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Can Dogs Get Sunburns?

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Can dogs get sunburns? While it’s not as common in dogs as it is in humans, dogs can get sunburned—especially in areas where their coat is thin. The ears, top of the nose, groin, and belly are most at risk, particularly in dogs with white or light-colored coats and/or pink skin.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at which breeds are more susceptible to sunburn. We’ll also explore whether dogs need sunscreen or other sun protection options. By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of how to protect your dog from the sun and keep them safe and healthy.

Dog breeds that are susceptible to sunburn

While any dog can get a sunburn on exposed areas of their body, certain breeds are more susceptible than others. 

Hairless dog breeds

Hairless dog breeds—such as the Chinese Crested Dog, Xoloitzcuintli (or Xolo), Peruvian Inca Orchid, and American Hairless Terrier—are more prone to sunburn due to their lack of a protective coat. This means that hairless dogs could use extra sun protection, especially during the hot summer months.

Did you know? Embark tests for two genetic variants associated with hairlessness in these breeds: located in the FOXI3 gene and the SGK3 gene. The FOXI3 gene variant can cause hairlessness in the Peruvian Inca Orchid, Xolo, and Chinese Crested. Dogs with the NDup genotype are likely to be hairless, while dogs with the NN result are likely to have a normal coat.

The SGK3 gene variant is responsible for hairlessness in the American Hairless Terrier. Dogs with the DD genotype are likely to be hairless, while dogs with the ND or NN result are likely to have a normal coat.

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Breeds with short coats

Certain breeds with short coats, such as the American Pit Bull Terrier, Boxer, and Greyhound, are more susceptible to sunburn. Their shorter coats provide less natural protection against the sun’s harmful rays, leaving their skin more exposed.

Dogs with white or light coats or double merle patterning

Dogs with white or light-colored coats or a special pattern called “double merle” are more likely to get sunburned. This is because white coats, or coats with a lot of white, don’t provide  as much natural protection against the sun.

Merle refers to a mottled or patchy coat pattern found in several dog breeds, including the Australian Shepherd, Catahoula Leopard Dog, and Shetland Sheepdog, among others. 

Embark tests for merle; specifically, the merle variant in the PMEL gene. Dogs who have an M*M* result in this gene may have merle or double merle coat patterning. Because double merle dogs typically have a lot of white in their coats and often have pink skin, they are at a higher risk for sunburn.

If you have a dog with a white coat or a double merle pattern, it’s important to take extra steps to protect them from the sun.

Do dogs need sunscreen?

Just like humans, dogs can benefit from sunscreen, particularly if they’re prone to sunburn. It’s important to note that not all types of sunscreen are suitable for pets.

Human sunscreen often contains ingredients, such as zinc oxide, that can be harmful to dogs. That’s why it’s essential to use a sunscreen specifically formulated for our canine companions. These dog-safe sunscreens are designed to provide the necessary protection without the risk of harmful ingredients.

Sun shirts offer another way to protect dogs from the sun. Sun shirts are specially designed garments that provide UV protection, reducing the risk of sunburn. They can be a great alternative to sunscreen, especially for dogs with sensitive skin or for those that dislike the application of sunscreen. As with any clothing, make sure to introduce your dog to the sun shirt gradually and supervise them while wearing it. Additionally, ensure that the sun shirt fits correctly without restricting your dog’s movement or causing any discomfort, as this can lead to anxiety or irritation.

“While dog-safe sunscreen helps protect dogs from UV rays, certain formulations can be dangerous for cats. If your home includes both cats and dogs, a sun shirt may be a better option,” advises veterinarian Dr. Jenna Dockweiler. “A sun shirt will protect your dog from the sun and prevent your cat from licking and ingesting any harmful ingredients.”

Sunscreen safety tips for dogs

When applying sunscreen to your dog, test a small area first to ensure there’s no adverse reaction. Apply sunscreen a few minutes before sun exposure and monitor your dog to make sure they don’t lick it.

Not all dogs need sunscreen, but if your dog is predisposed to sunburn or spends a lot of time outdoors, a dog-safe sunscreen or a high-quality sun shirt can help keep them safe. Talk to your vet if you’re unsure if your dog needs sunscreen or which products are best for them.

Signs of sunburn in dogs

Sunburn in dogs can manifest in several ways. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Red or pink skin
  • Skin that’s warm to the touch
  • Dry, cracked, or peeling skin
  • Excessive scratching or licking
  • Whimpering or moving away when the affected area is touched

In addition to these signs, excessive sun exposure can also lead to overheating, which can progress to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Symptoms of this dangerous condition include excessive panting, drooling, rapid heartbeat, and extreme lethargy. Heat stroke is a medical emergency, and can lead to seizures or even death if left untreated.

If you notice any of these symptoms, make sure to visit your vet as soon as possible. They can confirm whether your dog has sunburn and provide appropriate treatment to help soothe the skin and prevent further damage. Remember, prevention is key, so always take steps to protect your dog from excessive sun exposure.

How to prevent sunburn in dogs

Aside from using dog-safe sunscreen or a sun shirt, there are a few things you can do to help protect your dog from sunburn. Here are the most effective sun protection tips for your pup:

  • Limit sun exposure. Try to avoid taking your dog out for long periods during the hottest parts of the day, typically between 10 am and 4 pm when the sun is at its strongest.
  • Provide shade. Make sure your dog has access to outdoor shade. This could be a doghouse, a covered patio, or even a beach umbrella.
  • Keep your dog hydrated. Remember to provide plenty of fresh, cool water to keep your dog hydrated. Place bowls around your home and yard, and bring a water bottle and bowl with you when you take your dog on walks.
  • Avoid hot surfaces. To protect your dog’s sensitive paw pads from burning on hot surfaces like asphalt or sand, it’s best to take them for a walk when it’s cooler in the early morning or late evening. Check out these summer paw protection tips for more advice to keep your dog’s paws safe in the sun.

Keep your dog protected from the sun

By following the guidelines discussed in this article, you can help prevent dog sunburn and other summer safety concerns. Learn more about how to protect your dog this summer with our top seasonal safety tips.

Writer Richard Rowlands with his dog, Otto.

Richard Rowlands Contributor

Richard is a copywriter and content creator who works with pet and veterinary businesses. When he's not researching, writing, or creating content plans, he enjoys spending time with his rescue dog, Otto, and exploring new places. Check out his blog for savvy pet parents at richardrowlands.com.

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