shade. It sounds simple, but it usually works!
You can find reflective sun shade cloths that you can use for outdoor spaces, or when you’re at a dog event waiting for your turn at the car or outside. They help reduce the temperature, reflect the sun’s rays, and keep both you and your dog cooler in the shade.
Treating Sunburn in Dogs
Dr. Klein advises that any time sunburn is visible as reddened, warm, or flaking skin, you should move your dog inside (or at least into the shade) as quickly as possible. Cool compresses may soothe the skin to help relieve initial symptoms. Aloe may also help with a minor burn.
However, if the burn is severe, you should call your veterinarian because treatment with a cortisone product may be needed to prevent inflammation. There may also be a secondary infection that requires antibiotics. If these complications do occur, the dog will need to be well-protected from the sun in the future to prevent permanent damage.
Although dog sunscreen is important, it can’t be counted on to be 100 percent effective. “The best way to protect your dog from the sun is to keep him indoors or in the shade, except for quick elimination periods, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” says Dr. Klein.