Does Your Dog Need Sunscreen?

By Ruthanne Chun

Your dog’s skin is a telltale—or telltail, as the case may be—sign she has had too much sun exposure. If your dog is sunburned, her 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.

Dog Sunscreen: 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 she 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, too.

  • Use doggy–safe of SPF 30 to 50 and apply per the label instructions. Apply to your dog’s most sensitive skin: nose, earflaps, belly and any shaved or bare patches.
  • Reapply if your dog goes swimming or rubs herself in the grass or sand.
  • Limit your dog’s exposure to the most harmful UV rays during peak sunshine hours.

Tummies 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 her armpits and other exposed underside areas.

Many dogs have unpigmented areas around their eyes but sunblock cannot be applied to areas like these. The good news is that there are ways that you can protect those areas. Recently tattooing has been proven to prevent sunburn along the eyelid margin and thus, prevent skin cancers from forming. Full body sunsuits with caps are also available and are advised to be used in conjunction with sunscreen for dogs with a tendency to burn or develop UV associated skin cancers.

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
  • Boxer
  • Bull Terrier
  • Chinese Crested
  • Dalmatian
  • Greyhound
  • Weimaraner
  • Whippet
  • Swiss Shepherd
What Can You Do If Your Dog Does Get Sunburned?

Move her to a shady or indoor space as soon as possible and apply cold compresses to her skin. See your veterinarian if her skin looks very red or blistered.