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Just like people, dogs can get sunburned, and not only is it painful for them, but exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays can also lead to serious health problems like various types of skin cancer.1 Sunburn can also make certain pre-existing conditions worse, such as autoimmune diseases and dermatitis.
Some dogs are more susceptible to sunburn than others, depending on their coloring.2 White dogs, for example, typically have light skin underneath their fur, which puts them at greater risk for sun damage. Dark-colored dogs are also vulnerable to sunburn, as dark hair absorbs the sun’s heat more quickly than light hair.
It’s always best to take precautions when spending time with your dog outdoors, particularly in the warmer months. Make sure there is a shaded area if your dog is lounging or playing outside and limit time in the sun during very hot days. Even if the temperature isn’t too high, hot material like sidewalks can still easily burn your pup’s paws. Dog-friendly sunscreen is a good idea, as long as you choose the right one and apply it correctly. Always consult your vet if your dog seems to be in pain or if you’re unsure about treatment.
Sunburn is a normal risk for pets, but with the right precautions they can enjoy the sunny weather without damaging their skin. In this article we’ll take you through the best sunburn prevention methods, as well as what to do if a sunburn does occur, so you can keep your pup happy and healthy in the sun.
- How do you know if your dog has a sunburn?
- What to do if your dog get sunburned
- How to protect pets from sunburn
- Final Notes
How Do You Know if Your Dog Has a Sunburn?
Usually, sunburns in dogs look very similar to sunburns in humans. The affected area will likely be red and tender to the touch, and sometimes itchy. If left untreated, the skin may become flaky, irritated, and bumpy, which indicates more severe damage.² The skin on a dog’s belly, ears, and nose is particularly delicate and is therefore more likely to get sunburned.
Monitor your dog during outside time and be aware of the signs of sunburn, such as increased redness, dryness, itching, or signs of discomfort from your dog. A moderate to severe sunburn can result in cracked skin or a mild fever and your dog might also whimper when touched. If a typically black nose turns pink after being outdoors, that’s likely a sunburn.³
What To Do If Your Dog Gets Sunburned
While prevention is important, the reality is that sunburns happen, especially in the summer. Fortunately, there are easy ways of handling it that can help soothe your dog and may not even require a visit to the vet.
Firstly, remove them from the sun if you notice a sunburn; leathery or red/pink skin are telltale signs. Prolonged exposure can make it worse, so it’s best to bring them inside to a cool, dimly lit area immediately.
Provide water and make sure they stay hydrated.⁴ This is especially important after spending time outdoors. Since a sunburn usually occurs after a long time in the sun, your dog is likely to be dehydrated as well.
There are varying degrees of severity when it comes to sunburns in dogs; superficial, deep, and full-thickness burn.³ A superficial sunburn is the most common and the mildest. It only affects the top layer of skin and is usually treatable at home using a cold compress or a topical cream. Deep and full-thickness burns are more severe, because it affects the deeper skin tissue.
Not only are these types of burns painful for your dog, they also require a visit to the vet, because it usually takes medication or other intensive medical intervention methods in order to treat them effectively.
If the burn seems mild, a cold compress should help ease the discomfort. It can also be beneficial in reducing your dog’s overall body temperature, as they are likely to be feeling quite warm, too. Symptoms of a more severe sunburn include excessive panting, lethargy, a slight fever, and skin that looks extremely damaged.
Heatstroke (sometimes called sunstroke) is a serious form of heat exhaustion that can be fatal and may be accompanied by a sunburn. See your veterinarian immediately if your dog has symptoms of a severe sunburn or heatstroke. Treatment may include bandaging the affected area, IV hydration, or pain relieving medication.⁵
How To Protect Pets From Sunburn
Sunscreen is a useful way to protect your pooch from sunburn, particularly on parts of the body with thinner fur or areas that are lightly pigmented. Re-apply every couple of hours for maximum effectiveness. Sunscreen for infants and babies tends to be safe for dogs, as well.⁶
While sunscreen is essential to sun protection, it’s also best to prevent your dog from sunbathing during the hottest times of the day - usually from noon until early evening. Go on walks or have playtime outdoors once the sun isn’t as strong and always provide cool drinking water throughout the day. This is especially important if your dog has short, white fur. In addition to sunscreen, you can also put a t-shirt on your dog for extra protection.² Always make sure there is a shady spot when your dog is spending time outdoors in hot weather.
