Summertime. A time to head out to the beach, the park or maybe even a long country walk with your dog. And it’s also a time when we get asked how best to protect dogs from the sun.
While some dogs may need sunscreen, overheating and heat stroke are a much bigger risk than sunburn. Any dog can get heat stroke when out in the sun for too long – and brachycephalic breeds like bulldogs, pugs and shih tzus are particularly at risk because their shortened airways make cooling down more difficult. So the best sun protection for dogs is to have a cool area that they can escape from the sun’s heat.
Related blog: Dogs, cars and heat stroke
Can dogs get sunburnt?
Yes they can. Like us, a dog will get sunburn if their skin is exposed to the hot sun for too long. And like with humans, dog sunburn has a warm, reddish-pink appearance and be equally uncomfortable. Some dogs are more prone to burn than others, such as those with thin hair, or with areas of less hair and more exposed skin.
Dogs with a very light skin and coat are also a higher risk, because darker pigments protect the skin. Where your dog has lighter, pinker skin, it’s more prone to get sunburn. The areas of the body at the most risk of sunburn are those where there is less hair, such as around the eyes, ears, lips and nose, and in the belly/groin area.
The dog breeds most at risk of sunburn include
- West Highland white terrier
- Bull terrier
- French bulldog
Also like us, increased exposure to the sun and its UV rays can potentially lead to skin cancer in your dog. If you notice any unusual lumps, or a patch of skin that’s changed colour, we recommend you take your dog to the vet to get them checked out.
Do dogs need sunscreen?
If you’re heading out into the sunshine with your dog and there’s no guarantee of a shady safe space for them to retreat to, then we recommend you use sunscreen on the sensitive areas of their body, like the pink skin around the ears, lips and groin.
Try to use a specialist dog sunscreen if you can – there are many dog-friendly brands out there that don’t include some of the chemicals found in human sunscreen, like zinc oxide, PABA and artificial perfumes. While these extra ingredients are no harm to the skin itself, dogs do have a tendency to lick off their sunscreen, and these aren’t chemicals you want your dog to ingest.
If you’re in a bind and dog sunscreen isn’t readily available, you can use sunscreens designed for babies or young children. These are also often made without some of the chemicals found in adult sunscreen for similar reasons, so can be safer for your dog to wear. Just be sure you check the label first.
If your dog goes swimming while wearing sunscreen, it can wash off so remember to reapply when they’re out of the water. And be prepared to do this quite frequently based on how often your dog decides to cool off.
Looking after your dog in hot weather
It’s often the heat, rather than the sun’s rays, that is more of a problem for dogs during the summer months. Not all dogs are smart enough to go in the shade and stay out of the sun, so try to be observant when your dog is outside on hot days.
During extended periods of hot, sunny weather, check that the temperature of the pavement is safe for your dog’s sensitive paws. Place your hand on the pavement and if it’s too hot for you to keep it there for 7 seconds, it’s too hot for your dog to walk on.
Related blog: How to keep your dog cool in hot weather