With winter behind us, we’ll be seeing more sun-filled days and spending more time outdoors – and that includes your dog. Many people don’t think about it, but your dogs need protection from the sun, too.

However, some of the things that protect you from the sun could actually be harmful to your dog. Here are the tips you need to know about keeping your dog safe in the sun – the right way!

Dogs and sunscreen: Use but careful

Just like humans, dogs can be overexposed to the sun and need protection. However, you can’t grab just any human sunscreen. You need to check the ingredients, which will be explained below – or you need to use a pet-specific sunscreen.

The dangers of zinc oxide in sunscreens

Using the wrong kind of sunscreen could harm your dog. Many types of sunscreens for humans contain zinc oxide – a substance that is toxic to pets. The ingestion of zinc oxide can cause severe damage to your dogs red blood cells.

Those thick, white cream types of sunscreen usually contain zinc oxide. Also, don’t let your dog lick any parts of your body where you have applied sunscreen. Make sure to check the label. Bullfrog brand makes a sunscreen with no zinc oxide.

Other things to look for in sunscreen:

It’s also recommended to use sunscreens that are low in octisalate — a salicylate (which bullfrog brand is low in). All sunscreens contain salicylates. While we’re on the subject, know that salicylates are extremely toxic to cats and should not be used on cats at all – even small doses could send your feline to the emergency room.

There are some pet-specific sunscreen products for dogs, but still be sure to read the label. Also, be aware that the FDA does not test sunscreen products for pets.

Lastly, make sure you select a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB. Many times these types of sunscreens are labeled as “broad-spectrum” protection. This means they contain ingredients that help prevent sunburn, skin cancer and premature skin aging.

Look for a product that has an SPF (sun protection factor) higher than 15.

Testing sunscreen on your dog

It’s not a good idea to immediately slather sunscreen on all the areas your dog is going to need it. Before you even plan your outdoor day with your dog, do some testing a day or so before to find out how well your dog tolerates the sunscreen and whether or not it will have any reaction to it.

Start by only applying sunscreen to a small area, then observe both your dog’s behavior and the area of skin you applied it to see if there are any problems. If no problems occur, then you are safe to apply it to the areas that needed when you take your dog out in the sun.

Remember, you don’t need to cover your dog all over – only the areas that will be exposed to sun that don’t have the natural protection of a full or thick hair covering.

What to do if your dog has a reaction to sunscreen

If your dog cannot tolerate sunscreen, there are other alternatives to help protect your dog from the sun’s rays. You can purchase lightweight clothing that is designed to protect dogs from the sun. Use lighter colors to help keep your dog cooler.

Which dogs need sunscreen and where?

Here is a quick guide to show you which dogs need sunscreen, when dogs needed and where you need to apply it. Certain dog breeds are more susceptible than others to sun overexposure. Among the most susceptible breeds are: Pit Bulls, Dalmatians, Boxers, Weineramers, Greyhounds and the Chinese Crested.

Dogs that will be spending a lot of time in direct sunlight:

If your dog is going to be spending a full day in the sun, you may need to apply sunscreen if your dog also falls under the categories mentioned below. Also make sure to bring some type of sun-shelter for your dog if no other shaded area will be available.

Dogs suffering from hair loss or with thin coats:

Hair is a natural defense mechanism against the sun for dogs. However, some dogs have thin or sparse coats. Dogs with white or light-colored coats are also more vulnerable. A variety of reasons may cause your dog to experience hair loss. Areas not protected by hair are vulnerable to overexposure to the sun just as much as a human would be.

Also, certain breeds that don’t have a lot of hair, such as Chinese Crested, have natural bald spots that need protection.

Exposed areas

Dogs are just as susceptible to sunburns and sun-related cancers as humans. Certain areas of dogs are naturally exposed such as their nose (especially if it’s pink or has any pink-ish areas), ears and abdomen. UV rays can actually reflect off of certain surfaces they are walking on and have an effect on their undersides.

Other exposed areas to protect are between their back legs. Certain breeds with cropped ears, such as Doberman pinschers, means that the insides of their ears have more exposure to sunlight than would a floppy-eared dog.

