Can Dogs Get Sunburned?
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM May 7,2021
Before you head to the lake or go out for a walk, slipping on a hat or rubbing on the sunscreen probably comes second nature. But have you ever thought about doing the same for your dog? Sunburns are a very real thing for our canine companions. As it turns out, their fur has no SPF rating.
Can Dogs Get Sunburned?
Dogs can absolutely get sunburned. Sunburn can occur on any part of their body, but it is more common on parts that are more lightly haired, such as the nose, ears, and belly. It’s also important to note that it’s uncommon for foot pads to get sunburned, but they can get badly burned from walking on hot concrete or asphalt.
What Are The Signs Of A Sunburn In Dogs?
Dogs can start to show signs of a sunburn within an hour of sun exposure. Signs are very similar to what they are in humans, but they might not be as noticeable. So, it’s important to pay close attention to your dog when they’re in the sun in order to catch the first possible signs of a sunburn occurring. Some of the signs are:
- Redness of skin
- Excessively hot skin
- Dry, cracked skin
- Painful when touched
If you notice any of the above signs, it’s important to get your dog out of the sun as soon as possible. This will help keep the sunburn from getting worse and to start to get your dog some relief.
What Dogs Are At A Higher Risk Of Getting A Sunburn?
Any dog with exposure to the sun is at risk of getting a sunburn. However, just like humans, there are some dogs that carry a higher risk of getting burned than others. Dogs with higher risk are:
- Hairless dogs
- Short-haired dogs
- Light-colored or white dogs
Hair, especially dark hair, does provide some protection from the sun. It is able to absorb or deflect the sun’s harmful rays. Light-colored hair doesn’t have the blocking capability that dark or thick hair has, making these dogs more susceptible to sunburn.
All dogs, regardless of hair length and color, can easily get sunburned on the parts of their body with little to no hair. Major areas of concern include:
- Belly and groin
If your pup enjoys a cooling summer cut, pay special attention to provide sun protection, since trimming hair can make a dog more attractive to a sunburn.
Can Dogs Get Skin Cancer?
Dogs experience sunburn just like people do. They’re painful, hot, and uncomfortable for several days depending on the severity. They may even run a slight fever. But when it’s all over, there is still the risk of the sunburn turning into skin cancer.
Exposure to the sun and repetitive sunburns can lead to skin cancer in dogs. There are many different forms of skin cancer that plague our furry friends, with squamous cell carcinoma being the most common due to sun exposure. This type of cancer is aggressive and quick to spread to local lymph nodes. Surgical removal of the tumor followed by chemotherapy or radiation is often advised. An issue with this type of cancer is that it often occurs on those hard to remove areas, such as the nose or lips, making a complete surgical removal very difficult. This makes prevention all the more important.
Melanoma, hemangioma, and hemangiosarcomas are other skin cancers that can be related to sun exposure.
How To Prevent Sunburn In Dogs
Nobody wants to put their pup through the pain and discomfort of a sunburn, let alone the possibility of contributing to their risk of getting skin cancer. So when it comes to sunburns in dogs, prevention is key. In order to provide protection from the sun for your pup, follow these tips:
If at all possible, keep your pup indoors or in a shaded area during peak sun hours. In most areas that means from 10 am to 4 pm. This is when the sun is at its highest and hottest. Try to do your exercising early in the morning or later in the evening. Always provide your outdoor dog with a constant source of shade.
- Cover them up
For light-colored or short-haired dogs, cover them up with a t-shirt or dog body suit to protect them from the sun. This type of clothing can protect your dog from the sun without causing them to overheat. There are also doggie hats and goggles to protect their head, ears, and eyes from those harmful rays.
Apply sunscreen to your dog’s vulnerable parts when they go out into the sun. For darker or thicker-coated dogs, coating the nose, ears and belly should be enough. However, for lighter-colored dogs, consider slathering sunscreen on their entire body.
The safest sunscreen to use on your dog is one that is actually formulated for canines. Dog sunscreen is free from toxic ingredients that can harm your pet if ingested, because, let’s face it, your dog is bound to eat at least some of it.
If dog sunscreen isn’t available, your next best option is sunscreen formulated for babies or kids. These products tend to be a little gentler than adult sunscreen. Check the ingredients list and avoid zinc oxide. If a large enough quantity of zinc oxide is ingested, it can lead to toxicity. A safer, yet just as effective alternative active ingredient is titanium dioxide.
Rub the sunscreen on your dog and then watch them for 5-10 minutes while it soaks in. This will help keep them from immediately licking it off. Reapply sunscreen to your dog often, every 80 to 90 minutes, especially if they’re swimming.
How To Treat A Sunburn In Dogs
Even with the best prevention, sunburns can still happen to your dog. If your pup happens to get a little too sun soaked, treat them the same way you would a human.
Apply cool compresses to the area to help cool them down and make them more comfortable. Aloe vera ointments can also provide some cooling and moisturizing relief. In some cases, an anti-inflammatory ointment, such as cortisone may help to reduce some of the swelling and redness. However, only use this under the guidance of a veterinarian.
If your pup is severely sunburned, running a fever, or is showing any other abnormal signs, see your veterinarian immediately. Sunburns can often be accompanied by heat stroke, a very serious condition that can result in permanent damage and even death. Also, severe sunburns can lead to secondary bacterial or fungal skin infections if not treated properly.
We all like to get out and enjoy some fun in the sun, especially our canine companions. Providing them with proper sun protection such as sunscreen and shade can help prevent the discomforts of sunburns and even skin cancer. So when you put on sunscreen to enjoy a sunny day outside, make sure you’re doing the same for your dog.