Do Dogs Need Sunscreen?

Author: Dr. Beth Turner

Published: June 6, 2015

Updated: June 3, 2021

This page may contain affiliate links. We earn a commission for qualifying purchases – at no cost to you. Our mission is to help save dogs' and cats’ lives through our educational content. To help us create more veterinarian- and trainer-approved content, please consider buying one of our web-books for yourself or as a gift.

small dog in sunshine

I must say nothing is more enjoyable and calming than the feeling of the warmth of the sun on your skin. Well, except maybe ice cream in the middle of summer. The problem is that even though getting plenty of sunshine has its benefits, there is one bad thing about getting too much sun – SUNBURN.

We are often so busy rushing around we tend to forget to take care of our skin, most importantly when it comes to applying sunscreen. So it is no surprise that if we forget to protect ourselves against the rays of the sun that we can forget to think of our dogs needing protection too.

You and your dog deserve to romp and play in the sun. But it is important to take precautions and know how to protect them from harmful UV rays.

Do Dogs Get Sunburn?

The answer to this question is simple – yes, dogs can get sunburned.

There is a misconception that fur protects your dog from getting sunburn. While their fur provides many proactive benefits, it isn’t a force field against the rays of the sun. And all breeds of dogs can get sunburned. Why? Because all dogs have vulnerable areas of their body where there is little to no fur: the belly, the delicate skin of the ears, the tips of the tail, and their nose. Some dogs can even get burned around their eyelids and places right next to their mouth.

two mexican hairless dogs one wearing a cowboy hatThere are, however, some dog breeds that tend to be more prone to sunburn. White-coated or light-colored dogs often have light skin beneath their fur which increases their risk for sunburn. Dogs that typically have thin fur, and especially the hairless breeds, are most at risk for sunburn, as well as potential skin cancer. The following is a list of some breeds that fall under this group:

  • Pitbull
  • Dalmatian
  • Boxer
  • Weimaraner
  • Greyhound
  • Chinese Crested
  • Mexican Hairless Dog (Xoloitzcuintli)

How Can You Tell if Your Dog is Sunburned?

So most of us at some point in our lives have had a sunburn. If you haven’t, then you are super lucky. This personal experience helps us recognize sunburn symptoms as well as understand how miserable being sunburnt is.

Watch for these symptoms of sunburn on your dog:

  • Pink or red skin: Typically, sunburned skin on a dog is pinker than normal or it can be red. This indicates that there is inflammation in the skin.
  • Skin is tender or painful to touch: Oftentimes, dogs with sunburn are itchy and will whimper when they hit a tender spot. Many will avoid being pet or touched as well.
  • Hair loss and scaly skin
  • Dry or cracked edges of the ears
  • With severe burns, dogs can have a fever, blisters, skin ulcers, and skin infections.

When dogs regularly are exposed to too much sun, they are at risk of developing skin cancer. Some of these cancers include hemangiosarcoma, hemangioma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma.

How to Treat Your Dog’s Sunburn

It is important to seek veterinary care if you think your dog has sunburn. The reason to seek care is that a dog’s skin does not typically burn as easily as your human skin. This means there is likely more damage to their skin than you will be able to initially tell.

Your veterinarian will assess your dog to determine what treatment is needed. Treatment is based on the severity of the burn. Your dog’s veterinarian may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • Antibiotics – if there are skin ulcers or infection
  • Pain medications
  • Wound cleansing treatments
  • Topical ointments or creams – to help with the infection and/or pain
large dog running on beach in sun

How to Protect Your Dog from Sunburn

Can you still have fun in the sun and protect your dog? The answer to this question is DEFINITELY YES! Just like we can take precautions to enjoy our time in the sun, we can do the same for our dogs.

Use Dog-Safe Sunscreen

One of the best options is dog-friendly sunscreen. Only use sunscreens that are meant specifically for pets because human versions can be potentially harmful if your dog licks and ingests them. To be sure that your dog does not have a reaction to the sunscreen, test a small area at least two to three days prior to your outing.

There is one FDA-approved sunscreen for dogs — Epi-Pet.

Epi-Pet Sun Protector Spray
epi pet sun protector sunscreen for dogs

"Dog-Safe" doesn't necessarily mean "Cat-Safe": Just as a side note – not all pet-safe sunscreens (those with salicylates) are safe for cats. So be sure your cat doesn’t want to lick your dog’s skin after you apply their sunscreen.