Can I put human sunscreen on my dog?
Sunscreen that’s safe for babies and children is usually safe for dogs, too. However, the safest option to use is sunscreen made specifically for dogs. If using human sunscreen, make sure that it doesn’t contain zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), as these ingredients are toxic to dogs, if ingested. Dogs tend to lick their fur and skin a lot, so the likelihood of them ingesting sunscreen is high.¹
Always speak to your vet if you are unsure about which type of product is safe for your dog. Whichever sunscreen you use should be SPF 50 or higher in order to effectively protect your pup from sun damage.
How long can a dog sit in the sun?
A safe amount of time in the sun depends on your dog’s breed, health, fur length, coloring, and of course, the temperature. Typically, smaller or hairless breeds are able to tolerate longer time in the sun than larger or thick-coated breeds. However, it’s always best to limit outside time in very hot temperatures, regardless of breed. About 10-20 minutes is fine, but make sure there is plenty of shade and water nearby.⁷
Does fur protect dogs from sunburn?
Unless your dog is hairless, they have a fur coat that acts as an insulator, helping them to stay cool in the summer and retain heat to keep warm in the winter. Their coat also protects their skin from harmful UV rays to a certain extent, but they can still get sunburned on the more exposed or sensitive parts of their bodies.
Dogs are at risk of sunburn, especially during summer months or in places with high temperatures year-round. Therefore, it’s important to take certain precautions in order to protect them from sun damage. Untreated or prolonged exposure to the sun can result in serious skin problems, including various aggressive cancers.
Dogs are most susceptible to sunburn on the nose, stomach, lips, paws, and any other areas with thin fur or exposed skin. A dog’s coloring also plays a role in the risk of sunburn; white and lighter colored dogs are vulnerable due to the lower amount of melanin in their skin. Darker colored dogs are also at risk, because dark fur absorbs sunlight more effectively than lighter fur. However, all dogs can get sunburned, so it’s a good idea to apply a dog-safe sunscreen and even have your dog wear a t-shirt for further protection.
Restrict high-energy activities to the early morning or evening hours to avoid the time of day when the sun is strongest. If your dog needs to go outside in high temperatures, limit it to 10-20 minutes at a time and always provide cool, fresh drinking water and a shady area.
If your dog has been in the sun and seems to be licking one particular spot, whimpering in pain, has red skin, or is panting excessively, it’s likely they’ve been sunburned. Take them to a shady area and apply a cool compress to the affected area. If they are displaying signs of a severe sunburn, such as fever, lethargy, or severely damaged skin, seek medical attention right away.
If you are unsure whether or not your furry friend has been sunburned, Dutch can help. Speak to a licensed vet about any concerns you may have about your dog, including skin issues, and receive professional advice, all from the comfort of your own home with Dutch.com.
Meyers, Harriet. “Do Dogs Need Sunscreen? What to Know about UV Exposure in Pets.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 21 Sept. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/do-dogs-need-sunscreen/.
Voss, James L. “Pet Health: Cures for the Doggy Summertime Skin Blues.” SOURCE, Colorado State University, 26 July 2017, https://source.colostate.edu/pet-health-cures-doggy-summertime-skin-blues/.
Derek. “Can Dogs Get Sunburn.” Finchley Dog Walker, 20 Aug. 2022, https://www.finchleydogwalker.co.uk/dogs-and-sunburn.html.
“Can Dogs Get Sunburn? Essential Sun Safety Advice.” Edited by Brian Faulkner, Petplan, Allianz, https://www.petplan.co.uk/pet-information/dog/advice/sun-safety/.
“Sunburn in Pets.” PDSA, Dec. 2021, https://www.pdsa.org.uk/pet-help-and-advice/pet-health-hub/conditions/sunburn-in-pets.
Diesel, Alison. “Sun Exposure and Skin.” VMBS News, Texas A&M University School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, 19 May 2011, https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/sun-exposure-and-skin/.
Paretts, Susan. “How Long Can You Keep Your Dog Outside?” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 25 May 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/how-long-can-you-keep-your-dog-outside/.