Dog Sunscreen: Is it necessary?

Summertime is definitely here and this is the perfect time for humans and dogs alike to enjoy outdoor activities. Whether we’re hitting the beach, taking the field at a ball game, or simply heading out to run errands, we know that during the summer months wearing sunscreen is key to our health and safety. But aren’t we supposed to be doing the same for our dogs? Can dogs get sunburned?

According to the article “Should Your Dog Wear Sunscreen?” from the American Kennel Club website, dogs just like people, are prone to sunburn and to other complications and diseases associated with sun exposure. Precautionary measures, like choosing a sunscreen appropriate for dogs can lower the dog’s risk of developing serious sun-related medical issues.

American Kennel Club

Sun Risks

Sunburn is painful for dogs and it can lead to more serious problems, like certain types of skin cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma, malignant melanomas, and hemangiomas. It also exacerbates certain conditions, for example, autoimmune disorders and dermatitis, and can cause discomfort at surgery sites. 

Predisposed Dogs

Some dogs are more at risk for sunburn than others. Hairless dog breeds, such as the  Argentine Pila Dog, Peruvian Inca Orchid, 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, light-pigmented noses and eyelids are also more at risk for sunburn, for example, Collies, Australian Sheepdogs, Dalmatians, BulldogsWhippets, and any dog with light or white pigment on their ears or near their nose. Some thick-haired dogs with hair loss from seasonal shedding or a health condition that may cause their coats to become very thin and may also be at risk for sunburn.

Dogs that lie outside on concrete or on light surfaces, especially those that lie on their backs, can also suffer sunburn.

Greyhounds running on the beach.
American Kennel Club

Sunscreen for Dogs

Sunscreen for dogs 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

Test a small amount on one spot to be sure it doesn’t cause an allergic reaction. 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 the 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.

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.

Sunscreen Alternatives

If lathering sunscreen is an impossible feat, consider investing in protective clothing. Sun shirts for dogs that cover large areas of their bodies, save you the worry that your dog will lick any sunscreen off.

Hats and even goggles are also available, alternatively, try to keep your dog out of the 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 heatstroke, so it is very important to make sure they have access to lots of fresh drinking water at all times. Ask your veterinarian for advice on how best to protect your canine companion from harmful UV exposure.

Treating Sunburn in Dogs

Any time sunburn is visible, move your dog inside or into the shade as quickly as possible. Cool compresses and ointments may soothe the skin to help relieve the initial symptoms. Aloe may help a minor burn. If the burn is severe, 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.

The use of sunscreen should not give pet owners the sense of security that their pet will not get skin cancer. It can’t be counted on to be 100 per cent effective. The best way to protect your dog from the sun is to keep him indoors or in the shade from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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