The cruel sun spares no one. Sorry if that’s dramatic, but it’s true. Your dog can definitely get sunburned, which is a bummer because dogs love nothing more than romping around outside during summer months. Here’s what to know, how to prevent sun damage and types of sunscreen you should use.
The risks of sun damage on dogs
Just like humans, dogs can develop skin cancer from unprotected sun exposure, according to the American Kennel Club. Scars and post-surgery areas are also more tender and should be slathered with dog-friendly sunscreen to avoid harsh burns.
Extra sun-sensitive dog breeds
If you’re fair-skinned, you know all too well the power of UVA and UVB rays. Similarly, dogs with thin or white fur have a higher chance of getting sunburned than those with dark, thick fur. Think: collies, Dalmations, whippets, bulldogs and Australian sheepdogs. And hairless breeds? You better go above and beyond to protect those pups from the sun. Think: Chinese Cresteds, American hairless terriers and the Mexican hairless dog, the Xoloitzcuintlis. Also, if summertime means short haircuts and trips to the groomerfina for a close shave to help pups stay cool, this could mean easy access for harmful rays
Extra sensitive spots
Dogs can certainly get sunburned on their backs, but the experts at Vet West Animal Hospitals point out some spots are more susceptible to burning than others. The snout, belly and ears are super vulnerable and require sunscreen application for sure.
Do not—we repeat—do not apply human sunscreen to dogs. Dogs love to lick themselves and ingredients like zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) in people products are poisonous to canines. Instead, go for waterproof dog-friendly products. Dr. Whitney Miller, PetCo’s Director of Veterinary Medicine, recommends SPF 15 or higher. Sprays like Petkin Doggy Sunmist and Chris Christensen Ice on Ice Conditioner with Sunscreen are popular, as are wipes like Well & Good Sun Protection Dog Wipes. If your dog is fussy or antsy, there is also Natural Dog Company’s Snout Soother and Happy Pet 30 SPF Dog Stick. Apply roughly 20 minutes before sun exposure to let sunscreen soak in (and make sure your dog doesn’t lick himself clean!).
(Pro tip: Some sunscreens formulated for dogs don’t specify SPF as they don’t want to be associated with human sunscreens. Check ingredients and note reapplication times to make sure you’re adequately protecting your pup!)
Nothing beats a cool shady spot. Yes, sunscreen is important, but be sure to provide an umbrella or awning for your pup should he need a break from the sun. There are also adorable doggy T-shirts with built-in sun protection. Going for a walk before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. also ensures your dog won’t be in the sun during peak hours. Finally, Dr. Miller says that hats and sunglasses for dogs venturing into super-sunny areas (think: hiking in Joshua Tree) are a great idea.
Treatment for sunburnt dogs
If you notice the edges of your pup’s ears or along the snout start to look dry and cracked, it’s likely sunburn. When dogs whine or experience pain while they scratch themselves, this could also be bad news. Outward signs, like bright red skin on people, don’t typically manifest on dogs, but if you notice skin reddening or your dog feels too warm to the touch, immediately get some shade and apply a cool towel to calm irritated skin. Dogs can also get a fever if the burn is bad enough.
It’s usually best to get a vet’s opinion on any sunburn, even if it doesn’t immediately appear severe. Ointments and cortisone treatments can be prescribed to heal skin and prevent further damage or discomfort.
Bottom line? The sun is harsh. Take precautions with your dog just as you would with your own skin.