Do Dogs Need Sunscreen?

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When summertime hits, humans and dogs alike will likely increase their time spent outdoors. It's natural instinct for most humans to put on sunscreen before heading outdoors, but do dogs need a sun protector too?

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Though it's a thought that rarely occurs to most people, in some cases, it could be recommended for dogs to wear sunscreen. That being said, it's generally not recommended to put sunscreen on a dog unless it has been advised by their veterinarian. Either way, sun protection is an important thing for pet owners to consider.

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Can dogs get sunburned?

All dogs are able to get sunburns just like humans.‌ Sunburns hurt dogs just as badly as they hurt humans, both in terms of physical discomfort and long-term sun damage to the skin. However, not every dog needs to wear sunscreen.

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The dogs who are most in danger of sunburn are dogs with short and light hair, dogs experiencing hair loss, and dogs with a light-colored nose or other small areas of pink skin. These dogs can also be more prone to developing certain types of skin cancer, such as malignant melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

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Which dog breeds are more likely to sunburn?

Some dog breeds may be more likely to sunburn because of their physical characteristics. You should always monitor your dog in direct sunlight, but owners of these dog breeds might want to pay even closer attention.

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This includes hairless dog breeds, such as:

  • Chinese cresteds
  • American hairless terriers
  • Xoloitzcuintlis

This also includes dogs with a white or thin coat, such as:

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This also includes dogs with light pigmentation on or near their nose, ears, or eyelids, such as:

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  • Australian shepherds
  • Catahoula leopard dogs
  • Cardigan Welsh corgis
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Tips to protect your dog from sun exposure and heatstroke

It's important for dog owners to remember that dogs need more water in the hot summer months and should have access to cool water at all times to keep them safe and hydrated. Some other tips include:

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  • Limiting time in the sun rather than using sunscreen is recommended as the first line of defense. Specifically, pet owners should limit their dog's time in the sun during peak hours to help prevent dehydration and overheating.
  • On warm and sunny days, think about a dog's paws. Walking on hot pavement for even just a few minutes can burn a dog's sensitive paw pads. Dog booties or a pet-safe sun protection balm can be used to prevent burns and soothe cracked or burned paw pads. When possible, it's best for dogs to walk on grass instead of pavement or gravel when the sun is at its hottest.

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Do black dogs need sun protection?

Although it may not be recommended for black dogs to wear sunblock, it is still very important for black dogs to have sun protection.‌ For these dogs, it's especially important because black fur absorbs more solar heat and ultraviolet rays. This can cause their skin temperature to increase rapidly, leading to painful burns on the dog's skin.

Instead of using sunscreen, it's crucial to maintain other measures of sun protection for dogs with dark fur. In addition to providing shade and fresh water, there are other options that can provide physical protection for dogs. For example, an owner could purchase sun shirts that are made to provide protection for dogs.

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Is sunscreen safe for puppies?

It is not recommended to use sunscreen on puppies.‌ There seem to be limited credible sources on sunscreen for puppies specifically. According to dog sunscreen labels, the product is only recommended for the adult life stage. To keep puppies safe outside, it's best to ensure that they have shelter and shade from direct sunlight.

Are dog sunscreens FDA approved?

If a dog sunscreen doesn't list an SPF, it's not FDA approved. Listing an SPF makes the product an over-the-counter drug in the United States. And there are some doggy sunscreens that claim they offer UVA and UVB protection but they can't list SPF because of all the above. Try to choose an FDA-compliant dog sunscreen if you can. Since pet products are less regulated than human products, some pet sunscreens aren't even tested by the FDA.

Human sunscreen is unsafe to use on dogs even if it's formulated for babies or for sensitive skin. Zinc oxide and salicylates are two ingredients in human sunscreens that are toxic to dogs if ingested. A dog-safe sunscreen should avoid these ingredients.

The bottom line

Summer is a good time to remember that dogs need sun protection to prevent dog sunburn and long-lasting skin damage. In hot weather and direct sun, pet owners should take similar precautions for their dogs as they do for themselves. The difference is that sunscreen should only be used on dogs when it has been recommended by their veterinarian. With or without sunscreen, dogs should have plenty of shade and fresh water to keep them safe during hot days.

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