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Dogs Get Sunburn, Too – Best Sunscreen and Sun Care Tips for Dogs and Puppies

If you’ve ever gotten a bad sunburn, you know how painful and uncomfortable it can be. Did you know dogs can get sunburn too? If you have a puppy or a full-grown dog, it is your responsibility as owner to make sure you protect your pet from sunburn. But, take note that sunscreen for dogs is not the same as sunscreen for people.

Some easy sun care tips can help you keep even the most active dog healthier when exposed to the sun. To keep your dog safe from too much exposure to the sun and protect from doggie sunburn or potential dog skin cancer, follow a few precautionary tips from the experts.

“Dogs can suffer multiple ill effects of sun exposure, including sunburn, skin inflammation, and several kinds of skin cancer,” says Dr. Louise Murray, Director of Medicine at the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital. “Skin cancers caused by sun exposure in dogs include squamous cell carcinoma and hemangiosarcoma.”

Q. – Which Kinds of Dogs Are Most at Risk for Sunburn, Heat Stroke, and Skin Cancer?

A. – Dr. Louise Murray, Director of Medicine at the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital: “Dogs with thin hair coats, light-colored noses, and white fur are most at risk from sun exposure. Dogs with areas of white fur or areas where the coat is thinner are also at risk. All dogs are at risk in areas of the body with less fur, such as the groin and belly. Pets who have areas of missing hair, such as those who have had an area shaved for surgery, should be protected from sunlight.”

A. – Ann Hohenhaus, DVM at The Animal Medical Center in New York: “Sunburn is much less common in dogs than in humans since most dogs are not worried about a tan, have thick hair coats and dark skin. But we do see sunburn in the less haired areas of light colored dogs like the nose, ears and on the underside of dogs between the belly button and the back legs. White pit bulls, Dalmatians, Boxers and Whippets are especially sensitive to the effects of sun, but any light coated dog is at risk. Usually dog abdomens are not exposed to the sun, but rare dogs do like to sunbathe on their backs and will sunburn. Just like in humans, sun exposure can lead first to solar dermatitis and ultimately to skin cancer of the nose, ears and abdomen.”

A. – Dr. Alison Flynn, DVM, DACVD, Veterinary Dermatologist at Miami Veterinary Specialists:
“Pets at risk for sunburn and UV induced cancer:
1. The sparsely haired area on the top of the muzzle towards the tip of the nose and the belly are at increased risk of sun damage.
2. Pets with white / lightly colored hair coat and skin
3. Specific breeds have been reported to have an increased incidence of solar induced skin cancer such as those with short hair coats and white or piebald coat / skin color (Dalmatian, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier, and Beagle).
4. White cats have squamous cell carcinoma about 13 times more frequently than other cats, owing to increased susceptibility to sun damage.
5. Pets with significant hair loss affecting a sun exposed area of the body
6. Pets that are naturally hairless, such as the Chinese Crested dog
7. Pets that spend the majority of their time outdoors
8. Pets that frequently enjoy sunbathing (even if they are indoors, basking in the sunlight through a glass window or door)
9. Pets that are receiving tetracycline antibiotics should stay out of direct sunlight completely, this medication sensitizes the skin to UV and may promote severe burns

“Pets at risk for heat stroke:
1. Those with a dense hair coat such as the golden retriever, Siberian huskey, chow chow, etc
2. Any pet in direct sunlight for longer than 30 minutes when the temperature is greater than 90F

“Pets that are at risk for worsening auto-immune disease are those that have been diagnosed with:
1. Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE)
2. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
3. Pemphigus erythematosus (PE)”

Q. – What Are the Risks of Sun Exposure to Dogs?

A. – Dr. Alison Flynn, DVM, DACVD, Veterinary Dermatologist at Miami Veterinary Specialists:

1. Sun burn
2. Skin infections (may arise secondary to severe sunburns)
3. Skin cancer – squamous cell carcinoma in particular
4. Heat stroke
5. UV induced/ exacerbated autoimmune disease (rare)

Q. – What Kind of Sunscreen Is Right for a Dog? Is Human Sunscreen Bad for Dogs?

A. – Dr. Louise Murray, ASPCA: “Zinc is toxic to dogs and can cause GI (gastro-intestinal) upset and life-threatening anemia, so products containing zinc should be avoided. There are pet-specific sunblocks available that are designed to be safer for dogs and cats. If using a human product, choose one made for babies that is fragrance-free, and observe the dog closely until the product has dried.”