Do Not Use Human Sunscreen on Your Dog

The ingredients found in human sunscreen make it dangerous to use on your pets. Avoid using sunscreen formulated for humans on your dog. Be very careful not to use any sunscreen on your dog that contains zinc oxide. Zinc oxide is toxic to dogs. It can cause anemia which can be life-threatening. Additionally, avoid sunscreens with PABA and salicylates. Your veterinarian can help you find the best option for your dog.

How to Apply Sunscreen on Your Dog

It is not recommended to use spray sunscreen directly on your dog. Just like for us, it can get in their eyes or they may inhale it. When applying dog sunscreen, spray some on your hands then wipe it on the parts of the body that need protection. Avoid the eyes.

You want to apply it to their nose, tips of ears, belly, and the inside of their back legs. After you apply the sunscreen, allow it to soak in for several minutes, and be sure that your dog doesn’t lick or rub it off. Remember to re-apply it several times throughout the day, especially if your dog has been swimming.

Check out these articles for more types of sun protection, even for indoor-only pets, and how to keep your dog cool in the hot outdoors.

UV-Blocking Dog Clothes

There are sun-block clothes that are designed for dogs. There are even hats that can protect them from the sun. This is especially good to protect them around their eyes since putting sunscreen there can be a bit problematic. For all-around eye protection, you can use dog googles with UV-blocking lenses.

Doggles Originalz Dog Goggles
doggles originalz dog goggles

There are also bodysuits and shirts that can be used to protect your dog from the sun. Just be sure that your dog is comfortable wearing the new clothes. The last thing we want to do is cause them any additional stress by playing dress-up!

PlayaPup Dog Sun Protective Lightweight Solid Shirts, UPF 50+
PlayaPup Dog Sun Protective Lightweight Solid Shirts, UPF 50 Plus
Louie de Coton Limited Edition Pet Cooling Sun Shirt with UPF50+
Louie de Coton Made in USA Limited Edition Cooling Sun Shirt with UPF50 Plus

Remember, even if the hat or clothes cover several vulnerable areas, it may not protect them all. So be sure that the areas mentioned above are protected in other ways.

Set Up Shade for Your Dog

One simple thing that you can do is provide or find shade for your dog. At the beach have an umbrella, a canopy, or a shade tent. If you are at the park, find a nice shady tree to sit under.

Crowns Shades 10x10' Pop-Up Canopy
Crowns 10x10 pop up canopy

For dogs that hang out outside at home during the day, provide a sunblock canopy for their pet cot or over your patio. Normally, when it gets too intense in the sun, your dog will seek shelter.

Floppy Dawg Just Chillin' Dog Bed with Removable Canopy
floppy dawg elevated pet bed with canopy
Shade & Beyond Sun Sail Shade Canopy
Shade & Beyond sun sail canopy for shade

Avoid Outdoor Time During Sunny Times of Day

Ideally, walk your dog early in the morning and then later in the evening. Try not to walk between 11 am and 4 pm. This helps to avoid the heat of the day (preventing heatstroke) and prevents the sun’s hot rays from affecting your dog’s skin. The other advantage of walking at these times is that the sidewalks and roads will be cooler and therefore not burn your dog’s paws.

Shaving Isn’t For Every Dog

Many of us think of our dog’s fur as "clothing." For people, summer is the time to shed our heavy outerwear and we pick clothes that are light and airy. We tend to want to apply this same concept to our dog’s fur and want to shave it off. This may not always be the best idea.

Your dog’s coat helps to actually keep them from getting too hot in the summer and the fur helps protect them from the sun. Lastly, there are some breeds that have a double coat. If you shave them, their coat may not grow back and if it does it may be patchy and scruffy. There are some dogs, such as doodles, poodles, etc. that do better with a shorter summer trim. If that is what works best for them and you, just be sure to find a good groomer that works well with your dog.

Now that you know what your need for your dog’s protection, rush to the store (or the internet) to buy all the needed items for your dog and plan some amazing outdoor adventures you both will enjoy!

See Daisy in this video, enjoying a sunny bike ride adventure around Seattle, WA. She regularly wore pet-friendly sunscreen on her nose and ears and her Doggles to protect her eyes from the glaring sun.

 
Must-have digital books for dog and cat owners