Do Dogs Need Sunscreen?
The Complete Guide
It’s time to head out to the beach, or that magnificent hike, or a day on the ski slopes… You put on your best outfit, you pack everything, and you slather sunscreen onto your face… but wait, what about Fido? Do they get sunburnt too?
The short answer to today’s question is yes, dogs need sunscreen. However, that doesn’t mean you should cover your pup with sunscreen every time you’re leaving the house. Some dogs can be more sensitive to sun radiation than others, and there are alternatives to using sunscreen that may work better in some situations.
Today, we’ll go over everything you need to know to using sunscreen in the best possible way for your pup.
Can Dogs Get Sunburnt?
The answer to this question is easy - yes, your dog’s skin can be damaged by the sun, just like our own. There is nothing inherently different about dogs and sun exposure.
Except, of course, the obvious thing: their fur. As we all know, some dogs have thick coats so you might be wondering - is that not enough to protect my dog from UV rays? And truth be told, it might as well be.
However, it is a myth that a dog’s coat provides complete protection from the sun. Dogs with shorter and/or light-coloured coats are more likely to get burnt even when no skin is directly exposed to the sun.
“It’s very important to put sunscreen on dogs, especially those with light skin and white fur or hair. A dog’s skin can be damaged by the sun just like our own, so they require the same protection against the development of sunburn and skin cancer.” - Richard Goldstein, DVM for PetMD (1)
Breeds that are more likely to suffer from sunburn on their skin are:
You probably get the point. The thinner and lighter a dog’s fur and skin, the greater the risk.
Moreover, keep in mind that it is not just dogs with light coats that are at risk of sun damage. Any exposed skin on your dog’s body can get burned. In fact, you might as well imagine that the exposed skin on your pup’s body is just like yours (i.e. - it needs sunscreen).
The sensitive areas often include the nose, the tips of the ears, the area around the eyes, as well as the most hairless parts around the belly and groin.
Symptoms of Sun Damage In Dogs
If you are one of the pet parents who never used sunscreen on their dogs, you’ve probably started thinking about it by now. Has your dog already suffered from sunburn without you knowing?
Well, the symptoms of sunburn in dogs are fairly typical, and it looks just like one would expect it to, mostly manifesting as inflamed skin. These are some signs that your dog has had a bit too much sun:
Inflamed skin. This will most often manifest as pink skin in sensitive areas. In dogs with lighter skin and coats, the redness will be more noticeable. Depending on the degree of irritation, the skin can also look painfully red.
Itchy or painful spots. If the sunburn is really bad, your dog’s skin will probably feel itchy and even painful to the touch (just like when humans get sunburned). You’ll easily notice if touching the affected area hurts your dog. They will often squeal, whimper, or try to run away when you touch the tender area. (Do refrain from touching it again if that happens, so as to not cause your pup more pain than necessary).
Flakey/scaly skin and hair loss. When an area on a dog’s body gets badly sunburned, the top layer of the skin might start peeling off over time, including the hair. You could also notice dry edges of ears and/or nose.
Burns, blisters, and fever. These things are symptoms of absolute overexposure to the sun. While it’s not common to encounter these symptoms, they can happen as an extreme consequence of spending too much time in the sun. (2)
Why Sunscreen Is Important (Worst Case Scenarios)
So what’s the harm of letting your dog enjoy some extra time in the sun? Is a bit of sunburn so bad? After all, sunburns usually heal quite fast and everything is back to normal in no time.
Well, as you probably suspect, just like with humans, the main issue with sunburn is not the immediate damage or pain, but the possibility that too much sun exposure can cause skin cancer.
There are four different types of canine cancer we know about which are associated with sun exposure. Those are squamous cell carcinoma, malignant melanomas, hemangiomas, and hemangiosarcomas (1).
Perhaps more important than the details of each of these is appreciating the fact that frequent and prolonged exposure to UV rays can greatly increase the risk of these tumours appearing. And in this case, prevention can be infinitely more helpful than trying to find a cure once there is an actual issue.
“Since squamous cell carcinomas can be particularly nasty u, it’s a good idea to not only talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s risk of developing them but to also take some simple precautions to help prevent them.” - Dr. Jason Nicholas for Preventive Vet (3)
And as you might imagine, the best precaution you can take is being mindful of Fido’s exposure to the sun and yes, using the best dog sunscreen.
How to Use Sunscreen for Dogs
Using sunscreen on your dog is quite straightforward and not all that different from using it on yourself. The key is to focus on the most exposed areas.
Typically, this would be:
In addition to this, if your dog is partially or completely hairless, you should apply sunscreen to all the exposed areas. Furthermore, if your pup has some injuries, scars, or wounds around which the skin is exposed, it’s always a good idea to apply an appropriate product with SPF on the area.
Whenever you use a product you haven’t tried before on your dog, it’s also good to test it on a small area of skin first. You never know what your pup might be allergic to or what might cause irritation. Better safe than sorry! Wait at least a couple of hours, and at best 48 hours, and if all is good start using the product as intended.
Just like with sunscreen made for humans, it’s always advisable to read the manufacturer’s instructions. These will tell you how often the sunscreen should be reapplied (important!) and whether it’s waterproof (although most experts recommend reapplying sunscreen after bathing in any case). Also, some sun creams and other products recommend applying them 15 - 20 minutes before sun exposure, so keep that in mind too.
Is Sunscreen for Dogs and Humans the Same?
No, and this is very important! Sunscreen made from humans is, in most cases, not suitable to be used on dogs. Some formulas made for babies might be OK, but unless you are completely sure you understand every ingredient on the list, it’s better to refrain from using the product on your dog.
For example, zinc oxide is one of the most common ingredients in sunscreen products, but it can be very toxic to dogs. To be safe, it’s best to choose products made specifically for dogs. The good news is, there are many dog-specific sun creams and other products available these days.
“Dog-safe sunscreens do not contain zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), which are commonly found in human sunscreens and which are toxic to dogs.” - C.J. Puotinen for Whole Dog Journal
In short, always stick to dog-specific products.
Tips for Keeping Your Dog Safe From the Sun
“The best way to protect your dog from the sun is to keep him indoors or in the shade, except for quick elimination periods, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” - Dr. Klein.
Common sense tips that you would use on yourself are also good for your dogs. If you can avoid it, don’t expose your pooch to the sun during the hottest part of the day. If you live in a warm climate, you are not only risking your dog getting sunburnt, but they can also overheat and suffer from heat stroke which can be even worse.
On a similar note, making sure your dog has enough shade in the area where they are chilling is always a good idea.
- Coates, J. June 1, 2020 . “Can Dogs Get Sunburned?”. PetMD. Retrieved February 27, 2023. https://www.petmd.com/dog/seasonal/can-dogs-wear-sunscreen
- Turner, B. August 7, 2022. “Dog Dogs Need Sunscreen?”. Preventive Vet. Retrieved February 27, 2023.
- Nicholas, J. 25, 2021. “Skin Cancer Precautions – Even For Indoor-Only Pets”. Preventive Vet. Retrieved February 27, 2023. https://www.preventivevet.com/pets/skin-cancer-in-pets-prevention-tips-for-dogs-and-cats
- Puotinen, C.J. August 2, 2022. “Do Dogs Need Sunscreen?”. Whole Dog Journal. Retrieved February 27, 2023. https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/health/do-dogs-need-sunscreen/