Should My Dog Wear Sunscreen?

Most dogs love curling up in a sunny spot or spending a nice day romping around outside. But while they’re having fun in the sun, it’s important that you’re shielding them from the elements. Sun protection is vital for all dogs, and sometimes that includes using canine sunscreen.

Should your dog wear sunscreen? Here’s what the experts have to say.

How the Sun Can Affect Dogs

English bulldog standing on a sunny dock

Credit: Lunja/Getty Images

The sun poses several hazards for dogs. As the temperature climbs, any dog is at risk of overheating—with the flat-faced, or brachycephalic, dog breeds (such as pugs or bulldogs) being most susceptible to heat stroke, because they can’t pant efficiently. “These pets, along with the elderly, the overweight, and those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible,” according to the ASPCA.

Heat stroke can quickly turn fatal if you leave your dog in a parked vehicle, but it also can occur on walks or even in your own yard if your dog doesn’t have access to adequate shade (or air conditioning, if it’s really hot) and water.

The sun also can heat up the ground—especially asphalt—which can be dangerous to dogs. “Being so close to the ground, your pooch’s body can heat up quickly, and sensitive paw pads can burn,” the ASPCA says. It’s best to keep walks short if it’s hot outside. If the ground is too hot for your touch, it’s absolutely not safe for dogs to walk on, either.

But it’s not just the heat that’s a hazard from sun exposure. Like humans, dogs can get sunburns, as well as more serious health issues, including skin cancer. “Sunburn also exacerbates certain conditions, for example autoimmune disorders and dermatitis, and can cause discomfort at surgery sites,” according to the American Kennel Club.

Certain types of dogs have a higher risk for sun damage. For starters, white and light-colored dogs tend to burn more easily than dogs with darker fur, according to VetStreet. Similarly, dogs with lighter skin—such as a dog with a pink nose versus a black one or a dog with light pigment around their eyes—can burn more easily.

Plus, dogs with short fur, along with the hairless varieties, receive more sun damage. “One function of your dog’s fur is to protect her from the sun’s damaging rays, and short-haired dogs simply have less of that protection,” VetStreet says. That’s why it’s not ideal to shave dogs in the warmer months. The layers of their coats protect them from sun damage, as well as from overheating. So it’s typically best to brush out dead fur often and then let their coats do their thing.

In addition, dogs who spend lots of time outside or who love sunbathing—especially lying on their backs with their thinly-furred bellies to the sky—are more likely to experience negative effects from the sun. So how should you keep them protected?

Sunscreen and Dogs

How you should protect your dog’s skin from the sun isn’t so different from how you shield your own. “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,” veterinarian Richard Goldstein tells PetMD.

But not all human sunscreens are safe for dogs. “Sunscreens made specifically for pets are your safest choice and can be purchased online and at a few large retail pet stores,” according to Banfield Pet Hospital. “They should be fragrance-free, waterproof and block both UVA and UVB rays. The SPF should be 15 or higher.”

If you can’t find a pet-specific sunscreen, opt for one made for babies or children that has those same qualities—but with some extremely important caveats.

Because there’s a good chance dogs will lick and ingest some sunscreen, pet parents must carefully read the label for toxic ingredients. Chief among those are zinc oxide and para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), according to PetMD. Salicylates also might have some negative health effects, the ASPCA says.

When in doubt, get your vet’s approval before using the sunscreen.

Applying Canine Sunscreen

dog sunbathing in grass on its back

Credit: damedeeso/Getty Images

So how do you apply sunscreen on a dog? First, test a small amount in one spot to make sure your dog doesn’t have an adverse reaction.

If everything looks fine, move on to covering “the spots most exposed to sunshine, such as the bridge of the nose, ear tips, skin around his lips, groin, and inner thighs—and anywhere else where pigmentation is light,” the AKC says. Take extra care not to get any sunscreen in your dog’s eyes.

Apply the sunscreen about 20 minutes before your dog goes outside, so it has time to absorb and begin protecting the skin, and watch to make sure your dog doesn’t immediately lick it off.

If your dog is out in the sun for an extended period of time, you should reapply sunscreen every few hours. (That’s good advice for humans, too.) And if your dog goes swimming, reapply sunscreen immediately afterward.

Other Sun Protection Methods for Dogs

Sunscreen isn’t your only option in terms of sun protection for your dog. Many companies make protective clothing that can be a much less messy alternative to lotioning up a dog.

“If a dog has to be outside during peak sun hours, pet parents can utilize accessories like bodysuits, shirts, and hats with ultraviolet protection, in addition to sunscreen to prevent sunburns,” according to PetMD. “Dog goggles can also be used to protect a pet’s eyes from the sun.”

It’s important to make sure your dog is safe and comfortable in this clothing—and that it actually covers the necessary areas.

Of course, the best approach is to limit your dog’s sun exposure, especially during hot days and peak sun hours. Always make sure they have access to shade and water, and closely watch them for any signs of overheating or sun damage. That way, sunny days can remain fun for everyone.

Main image credit: Kryssia Campos/Getty Images

47 comments

hELEN hEARFIELD
hELEN hEARFIELD13 days ago

tyfs

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Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hill13 days ago

thanks

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Michael F
Michael F13 days ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Melanie S
Melanie S13 days ago

Dogs will seek shade if too hot and intense sunshine

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Ruth R
Ruth R14 days ago

Usually dogs don't lie around in the sun for very long.

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Ruth S
Ruth S14 days ago

Thanks.

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Ruth S
Ruth S14 days ago

Thanks.

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Leo C
Leo C14 days ago

Thank you for posting!

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Leo C
Leo C14 days ago

Thank you for posting!

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Teresa W
Teresa W14 days ago

thanks

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