Humans often take precautions to protect themselves from the sun, but should we be doing the same for our dogs? Do dogs need sunscreen? The answer is yes. Just like people, canine companions are prone to sunburn and to 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 sunscreen appropriate for dogs.
Sunburn isn’t just painful for dogs; it can lead to more serious problems, for example certain types of skin cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma, malignant melanomas, and hemangiomas. Sunburn also exacerbates certain conditions, for example 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.
Some dogs are more at risk for sunburn than others. Hairless dog breeds, such as the Xoloitzcuintli, Chinese Crested, 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, for example, Dalmatians, Bulldogs, and Whippets. Even dogs with thick coats of hair may experience hair loss from seasonal shedding or a health condition and 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 AKC’s Chief Veterinarian Dr. Jerry Klein, dogs that lie outside on concrete or on light surfaces, especially those that lie on their backs, can suffer sunburn.
Sunscreen for Dogs
Sunscreen protects dogs from sunburn. It can also cause problems. It’s highly important that you only use types of sunscreen that are specifically intended for use on dogs. They 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 use a non-scented sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 that is also waterproof.
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 his lips, groin, and inner thighs – and anywhere else where pigmentation is light. When applying it to you dog’s head, be sure not to get any in his 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 absorbed.
You should apply sunscreen about 20 minutes before your dog goes out. And while he’s out in the sun, reapply the sunscreen every four-to-six hours or after your dog goes swimming.
Rather than lathering sunscreen over your dog’s entire body, consider investing in protective clothing. Several companies make sun shirts for dogs that cover large areas of their bodies, saving you the worry that your pup will lick any sunscreen off. This sun shirt in the AKC Shop offers a UPF protection of 40.
Hats and even goggles are also available to protect your pup when he’s 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 of heat stroke, so it is very important to make sure they have access to lots of fresh drinking water at all times. Remember, you can always ask your veterinarian for advice on how best to protect your canine companion from harmful UV exposure.
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 and ointments may soothe the skin to help relieve the initial symptoms. 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 requiring 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 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, except for quick elimination periods, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” says Dr. Klein.