Dogs have sensitive skin, and even 30 minutes of sun can result in sunburns in some breeds.
Whenever you take your dog outdoors, he’ll be exposed to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. While most dogs have hair that acts as a natural sunscreen, frequent or prolonged sun exposure will eventually take its toll. Sunburns in dogs can appear as red skin or even hair loss.
Dogs most at risk of sunburns are working canines and those subjected to lots of sun exposure during family activities such as boating and hiking. All hairless breeds and dogs that have been clipped should be kept out of the sun as much as possible. Breeds such as terriers, spaniels, Chihuahuas, Doberman pinschers and other shorthaired dogs, as well as all breeds with white or pink skin, are at high risk for sunburn.
Canine skin cancer
Research shows that dogs are just as prone to getting skin cancer as humans, with mast cell tumors being the most common. Although golden retrievers have an increased risk of mast cell tumors compared to other breeds, any dog can get skin cancer. Again, some breeds are more prone than others, especially if they have light skin or pink noses.
“Most dogs have pigmented skin,” says veterinarian Dr. Nancy Scanlan. “White dogs have pink skin, but most of it is protected from the sun by hair. Skin cancer from excess exposure to the sun most often occurs in two places: the noses of white dogs, or dogs with pink noses or white markings on top of the muzzle. Shortcoated dogs that enjoy sunbathing while lying upside down in the sun can also get skin cancer.”
• Mast cell tumors may be red, itchy and periodically swell up and then disappear.
• Melanomas occur frequently in dogs. Those found on haired skin are normally benign; melanomas that arise in the mouth, gums, nails and toes are the ones to look out for.
Selecting a sunscreen
Before you start thinking you’ll have to keep your dog inside more, know that you can protect him from the sun’s harmful rays using sunscreens or specially-designed apparel. The muzzle and ears are the most common places to apply sunscreen. “It is impossible to use sunscreen on the nose itself because dogs will lick it off almost immediately,” advises Dr. Scanlan. “The top of the muzzle and the ears are easier to treat.”
When it comes to sunscreens, the key is to choose a product that’s safe and non-toxic as well as effective. Sunscreens don’t need to contain unhealthy synthetic or chemical sun filters, yet many do. Most dogs will lick the sunscreen after application, so you need something that won’t harm your canine if he ingests it.
• Never use a product that contains PABA, as it can be fatal if licked off.
• Also avoid sunscreens that contains zinc oxide; any ingestion could lead to hemolytic anemia in dogs (see sidebar for more ingredients to avoid).
• The Natural Dog Snout Soother (SPF 10) contains shea butter, kukui nut oil and vitamin E to offer snout sunburn protection and relief.
• Epi-Pet’s Sun Protector sunscreen is formulated especially for dogs and is fragrance free. It also contains tocopheryl, an antioxidant that promotes healing for burned or damaged skin.
• Natural sunscreens made for children can be used on dogs. Products include Aubrey Organics Green Tea Sunblock for children, with SPF 25, or Jasön Kids Natural Sunscreen with SPF 46.
• Veterinarian Dr. Douglas H. Thamm recommends using UV blocking sun shirts for dogs. This is a good alternative if you are unable to fi nd a natural sunscreen. “Sunscreen is licked off after application, and toxicity after oral ingestion has not been well studied,” says Dr. Thamm. “Behavior modifi cation such as keeping dogs out of the sun is the best preventative, but UV blocking shirts and suits for dogs are a good alternative as well.” Lightweight sun shirts are great for outdoor activities like swimming and boating and will keep your dog’s coat cool throughout the day. The PlayaPup UV Protective Rashguard Shirt, for example, is made from UPF 50+ rated fabrics to block 97.5% of harmful UV rays.
You can also take some simple lifestyle steps to help reduce sun exposure and minimize the risk of sunburn or skin cancer. Walk your dog in the early morning or evening when the sun is lower in the sky, and make sure he has access to shade in your back yard, at your cottage or on your boat. Add in a non-toxic sunscreen for his muzzle and ears, or a UV-repellent jacket, and your dog will be all set for the summer!