Is Your Dog at Risk for Sunburn?
By Ruthanne Chun for Exceptional Canine
Your dog’s skin is a telltale — or telltail, as the case may be — sign he has had too much sun exposure. If your dog is sunburned, his skin will look pinker than normal. It might be more sensitive to the touch too.
Your dog’s sunburn is more than unsightly and uncomfortable; it’s harmful. Like people, dogs exposed to too much sun can develop skin cancers, including hemangiosarcoma and squamous cell carcinoma. In fact, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in dogs.
A Dollop of Prevention
It’s better to protect your dog’s delicate skin prior to sun exposure than it is to deal with the aftermath of sun damage. If your dog is outside during the day while you’re away, make sure he can take shelter in a doghouse, or under a covered porch or shade tree. But shade doesn’t offer total UV protection, so don’t forget to apply sunscreen lotion too. There’s no need to hunt for special doggie sunscreen; use the same people products on your pet that you use for yourself. Just remember to:
- Use child-safe SPF 30 to 50 and apply per the label instruction for people
- Apply to your dog’s most sensitive skin: nose, ear flaps, belly, and any shaved or bare patches
- Reapply if your dog goes swimming or rubs himself in the grass or sand, especially if the sunscreen is not waterproof
- Limit your dog’s exposure to the most harmful UV rays during peak sunshine hours
Bellies are particularly susceptible to sunburn because dogs have thinner hair on their stomachs. UV rays reflect up from sidewalks, beach sand and other surfaces and can easily burn your pet’s tender tummy. If your sun-worshiping canine loves to catch a good snooze on his back, be sure to apply sunscreen to his armpits and other exposed underside areas.
Dog Breeds Most Likely to Sunburn
Although all dogs can sunburn, you need to be extra-vigilant about protection if you own a pink-skinned or thin-haired breed, such as:
- American Staffordshire Terrier
- Chinese Crested
- White German Shepherd
What can you do if your dog does get sunburned? Remove him to a shady or indoor space as soon as possible and apply cold compresses to his skin. See your veterinarian if his skin looks very red or blistered.
Ruthanne Chun is a clinical associate professor of oncology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. She researches ways to improve and prolong quality of life in cancer patients and to enhance communication between veterinarians and their clients.