Sun Protection for Dogs

Pet care & safety

Depending on where you live, sun safety can be a year-round concern for pet owners. Even more so if you live in a sunny state since more warm weather means more outdoor living. But now that warm weather’s here for most of the US, it’s an equal opportunity concern nationwide.

Can dogs get sunburn?

Yes, dogs can get sunburned! If you and your pup participate in camping, hiking, picnics, or other outdoor dog events you should prepare to protect them.

While dark-skinned, densely-coated dogs may require no intervention at all, those with white, light-colored, or sparse-coated dogs are especially at risk.

Bad sunburns may need more than just some aloe (though it helps). See your veterinarian, particularly if the sunburn affects more than just one spot. Pain relievers and more effective topical treatments may be in order.

Sunscreen for dogs is strongly recommended. See below for Embrace’s recommendations on what type of sunscreen to use!

Can dogs get skin cancer?

Though all pets are theoretically at risk for skin cancer, those who receive higher doses of sun, either by virtue of their lifestyle or geographic location, are far more susceptible. It only makes sense then that a pet with little of the protective pigmentation we associate with a lower risk of skin cancer should prove especially worrisome.

In fact, white pets who live outdoors can suffer a scary kind of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma that affects the tips of their ears and noses –– right where most dogs get their burns. They tend to appear as ulcerated sores in these areas and must be addressed immediately if we’re to have any chance of stopping their spread and saving their lives.

Are a dog’s feet in danger?

The good news is that the pads of the feet do not seem as highly predisposed to malignant tumors. The ouch-factor, however, can be a big deal, even more so than for sunburn.

Pad burns, which happen commonly to dogs walked on hot asphalt or sand, can get debilitatingly painful and may require serious intervention should dogs develop blistering burns.

Note: Any pad burns need veterinary attention! These are a big deal! And remember, not all dogs will limp. Some may simply walk almost imperceptibly slower or more gingerly.

Sun Protection Doesn’t Equal Overheating Protection

Heat exhaustion is what happens on the way to heat stroke. Look for these signs in dogs to determine if they be affected by the heat:

  • Heavy panting

  • Tongues will loll out of their mouths

  • Bright pink gums

  • A slower walk and possible collapse.

Dogs who are not cooled down at this point will progress to heat stroke, a primarily vascular event that leads to a shut-down of all normal circulatory processes and very often death.

Owners need to recognize that some dogs are particularly predisposed to heat exhaustion and heat stroke due to breed or unhealthy weight. One study recently found that obese dogs were more likely to suffer heat issues than Bulldogs and other smoosh-nosed breeds.

All dogs who suffer heat-related collapse must be cooled down with water or in a cold car on their way to a veterinarian. All should see a vet ASAP. This is crucial!

How can you protect them?

Ultimately, the best protection is sun avoidance and routine skin exams. Be on the lookout for suspicious skin lesions and take your pet to the veterinarian if you have any concerns. Keep your pet out of the sun during peak sun between 10:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M.

To avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke we recommend staying out of extreme heat and avoiding prolonged exercise in warm-weather conditions. Cooling vests, cooling beds, drinking water access, and a nearby source of cooling (a hose, body of water, air conditioning, shade) are all helpful… but nothing beats vigilance!

To prevent a sunburn, provide shade, along with fresh water at all times, when your pet is outside. Pets with white fur, a close haircut, or naturally thin hair coats are particularly sensitive to the sun. These dogs may suffer sunburn and skin cancers. In addition, many people choose to shave their pets down during the warm summer season, unknowingly decreasing their nature-provided sun protection.

In pets, sunburn can appear as red skin or hair loss. Sunburn can irritate or exacerbate existing conditions, such as allergies, hot spots, or post-surgery delicate skin. Fortunately, sunscreen and special sun gear aimed at our pets is becoming more readily available.

Sunscreen For Dogs

Sunscreen should be applied to the muzzle, tips of ears, top of nose, groin, inside legs, and abdomen need sunscreen because hair is very thin there. But, depending on the type of sunscreen you use, it’s likely not safe for your dog. Dogs, and especially cats, are quick to lick off topical lotions and sprays and these substances can be toxic to pets. So, what should you look for in a dog-safe sunscreen?

If you choose to use a human sunscreen on your dog, choose one that is:

  • Fragrance-free

  • Non-staining

  • Contains UVA and UVB barriers of SPF 50.

In a pinch you can use baby sunscreen but avoid those with zinc or PABA. Zinc-based sunscreens and those containing PABA should be avoided as they are very toxic if ingested. Products containing titanium dioxide as an active ingredient are okay to use for your pets.

Pets don't have as wide a range of options as you and I do, but dogs do have a safe option made especially for them. Epi-Pet Sun Protector Spray, the first pet sunscreen that complies with U.S. FDA standards. According to the creator of the sunscreen, Michael C Fleck, DVM, Epi-Pet Sunscreen has UV protection equivalent to about 30-40 SPF in human sunscreens.*

Epi-Pet sunscreen is pH-balanced for pets and designed for dogs and horses. It is a non-greasy, quick-dry formula that is safe if licked after applied. It is water and sweat repellant. The sunscreen is even virtually silent when sprayed, so Fido won’t be startled by the application. It is toxic to cats, but a cat-safe version is in the works.

Note for Cat Owners: Two of the ingredients commonly used in sunscreens, octyl salicylate and ethyhexyl salicylate, break down to salicylic acid, which is very toxic to felines in small amounts. Homosalate should also be avoided in cats.

* SPF labeling and claims are not permitted in products marketed for use on pets at this time because the FDA has not established a test to determine SPF values in pets.

Special Sun Gear For Dogs

A little worried your pet may not be compliant for sun block application? The pet clothing industry has recently expanded into offering solar-protective gear. From protective eyewear for canines, UVA shirts, and visors with UPF rating of 50, there are several companies that can help protect our sun-worshiping pets. Check out  PlayaPup and Doggles for more clothing-based protection.