Are you planning to take your furry friend on a trip to the beach? You should pack some extra sunscreen. Overexposure to the sun's UVA/UVB rays doesn't concern only us humans. On the contrary, dogs sunburn just as much as their parents. Sun damage in dogs can occur anywhere, even in your backyard, as long as your dog spends the hot afternoon hours in direct sunlight. Aside from the expected discomfort, excessive sun exposure can lead to various skin issues, including basal and squamous cell carcinoma (i.e., skin cancer).
Fortunately, you can take some simple measures to protect your dog's skin from sun damage. As long as your dog stays indoors during hot days and wears dog sunscreen outdoors, they should be fine. However, any symptoms of severe burns will require veterinary care.
What Are the Different Types of Sunburns?
Sunburns are typically divided into three types:
- Superficial partial-thickness burns: They are limited to the superficial skin layer. The symptoms — usually reddened skin — are mild.
- Deep partial-thickness burns: They affect deeper skin layers. Dogs experience symptoms similar to superficial partial-thickness burns, although they may also develop blisters.
- Full-thickness burns: They reach as deep as the tissue underneath the skin. Such cases require a veterinarian's attention.
Which Dog Breeds Are Predisposed To Sunburned Skin?
All dogs and dog breeds run the risk of getting sunburned, but some breeds require more sun protection than others. For example, hairless breeds, short-coated dogs, dogs with naturally thin hair, and dogs with less fur on their bellies are especially vulnerable to ultraviolet rays. In addition, the bellies and paws exhibit delicate skin, which can become burned in contact with hot asphalt. Even dogs with thick coats can get sunburned, especially during seasonal shedding.
The most common dog breeds susceptible to sunburn are:
- Chinese Crested dogs
- Australian Shepherds
- Xoloitzcuintli (i.e., Mexican hairless dogs)
Dog Sunburn Symptoms
Dog sunburn symptoms require one hour to develop and three days to reach their peak. The most noticeable sign of sunburn is red or pink skin appearing in sensitive body areas (e.g., the nose, eyes, belly, and ear tips). Over time, the red skin will become dry and crack, adding to the discomfort. Your dog will try to relieve the pain through constant scratching — don't be surprised if they shy away from being pet on the sunburned skin. If your dog is dealing with more than a mild sunburn, their skin will exhibit darker shades, ranging from deep red to purple. Fever symptoms may also appear.
Severe cases of dog sunburn are known to cause skin tumors in dogs, primarily basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Too much sun will only aggravate these skin masses, which can become malignant and spread to neighboring tissue (i.e., metastasis).
The Dangers of Heatstroke
Aside from the dry, cracked skin, increased sun exposure over extended periods will dehydrate your dog and lead to heatstroke. Generally, the canine body temperature fluctuates between 101.0 and 102.5 F. As the temperature goes up (103-106 F), heatstroke symptoms, such as lethargy, excessive panting, abnormal gum color, and seizures, will occur. Dog parents must quickly take action since any additional increase in temperature (107-109 F) can cause organ failure and even death. Keep your dog in the shade and avoid life-threatening situations, such as leaving your dog in the car on a hot day.
Apply Sunscreen When Outdoors
The most readily available line of defense against UV rays is sunscreen. However, do not apply human sunscreen on your dog's body, as it contains certain chemicals, such as zinc oxide and para-aminobenzoic acid, which are toxic when ingested. Since you must assume that your dog will try to lick the sunscreen off themselves, steering clear of human sunscreen altogether is a wise precaution.
Look for the following qualities when handpicking your dog's sunscreen:
- Look for an unscented sunscreen to make it less tempting for your dog to lick it off.
- Look for waterproof sunscreen if your dog is a fan of swimming.
- Look for sunscreen with an SPF of 30.
One thing to remember is that sunscreen, albeit valuable for sun protection, is not 100% effective. So be sure to combine sunscreen with other protection methods if you want to keep your dog's skin healthy.
How To Put Sunscreen On Your Dog
Putting sunscreen on your dog is a matter of patience. First, test a small amount to ensure that the sunscreen doesn't cause an allergic reaction. Next, apply sunscreen to the most sensitive body areas, such as the bridge of the nose, ear tips, the skin around the lips, and the inner thighs — wherever pigmentation is light. Keep sunscreen away from your dog's eyes to avoid irritation. Your dog will be tempted to lick the sunscreen off, so distract your dog for 10-15 minutes to ensure proper absorption. Apply the sunscreen 20 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every 4 to 6 hours.
More Tips On How To Protect Your Dog's Skin
If you're not interested in slathering your dog with sunscreen, the following tips will help keep your dog's skin safe from harmful UV rays:
- Keep your dog in the shade, especially during the hottest hours of the day.
- Hydration is key, so provide free access to fresh water to your dog at all times.
- Purchase UV protective clothing for your dog: Certain articles of clothing, such as shirts and suits, can cover large areas of your dog's body. Likewise, hats and rex specs will protect your dog's eyes from strong sun rays.
Dog Sunburn Treatment
Dogs get sunburned at a slower rate than humans; for that reason, they sustain more skin damage before sunburn symptoms become apparent. But the moment you notice sunburn symptoms, you can rely upon the following remedies to alleviate your dog's discomfort:
- Applycold compresses (e.g., a wet, cool towel) to calm the sunburned skin down and relieve the discomfort.
- Ointments such as aloe vera will help soothe the skin and relieve the initial sunburn symptoms. The aloe vera leaf mitigates swelling and skin rashes by stimulating circulation in the affected area. Furthermore, its antimicrobial properties keep the skin safe from harmful bacteria. Remember to choose a topical aloe product that is fresh and free from chemicals — you don't want your dog to lick the ointment off and ingest those harmful chemicals!
- Draw your dog a bath with Neem oil to speed up the healing process. Mix 4-5 drops of Neem oil with shampoo and give your dog a cool water bath.
- Coconut oil will help replace the damaged skin and quicken the recovery process.
- Squeeze the oil out of a vitamin D capsule and rub it on the affected area to prevent scarring.
- Tinctures such as Calendula and Witch hazel offer soothing and antiseptic properties without the sting of alcohol. For Calendula, mix 10 drops in 1 ounce of water and apply to the affected area several times a day. As for Witch hazel, be sure to get the alcohol-free version since many Witch hazel products include isopropyl alcohol, which is dangerous to dogs when ingested. Use a cotton ball to apply Witch hazel to the itchy spot.
Going to the Vet for Your Dog's Sunburn
Home treatments are appropriate when dealing with mild sunburn. However, if your dog gets a bad sunburn, it is wiser to seek veterinary care. Your vet will take a closer look at the affected area and look for signs of secondary infection. They will probably prescribe medication if the skin exhibits signs of infection. Likewise, they will recommend cortisone products to prevent inflammation. In the case of secondary infections, antibiotics will become necessary for proper recovery.
Protect Your Dog's Skin From the Potential Harm of UV Rays!
Dogs suffer sunburns just as much as humans, regardless of how thick their coats are. In fact, UV rays may cause extensive skin damage before sunburn symptoms even become obvious. Therefore, parents must take the necessary measures to protect their dogs from sun exposure. For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us and check out our blog!
Volhard Dog Nutrition and its expert nutritionists are now offering online consultations to help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods! Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind. If you're interested in contacting one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to access our consultation page!