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dog parent must-knows

How to prevent and treat your dog’s sunburn

We aren’t the only ones who need to lather up with sunscreen. Here’s a guide to understanding, preventing, and treating a dog’s sunburn — even in winter months.

Updated August 24, 2021

Created By

Victoria Lancaster,
Dog enjoying the outdoors

📸 by Bennilover

The essentials

  • Dogs get sunburned too — Watch out for dry, flaky, and reddened skin or paws.
  • Certain breeds are more prone to sunburn — Short and light-haired breeds need extra sun protection.
  • Heatstroke can be life threatening — Severe dehydration from too much sun requires the vet’s help.
  • Shade is your friend — Umbrellas, hats, and protective clothing prevent sunburn.
  • Our sunblock recommendations — There are important ingredients to look out for and others to avoid when choosing a doggie SPF.

Can dogs get a sunburn?

Yes. Just like humans, dogs can get a sunburn. Sunburn happens as a result of too much UV exposure. Increased sun exposure and time outside means increased sunburn risk.

Sunburn is painful and uncomfortable for your pup. Aside from the short term repercussions, sunburn can also cause other skin and health complications down the line.

Spotting sunburn symptoms

There are a few things to look out for when identifying a sunburn. Symptoms include reddened, dry, or cracked skin. The area of the burn will be tender to the touch and hair loss may occur.

Sunburn can hide on different parts of your dog’s body like on their bellies, paws, eyelids, and at the tip of their tail. The backs of their ears might be cracked or curled near the edges.

👉Your dog’s paws require special attention. Walking on hot asphalt can cause an immediate burn.

Certain dog breeds are more prone to sunburn

Fair-skinned, light-haired, and hairless dogs are at higher risk of sunburn due to UV’s direct contact with the skin. These dogs should wear an extra layer of protection before spending extended periods of time outside. Breeds more susceptible to sunburn are: pitbulls, Dalmatians, boxer dogs, Weimaraners, greyhounds, Chinese crested dogs, whippet, and white German shepherds.

🚨 Myth buster: Just because your dog has thick and dark hair does not mean they are immune to sunburn.

Tips for sunburn treatment

If your dog is suffering from sunburn, a cool compress or ointment may help soothe symptoms. An oatmeal bath treats dry skin from a burn. Aloe vera, neem oil, and coconut oil can help with the pain and to rejuvenate the skin.

Some burns are worse than others and affect deeper layers of the skin. These burns are more intense, called second-degree burns. Your dog might whimper or act shy to the touch if the burn is especially painful.

If your dog develops bumps, lesions, or bleeding you should head to the vet. Your vet may prescribe a cortisone based antibiotic.

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Dangers of extreme sunburn

Increased sun exposure can cause severe dehydration and heatstroke. Heat stress is deadly and dangerous. If a dog’s body temperature is above 104 degrees, it’s cause for alarm.

🚨 Never leave your dog alone in a hot car. 

Other signs of heatstroke are excessive panting, lethargy, or searching/digging for shade. Cool your dog down and head to the vet if symptoms persist.

👉Hydration is key when heading out so consider bringing a water supply wherever you go with your dog. 

Sunburn can make long-term health complications and sun damage more likely. Bleeding lesions or ulcers may be a sign of skin cancer otherwise known as squamous cell carcinoma.

Sunburn prevention tips

  • Find shade If you take your dog to the beach or park, sit under a tent, tree, or umbrella.
  • Avoid peak sun UV and harmful rays are strongest from 10 am to 4 pm.
  • Get the right haircut  Leaving hair a little longer when grooming may protect the skin.
  • Purchase the right accessories — UV protective clothing such as sunglasses, shoes, and hats are available for dogs. Dog booties may help prevent paw burns.
  • Apply sunscreen This is one of the best sunburn prevention methods to take.

Let’s talk sunblock

The best doggie sunscreens have these key elements:

  • Fragrance- free
  • Waterproof
  • Full spectrum UVA and UVB protection
  • Protection factor of at least SPF 30
  • Safe infusions like coconut oil and aloe vera

Here are a couple of our favorite sunblock recommendations to get you on the right track:

🚨 Always test the product in a small area on your dog’s skin for irritation or allergic reaction.

The rule of thumb is to apply your dog’s sunscreen twenty minutes before they go outdoors. Areas of light pigmentation are more at risk of sunburn. It is most important to apply sunscreen on the nose, ear tips, skin around the lips, groin, and inner thighs.

👉Watch this video for an example of how to apply your dog’s sunscreen.

What to avoid when choosing sunblock

Look out for dangerous ingredients when choosing sunblock, like zinc oxide and para-aminobenzoic acid. Zinc oxide causes heavy metal toxicity and ultimately anemia.

🚨 Steer clear from human sunblocks. While some suggest infant sunscreens are puppy safe, many of the ingredients that are safe to use for humans are toxic for dogs.

Sun enjoyment and avoiding dog sunburn

Does your dog like to lay out in the sun’s rays for hours on the porch? We don’t blame them, but if so, take extra care.

Dogs like being in the sun for the same reasons we do, and vitamin D is healthy after all. Remember it’s not only in the summer that UV rays can be strong. In fact, even if it’s not particularly sunny, your dog should still wear sunscreen or layers when out for extended periods of time.

As long as pet owners are careful to prepare their dog before going out, they should be able to enjoy a healthy dose of sun.