A. – Ann Hohenhaus, DVM: “Put a T-shirt on your dog, but that will not cover all the areas of skin at risk for sunburn. Get a sunsuit of sun protective fabric for your dog http://www.designerdogwear.com/sunsuit/ or just keep your dog inside. For hiking, swimming and other outdoor activities use sunscreen on thinly haired areas, ears and nose.”

Hohenhaus recommends choosing sunscreen for your dog that is safe for babies, SPF > 15, waterproof, and protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

Q. – What Are Some Sun Care Tips for Dogs?

A. – Dr. Louise Murray, ASPCA: “It is wise to limit sun exposure in pets between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., especially pets at high risk due to thin or light-colored coats.”

A. – Michelle Sahlin, managing director of Professional Awning Manufacturers Association (PAMA):
“Dogs are susceptible to sunburn, especially around sensitive areas where fur is thin or skin lacks pigment. Lighter-colored dogs are even more susceptible to injury from the UV rays of the sun. Option 1: Apply sunscreen. When your dog will be outdoors for an extended period of time, apply sunscreen around the ears, nose, groin, and inside legs to prevent exposure. Caution: Some human sunscreens contain PABA, which may be harmful to dogs if injested – a likelihood if your pet licks itself after application. So stick with PABA-free sunscreens. Your veterinarian or favorite pet supply store may also recommend pooch-friendly alternatives.

“Option 2: Provide shade. Dogs instinctively gravitate toward shade to keep cool. You can help by assuring they have ample shade areas to choose from. In the yard, trees and shrubs can provide sun relief. Another alternative is to create shade zones in the yard or on a deck using awnings. A retractable awning creates shade on demand, with the open sides allowing excellent airflow for additional cooling benefits. Even better, awnings can be used to create cool protected areas that owner and best friend can safely share.

“Dogs can be vulnerable to sunburn even when indoors, especially if they prefer to nap near a favorite sunny window or glass patio door. Awnings blocking sun penetration through windows, protecting pets from exposure. In addition, awnings cool the home interior, providing heat relief for you and your dog.”

Q. – What can I do to prevent problems arising secondary to sun exposure?

A. – Dr. Alison Flynn, DVM, DACVD, Veterinary Dermatologist at Miami Veterinary Specialists:
1. Sunscreen that is safe for children will be safe for pets, there is one sunscreen that has been approved for use in dogs: http://www.epi-pet.com.
2. UV protective clothing: http://www.tugasunwear.com
3. Doggles: http://doggles.com/
4. Always provide shade for your pet if they are outside for longer than 30 minutes as well as plenty of drinking water.

Q. – What can I do if my pet has a sunburn or skin cancer?

A. – Dr. Alison Flynn, DVM, DACVD, Veterinary Dermatologist at Miami Veterinary Specialists:
1. If the affected area appears red and raised, scaly, wet/crusted, ulcerated, or painful you should take your pet to a veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist to be evaluated. A skin sample/ biopsy may be performed to investigate the underlying cause.
2. There are many treatment options for skin cancer in pets including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, which can be very effective, especially if caught early.
3. There are also medications that may prevent certain pre-cancerous lesions from progressing to cancer if caught early.

Q. – How much sun is too much?

A. – Dr. Alison Flynn, DVM, DACVD, Veterinary Dermatologist at Miami Veterinary Specialists:
“The exact amount of time that can be safely spent in the sun depends on the risk factors above and the ambient temperature. Lightly colored, hairless pets or breeds that are predisposed to skin cancer should spend less than 15 – 30 minutes per day in direct sunlight to minimize risks of sun burn and sun induced skin cancer. Pets with dense hair coats / dark skin and hair may spend more time in the sun, although the risk of heat stroke becomes greater for these pets when ambient temperatures are greater than 90F.”

About the Experts:

Dr. Alison Flynn DVM, DACVD, is a Veterinary Dermatologist at Miami Veterinary Specialists. For more information, visit online at www.mvshospital.com.

Ann Hohenhaus, DVM is a staff veterinarian at The Animal Medical Center in New York. For more information, visit online at www.amcny.org.

Dr. Louise Murray is Director of Medicine at the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital. For more information, visit www.aspca.org.

Michelle Sahlin is managing director of Professional Awning Manufacturers Association (PAMA). For more information, visit online at www.awninginfo.com.


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