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Should You Put Sunscreen On Your Dog?

July 15, 2022
should you put sunscreen on your dog summer uv rays sunburn

Summer is here, and you’ll be busy having a great time at pool parties, hiking adventures, and other fun activities under the sun. If you're a dog owner, your adorable pup probably accompanies you on these adventures as you explore new places and have water fights by the beach.

With the days getting longer and sunnier, sunscreen becomes essential for everyone - even your dog! Since you and your pup are likely to spend more time under the sun, you both need extra protection from those harmful sun rays. Today, let's learn about sun protection for dogs and whether you should be applying sunscreen on your pup before heading out.

Can Your Dog Get Sunburned?

Before establishing whether dogs need sunscreen or not, it is important to know if it is possible for dogs to get sunburned in the first place. Whether you've planned a beach trip, a ball game at the dog park, or you're just taking your dog out for a daily walk; your dog will be exposed to plenty of sun. And yes, they can get sunburned.

can dogs get sunburn beach dog park uv rays sun exposure

Pet owners often have the misconception that a dog's fur protects its skin from sun exposure, but this simply isn't true. While their fur does offer tremendous proactive benefits, it isn't a sun-proof layer that keeps the rays off their skin. Moreover, dogs also have areas in their body where there is little to no fur, like their ears, belly, and their nose. These parts are extremely susceptible to sun damage and painful sunburns.

Which Dog Breeds Need Sun Protection

Although all dog breeds require some form of protection before heading out on a sunny day, it's true that some breeds are more at risk of getting sunburned than others. The American Kennel Club states that hairless or short-haired dog breeds require a high level of sun protection if they're outside for long hours. Here are some of the breeds to be extra careful with under the sun:

greyhound breeds sunburn light fur thin coat sunscreen nose irritation ears
  • Pitbull
  • American hairless terrier
  • Weimaraner
  • Greyhound
  • Chinese crested
  • Mexican hairless dog (Xoloitzcuintli)

Additionally, dogs with light-colored fur or thin coats should also be armed with sun protection, particularly around their noses and ears. These include the following breeds:

  • Collie
  • Dalmatian
  • Australian sheepdog
  • Bulldog
  • Whippet

Risks of Sun Exposure for Your Pooches

Sunburn in dogs isn’t just uncomfortable; it can be quite painful too. Think of the last time you tanned your back for too long. Can you recall how sore and tender your skin felt for the next few days? It's just as painful for your pup if they get sunburned!

painful sunburn sore redness sun exposure protection sunscreen

Increased sun exposure without any protective measures also puts your pet at serious risk of various skin and health issues. The most common ones include:

  • Sunburn - you know by now that your dog can get sunburned too. The more severe a burn is, the more serious the implications it has for your dog. Severe sunburn is a result of not using sun protection for your dog, and it can cause pain, discomfort, peeling skin, and blisters.
  • Heat stroke - the mix of sunburn and sun exposure leaves your pup at risk of getting a heat stroke. Heat strokes occur when your dog's body temperature rises, causing weakness and fatigue. Continued heat strokes can put your dog at risk of serious health implications, so be sure to use sun protection and get medical treatment!
  • Skin cancer - excessive sun exposure can also lead to skin cancer, which is just as true for dogs as it is for humans.
  • Exacerbated health conditions - UV rays can make some existing conditions worse, such as autoimmune disorders and canine dermatitis. By keeping your pup safe in the sun, you can prevent any new problems from popping up, as well as make sure they don’t get any worse.

Watch Out for These Symptoms

If your pup shows any of these signs of a sunburn, it’s time to get them out of the sun fast. Here’s what you should look for:

signs symptoms dog sunburn skin inflammation redness hair loss
  • Tender skin - If you notice your furry best friend flinching whenever you pet them, it could be due to sunburn. Sunburned skin in dogs becomes tender and is quite painful to touch. You might also notice your dog feeling itchier than normal and whimpering while scratching a particular spot.
  • Red or pink skin - Sun exposure can cause your dog's skin to become inflamed. Therefore, it would appear to be red or pinker than usual.
  • Hair loss in one particular area of the skin.
  • Scaly skin with blisters.
  • Cracked and dry edges of the ears.

