Although we all wish days were warmer than they are at this point (and always), summer is nearly here and it won’t be too long until we are enjoying outdoor activities and taking appropriate measures to protect our skin against the sun. 

The question is, should we be doing the same for our four-legged friends?

Where can dogs get sunburnt and what are the signs?

Dogs can get sunburnt just like us, anywhere from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail. However, areas covered by a thin layer of coat or no hair at all are more susceptible to the effects of direct sunlight.

The signs of sunburn in dogs are very similar to ours. However, they are less evident if covered by hair, which is why you should take extra care to prevent burning and identify the signs. Their skin can get red, inflamed and painful; hair loss and scaly skin can occur in more severe cases. 

Furthermore, skin cancer in dogs can be associated with sun exposure, just like us!

Which dogs are more susceptible to sunburn?

  • Hairless dog breeds like the Chinese crested dog, Mexican hairless dog, and others.
  • Dogs with pink skin and short coats such as French bulldogs, Dalmatians, Boxers, Bull terriers, etc.
  • Dogs with hair loss due to medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s, seasonal alopecia, mange, etc.

Even if your dog is not on the list above, all dogs can get sunburnt and should be protected wherever possible.

What can I do to protect my dog against sunburn?

Don’t worry, you don’t need to cover your dog’s entire coat in a thick white factor 50 paste. But you can, and should, apply sunscreen to your dog’s hairless skin areas. This includes the nose, lips, ear flaps, groin and belly.

There is sunscreen formulated specifically for dogs, which is the ideal solution. However, if not available you can also use children’s sunscreen, of 30 or higher sun protection factor (ideally 50+). When considering a human cream, remember your dog may lick it and, therefore, you must make sure it is not toxic if ingested. Always choose a product that is fragrance-free and does not contain zinc-oxide. This is toxic for dogs and may lead to anaemia.

Before applying sunscreen to all the necessary areas of your dog’s body, test the product in a small area of skin for potential allergic reactions. If the skin does not become red and your dog does not show any signs of itchiness or discomfort after thirty minutes, it should be safe to apply as normal.

As well as protecting your dog’s skin against direct sunburn, there are other precautions you should consider, to keep your dog safe on warmer days:

  • Always guarantee they have access to fresh water and shade to prevent heatstroke.
  • Avoid walking them in the hottest time of the day.
  • Be mindful of the temperature of the floor, remember your dog is not wearing shoes and walking on hot asphalt, for example, can lead to serious pad burns.

Oops, it already happened! What do I do now?

If you came across this article because you are concerned your dog may already be sunburnt, here’s what you can do:

  • Apply cold compresses to your dog’s skin to cool it down and help relieve the pain.
  • Take your dog to the vets, they will be able to assess the extent of the damage. They can provide your dog with fluids if necessary and prescribe medicated lotions to accelerate the healing process and prevent secondary bacterial and fungal infections. 

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