Dogs who love to sunbathe

Some dogs naturally love to lie in the sun. You already know if your dog is one of these. But while your pet may enjoy this activity, too much of it can be detrimental. Don’t allow your dog to expose itself to too many hours of sun.

Providing shade

Even if you are using sunscreen or clothing protection from your dog, your pooch still needs somewhere to take a break in the shade to escape the sun. And if your dog cannot use sunscreen or has no protective clothing – then shade for your dog is an absolute must. After all, the best way to protect your dog from harmful UV rays is to lessen or eliminate exposure to sunlight entirely.

Pet care product providers offer all kinds of pet canopies or umbrellas and many are very inexpensive. It may be also necessary to keep your dog on a short line to prevent it from venturing out into sunny areas.

Don’t shave your dog

While many people choose to shave their dogs in warmer weather thinking they are helping to them keep cool, there’s a dangerous downside to that – especially if your dog is going to spend a lot of time in the sun. Your dog’s coat is protecting its skin from UV rays.

However, if your dog is shaved, that absent for now leisure dog more exposed to the harmful effects of sunlight. Rather than shaving your dog, use an undercoat rake at regular intervals to remove already fallen hairs. You can also take your dog to a pet groomer for an undercoat blowout.

What to do if your dog is sunburned

Signs of sunburn in a dog aren’t all that different than in humans. Look for red and/or dry skin, scratching or whimpering. A leather-ish or white appearance may also indicate sunburn. Your dog may even experience a fever.

The most susceptible areas of dogs to sunburn are: Nose, tips of the ears, eyelids, around the mouth, and underbelly.

Just like humans, dogs can get the equivalent of first, second, or third-degree burns.

Sunburn treatment

If your dog does become mildly sunburned, you can relieve symptoms by placing your dog in cool water, giving it a gentle oatmeal bath/soak or applying aloe vera gel. Topical sprays such as Lanacane or Solarcaine, which contain a local anesthetic, may provide temporary pain relief – but only apply to areas where your dog cannot lick and ingest.

For more serious sunburns beyond superficial, taking your dog to the vet for treatment is the best action.

Hydration is essential

Keeping your dog well-hydrated when exposed to lots of sun is essential. Remember, your dog may be more active than normal when taken out for a play day in the sun. Secondly, your dog may be exposed to warmer conditions than normal.

Because of these factors, it’s essential to make sure to bring plenty of cool water and a bowl. A simple trick for cool water is to freeze some water bottles beforehand. That will ensure you have cool water available. Of course, if your outdoor plans include bringing an ice chest – even better.

Watch for overexertion

Make sure to take cool-down breaks for your dog so that your pooch doesn’t overexert itself. Warm temperatures and overexertion could lead to exhaustion or heatstroke. Try to lead your dog to water and make it drink.

Main takeaways:

To summarize here are the key factors to remember when taking your dog out for a day in the sun:

  • Apply pet-specific sunscreen to vulnerable areas on your dog, or is a human sunscreen (read the label) that does not contain zinc oxide and is low in octisalate.
  • Make sure the sunscreen you use offers “broad-spectrum” protection and has an SPF rating over 15.
  • Test sunscreen on a small area of your dog only to see how well your dog tolerates it, before applying it to other areas.
  • If your dog cannot tolerate sunscreen, consider sun-protective clothing and/or both depending on the dog breed you have or the condition of its coat.
  • Don’t allow dogs to love to sunbathe to overexposed himself to too many hours of sun.
  • Make sure to provide shade for your dog, no shade is available, bring a portable canopy or umbrella with you.
  • Don’t shave your dog as you remove its natural defense mechanism against the sun.
  • If your dog becomes sunburned, use home remedies for mild cases or see a vet immediately for more significant sunburns.
  • Don’t allow your dog to overexert itself in sunny and warm conditions and watch out for exhaustion or heatstroke.
  • Ensure that your dog is well-hydrated throughout the day and that you have cool water and a bowl available for your dog.