If you notice any of these signs of sunburn, seek medical help from a vet. You should keep in mind that severe sunburns can cause fever and skin infections, causing your dog pain and discomfort. The vet will recommend healing ointments, wound cleansing medication, pain relief meds, and even antibiotics for your dog to get them feeling better in no time.

Should You Put Sunscreen on Dogs?

By now, you're well aware of all the risks associated with your dog getting sunburned. But does this mean you should cancel all of your summer plans and spend these months stuck inside with your dog? Absolutely not! You and your pup deserve to have a blast this summer, and using sunscreen will help you do it.

Applying sunscreen is just as important for your dog as it is for you. There are numerous sunscreens for dogs out there, allowing you to protect your dog from sunburn and skin cancer without having to stay inside all day. They come as sprays, creams and balms, so you can choose what works best for you and your pup. 

How to Apply Sunscreen to Dogs

Now that we know of the importance of applying sunscreen on dogs, let's learn the best way to do it.

The first rule of thumb is to pick out a dog-safe sunscreen. You should avoid human sunscreens, as they usually contain ingredients that are toxic to animals. Always opt for a formula designed especially for your pup that offers the highest level of protection. Here are some things to look for when picking out the sunscreen for your dog.

  • Fragrance-free: formulas with artificial scents can irritate your dog's skin and nose.
  • Waterproof: dogs love to cool down their bodies with a dip in the pool or a swim in the lake during hikes. By ensuring that the sunscreen is waterproof, your dog's skin can be protected even as it swims about.
  • Protection from UVA and UVB rays: Both UVA and UVB sun rays can cause damage to dog skin, so picking a formula with dual protection is the best choice for your pet. These sunscreens are usually labeled as 'full spectrum.'

The Good Housekeeping Institute highlights six of the best products for sun protection in their blog, but you should always ask your vet if a certain brand or type will work for your dog.

how to apply sunscreen dog summer uva uvb full spectrum fragrance free

With your dog's sunscreen picked out, the next thing to consider is when to apply it. You should be applying sunscreen on your dog whenever it’ll be spending more than a few minutes under direct sunlight. This means that you should also apply sunscreen to your dog if it enjoys sunbathing by the windows. Try to reapply the sunscreen every 2-3 hours to ensure its maximum effectiveness.

When it comes to applying sunscreen, make sure you cover all of your dog's skin. It is super important to apply an extra layer to exposed areas or spots where the fur thins out for maximum protection. The most important areas to slather on the sunscreen are the snout, ears, face, lips, groin, and belly. Moreover, if your dog has a pink nose, you can apply some sunscreen there as well.

If you have a dog with alopecia, make sure to pay special attention to any patches where the fur has fallen out or has become thin.

The last thing to remember when applying sunscreen on dogs is to do a patch test first. No matter how popular a dog-safe sunscreen might be among pet owners, there are still chances of it causing an allergic reaction in your furbaby, and you definitely don't want to put your dog through that! Make it a practice to test a dollop of any new sunscreen on a small area of your dog's skin. Leave it on for half an hour and see if it causes a reaction or irritation before using it on their whole body. 

What If You Don’t Have Sunscreen?

If you've run out of dog-safe sunscreen and you need to take your pup out for a walk on a particularly sunny day, there are some things you should consider. 

dog training: corgi puppy on a leash from a woman

Stepping out without sunscreen is significantly more dangerous than not using a pet-safe sunscreen. It leaves your pup exposed to UV rays, increasing the chances of heat strokes and sunburns. Under such circumstances, pet care experts recommend using a sunscreen that is specially designed for babies. These sunscreens are generally SPF 15, making the formula gentle enough to be used on your dog.

For extra caution, you should skim through the ingredients list before applying non-pet sunscreen on your dog. Make sure there is no zinc oxide present in the formula, as it is toxic to dogs and can lead to anemia. Also, avoid sunscreens with PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) and artificial scents. A final patch test is all you'll need to ensure that the sunscreen is safe for your lovely dog until you can run to the pet store to stock up on sunscreen for pets.

That's all - now lather on the sunscreen, and you and your furry buddy are ready to head off to your next adventure!

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