Ask Dr. Tory: Can Dogs Get Sunburn?

by Sundays

Do dogs need to wear sunscreen? And if so, what kind and how do you apply it? Don't worry we have you and your pup covered.

We protect our skin when we go out in the sun, but what about our four-legged family members? Can dogs get sunburn, too?

Dogs can definitely get sunburned just like people! . If you’ve got an outdoorsy-type dog that loves basking in the sun poolside, getting their paws sandy at the dog beach, or hanging out at the front of your canoe, you’ll need to be aware of their sun exposure and take the appropriate steps to prevent sunburn - which can sometimes involve sunscreen!. 

Here’s some insight on why dogs need sunscreen, where to apply it, which dogs are especially vulnerable to the sun, and what kind of sunscreen is safe for dogs. 

Do All Dogs Need Sunscreen?

Most dogs do not require sunscreen - but there are definitely some hairless breeds such as Chinese Crested Dogs and Xoloitzcuintlis that are at high risk for sunburn and do require sun protection when the UV index is high. When choosing a sunscreen for your dog, it is imperative to choose one without zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA). These compounds are toxic to dogs and since dogs groom themselves - they will ingest these chemicals. Therefore it is important to use a sunscreen that is intended only for use in dogs and it is always safest to check with your veterinarian.  

A UV shirt provides great protection while minimizing the chance that your dog is not inadvertently exposed to any chemicals. It also ensures that their skin won’t be left with any smelly residue from sunscreen. 

Can Dogs Get a Sunburn?

Yes , dogs can get sunburns just like we can. Ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage a dog’s skin very quickly out in the sun, even if you’re just going on a walk with your pup. This is especially true in the middle of the day or at higher altitudes. 

And aside from your dog’s skin and coat type, if they have any condition that has caused hair loss (allergies, skin conditions, parasites, etc.), those areas are at risk for getting sunburnt. Not only should you worry about sunburn, but you should also be aware that dogs can get skin cancer from sun exposure, too.

How to Pick Dog Sunscreen

When you’re shopping for sunscreen for dogs, you want to get the kind that’s made just for canines, not humans. Dog sunscreen is made with moisturizing ingredients that are safe for a dog’s skin, even if they try to lick it off. Many are fragrance-free or use natural scents like coconut or vanilla. They’re also easy to apply and available in different SPFs. If your dog loves the water, be sure to pick one that’s also waterproof.

Where to Apply Dog Sunscreen

If you have a hairless dog, you need to put sunscreen everywhere. Otherwise, focus on the areas where you can see your dog’s skin and the fur is short, including the ears, nose, areas of the face, belly, and the underside/groin area.

Before you apply it everywhere, try it out on a small area first, just in case your dog has a reaction to it. Be sure to reapply the sunscreen if you’re out in the sun with your pup for an extended period of time, or if they’ve been in the water.

Dog Sunscreen Alternatives

Your dog might have super-sensitive skin, or maybe there’s just too much skin to cover. In that case, you can try sun shirts made for dogs. These shirts protect pets from ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays and have UPF ratings instead of SPF.

You can also set up an umbrella or shaded area with plenty of cool water where your dog can hang out and escape the sun for a bit. 

Signs of Dog Sunburn, Dehydration, and Heatstroke

Make sure you know the signs that your dog is getting overheated, dehydrated, or sunburned. Be on the lookout for:

  • Pink or red skin
  • Skin that’s hot to the touch
  • Rashes
  • Cracked skin
  • Blisters
  • Dry mouth
  • Sticky gums
  • Lethargy
  • Not eating
  • Bright red or pale gums
  • Heavy panting
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

How to Treat Dog Sunburn

If your dog seems to be OK and is eating and drinking and acting normal, but their skin is a little pink, you can try putting a cool (not cold), wet towel on their skin. If you have pure aloe vera or coconut oil, these can also help when applied to the area. 

If you see any other signs, like lethargy, not eating, blisters, vomiting, and so on, you’ll need to head to the vet to have your pup checked out and treated.

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