Sunburn and Dogs

Fur Does Not Block the Sun

Your dog’s fur coat offers protection for many things — except from the sun’s UVB and UVA rays.

Take safe measures to screen your dog from the potential dangers of sunburn this summer. Understand the risks, the signs of sunburn and what preventive measures you can utilize to prevent a visit to the pet ER.

Types of Dogs Most at Risk

Just as fair-skinned and light-haired humans are more susceptible to the sun’s harsh rays, dogs with light-colored or white fur and those with little to no fur are most likely to suffer from sunburn.

Some breeds of dogs at higher risk of sunburn due to their thin fur coat include pitbulls, Dalmatians, boxer dogs, Weimaraners, greyhounds and Chinese crested dogs.

While these fair-colored and thin-furred dogs are higher at risk of sunburn, this does not mean that dogs with thick dark coats are not at risk.

High Risk Areas on Dogs at Risk for Sunburn

The areas on a dog most likely to sunburn first are the nose, tips of ears, belly, the tip of the tail and, depending on the breed of dog, the eyelids and area directly around the mouth.

Symptoms of Dog Sunburn

The first and most obvious sign of sunburn on a dog is redness directly on a dog’s skin. The dog’s skin will also be tender to the touch.

Other signs of dog sunburn include:

  • Dry, cracked or curled edges of a dog’s ears
  • Hair loss
  • Skin ulcers
  • Skin infections
  • Skin cancer (malignant melanoma) which can present itself as abnormal tumors

Preventing Dog Sunburn

Dog in pool

Since the FDA does not currently test sunscreen usage on pets, it’s important that you discuss pet-safe sunscreens with your dog’s veterinarian. Not all sunscreens are safe for pets, especially those with zinc oxide. While this ingredient is effective for humans, it’s toxic for dogs and can cause severe anemia and be potentially life threatening.

In addition, not all pet-safe sunscreens are recommended for cats. Sunscreen with salicylates (or acetylsalicylic acid) is toxic for cats.

Avoid spray sunscreens as this can easily end up in your dog’s eyes or inhaled by your dog, both causing irritation and potential harm.

Look for a sunscreen that has no zinc oxide and little to no octisalate (another type of salicylate). Do not use a sunscreen product on your pet without consulting with your veterinarian or a veterinary-specialty hotline such as the Pet Poison Helpline.

UV- and UPF-protective clothing is available to dogs and can be a safe and practical way to protect high-risk dogs when outdoors. Keep in mind that you still need to protect your dog’s ears, nose, tail, belly and exposed skin near the hind legs.

If you plan on spending time outdoors with your dog, consider popping up a tent, a beach umbrella or an E-Z Up. These can be used in both a yard, park and at the beach and provide ample shade for everyone. 

If you suspect your dog has sunburn, seek medical care from your veterinarian immediately.