Many dogs need sunscreen, but some do more than others due to increased risks and more vulnerability to the harm of UV rays. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana shares information about what dogs are most vulnerable, how to protect dogs and which sunscreens are safe for dogs and which are not.
Do Dogs Need Sunscreen?
When we go to the beach or plan on spending time outside during the warm summer months, we use sunscreen to protect ourselves from the sun, but what about dogs? Do dogs need sunscreen, or is their coat protection enough?
Well, the simple answer is that dogs do need proper protection from the sun. Although the coat serves like a built-in protection from elements, it does not block out the sun.
Just like us, dogs are susceptible to the sun’s harmful effects and can actually get sunburns. They can develop several sun exposure-related complications and diseases. The best way of protecting your dog is using a doggy sunscreen explicitly formulated for canines.
Risk of Sun exposure in Dogs
Sunburns are the most obvious danger associated with prolonged sun exposures. However, they are not the only ones. Generally speaking, there are several potential issues. Following are several risks of sun exposure in dogs.
Sunburns develop as a result of acute overexposure to UV (ultraviolet) lights. Based on the skin pigmentation and the levels of UV light, sunburns can occur in as little as an hour of sun exposure. Sunburns are not life-threatening, but they are painful and tedious and require special care.
Certain Types of Cancer
Catching too many UV (ultraviolet) lights is a risk factor for several types of cancer, including malignant melanomas, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and hemangiomas.
Considering that skin tumors account for 30 percent of all tumor cases in canines, the effects of excessive sun exposure should not be taken lightly.
Sunburns exacerbate certain skin conditions, such as allergic dermatitis, autoimmune skin conditions, and mange. Dogs with skin issues require proper care and sun exposure aggravates the symptoms and delays the recovery.
Risks for Surgery Sites
Finally, sunlight triggers discomfort and may cause unnecessary complications at surgery sites. Surgery sites are prone to infections and their healing is a fragile process that must not be interrupted or delayed.
Although heatstroke is not cause by the sun light, but the heat in general, it is worth mentioning because of its potentially lethal consequences. All dogs are susceptible to heatstroke, but the risk is higher in puppies, older dogs and brachycephalic dogs.
Dogs Vulnerable to Sun Exposure
The risk of developing sunburns and other sun-related complications is not equally high in all dogs. Namely, these dogs are at higher risk:
- Hairless dog breeds – American Hairless Terrier, Xoloitzcuintli, and Chinese crested
- Dogs with white-colored or thin coats – Dogo Argentino, White Boxer, White Bulldog, Bull terrier, Dalmatian, Whippet, Australian Sheepdogs, Collies and Beagles
- Dogs with light-pigmented noses, eyelids and ears
- Dogs with significant hair loss due to seasonal shedding
- Dogs with genetically-triggered alopecia
- Dogs with coat thinning due to fungal infections and flea infestations
- Dogs with chronic skin conditions
- Dogs with large scar tissue areas
- Dogs whose hairstyle includes shaved body portions – Poodle, Lowchen.
The Best Sunscreen for Dogs
Sunscreens designed for adult humans are not a safe option for dogs. This particularly applies to dogs prone to licking themselves or chewing.
Anyway, since at the moment there is only one FDA-compliant sunscreen for dogs, finding suitable alternatives might be necessary.
All in all, sunscreens designed for babies can be used for dogs, too. However, when choosing the right baby sunscreen for dogs, consider the following:
- Read the ingredients carefully – make sure the sunscreen you choose does not contain zinc oxide. This common sunscreen ingredient causes anemia in dogs. You also need to make sure the sunscreen does not contain para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) which is toxic to dogs.
- Stay clear of artificially-scented sunscreens – the artificial scents may irritate the dog’s skin or alternatively, if the dog does not like the scent it may feel uncomfortable and distressed. It is advisable to stay on the safe side and choose a fragrance-free formula.
- Choose a waterproof formula – dogs are fond of water and swimming, so choosing a waterproof formula spares you from re-applying the sunscreen if your dog decides to take a bath.
- Pay attention to the SPF – generally, it is recommended to use a sunscreen with SPF 15 or more (preferably SPF 30).
How to Apply Sunscreen on Dogs
Before covering your dog with sunscreen, you need to make sure your dog is not allergic to the product. To test the sunscreen, apply a small amount to one place and wait to see how your dog’s skin responds.
If the product is safe, you can apply it on your dog. Keep in mind that certain areas of the body are more exposed to sun. This includes the bridge of the nose, the skin around the lips, the ear tips, the belly, the inner thighs, and the groin. Any white or light-colored area should also be covered with sunscreen.
It goes without saying that you must be careful not to put sunscreen into your dog’s eyes.
Finally, once you have applied the sunscreen, it is advisable to entertain your dog for around 10 to 15 minutes, until the sunscreen is fully absorbed. Some sunscreens, especially if formulated for dogs and children, are safe even if licked. However, the licking decreases their efficacy.
Tip: Apply the sunscreen around 20 minutes before exposing your dog to sun. if spending the entire day out, re-apply every four to six hours. If your dog was swimming or decided to take an unplanned bath, reapply the sunscreen once the water-related activity is over (unless you are using a waterproof formula).
These are the situations in which dogs need sunscreen:
- When spending more than 15 minutes outside, exposed to direct sunlight
- When napping in sunny spots while staying indoors
- When going out when the sunlight is strongest (usually between 10 am and 2 pm)
- When going for long hikes, beach trips, boat rides or other outdoor activities.
Are There Any Sunscreen Alternatives for Dogs?
Luckily, the answer is yes. If applying sunscreen is too much fuss for you, or your dog does not tolerate well the sunscreen applying experience, you can still protect him/her from the sun by using sun shirts or sun suits.
There are many brands offering sun shirts and suits. They come in different sizes, shapes, designs and UPF 40 protection.
Last but not least, they can be fashionably combined with protective hats and goggles specifically made for dogs.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.