Does My Dog Need Sunscreen?

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When summertime its, many of us humans start spending lots of time in the sun. That means it's time to get vigilant about our sunscreen (although you should be wearing it every day).

But we're not the only ones who spend time outside. What about our dogs? Should they be wearing sunscreen, too?

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Though it's a thought that rarely occurs to most people, ​yes, your dog should wear specially formulated pet sunscreen—but only under certain conditions.

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Limiting sun exposure is best

The ASPCA recommends limiting sun time, rather than using sunscreen, as a first line of defense. Specifically, you should limit your pet's time in the sun during peak hours. This is also a good idea for preventing dehydration and overheating. (It's also good to remember that dogs need more water in summer, and they should have access to cool water at all times.) Do your best to keep your pet indoors or in the shade as much as possible during the hottest hours of the day.

Not all dogs need sunscreen

All dogs are able to get sunburns, just like humans. And sunburns hurt dogs just as badly as they hurt us.

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However, not every dog needs to wear sunscreen. If your dog has long hair, you're generally safe. Same goes for if you have a short-haired dog whose hair is dark (although keep in mind that hairless areas, like bellies, can still get sunburned.) The dogs that are most in danger are dogs with short, light hair, dogs experiencing hair loss, dogs with light-colored noses, or dogs who spend a lot of time outdoors. A walk around the block won't put your dog at risk for sunburn.

If you plan to take a beach or camping trip with your dog, the best option is to bring shade structures or plan for the dog to not participate in activities that will put them in direct sunlight for long periods of time​. If you aren't able to do that, sunscreen specially formulated for pets is a good idea.

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Another important point is that if your dog has gone swimming, the sunscreen should be immediately reapplied, according to Richard Goldstein, DVM, and chief medical officer of the Animal Medical Center in New York City. It's crucial to keep them protected at all times. "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," says Goldstein.

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Screen your sunscreen

Don't apply any old sunscreen to your canine pal. ​Sunscreen that is specially formulated for dogs and​ ​is FDA-approved​ ​is the safest option.Epi-Pet, an FDA-compliant sunscreen for dogs (and horses, if that's your thing) is a great option, and there are many others as well. Make sure your dog's sunscreen is FDA-compliant, as pet products are less regulated than human products, and some pet sunscreens don't pass muster with the FDA, as the ASPCA notes.

Don't use "human sunscreen" on your dog, even if it's baby sunscreen or formulated for sensitive skin, because your dog might ingest it. For this reason, it's a good idea to keep all human sunscreen away from dogs, especially if they contain zinc oxide. ​Zinc oxide is a common ingredient in sunscreen, and it can be toxic to dogs if they ingest it.

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Pet protection

Summer is a good time to remember that dogs need sun protection in many ways. In hot weather and direct sun, take the same precautions with your dog that you would with yourself or your children. Provide lots of shade with umbrellas or tents, and make sure your dog has access to plenty of cool, fresh water at all times.

Happy sunbathing!

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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