Much like humans, dogs can experience the discomfort of sunburn, which not only causes pain but also increases the risk of skin cancer. There’s a common misconception that dog’s fur provides ample protection again the sun’s harmful effects. While fur does offer some defence, it’s not a foolproof shield, especially for dogs with short or light-coloured fur.

Read on to understand the risks, the signs of sunburn in your dog and what preventive measures can save you a trip to the vet.

Are some dogs more prone to sunburn?

Absolutely. Dogs with white fur tend to have fair skin, making them more vulnerable to sun damage. Dogs with naturally thin hair, and especially hairless breeds, such as Chinese Crested dogs, face a higher risk for sunburn and skin cancer. All dogs, regardless of the thickness of their coats, have vulnerable areas of the body with little to no fur; their belly, ears, and even nose can become dry, burnt and sore.

Preventing sunburn in dogs

To safeguard your dog from sunburn, follow these tips:

  • Limit sun exposure
    The most effective way to protect your dog from sunburn is to limit their exposure during peak sunlight hours, which are typically between 10am and 4pm. If you must go outside during these hours, provide shade and use pet-friendly sunscreen.
  • Pet-friendly sunscreen
    Yes, there’s sunscreen specifically made for pets! Always use pet-friendly sunscreen, as human sunscreen can be toxic if ingested. Apply it to your dog’s vulnerable areas, including their nose, ears, belly and groin area.
  • Protective clothing
    Consider dog sun-protective clothing, such as rashies or sunsuits, to shield your pet from harmful UV rays. These are particularly useful for dogs with thin or light-coloured fur. There are also a number of sun hats available for dogs; however not all dogs like wearing hats.
  • Sunglasses for dogs
    Yes, you read that right! Doggy sunglasses can protect their eyes from UV rays.
  • Shade and shelter
    Ensure your dog has access to shaded areas and shelter on sunny days, whether it’s an umbrella at the beach, a shady tree at a park, a patio roof, or a sun-block top for an outdoor kennel. Walk your dog in the cooler morning or evening hours to avoid the scorching midday sun. This will help prevent your dog from getting sunburnt and burning their paws on the hot ground.
  • Hydration
    Keep your dog well-hydrated to prevent overheating. Always provide access to fresh water, especially during outdoor activities.

Signs of sunburn in dogs

Symptoms of sunburn in dogs are similar to those in humans and include red, tender skin that is particularly noticeable on their nose, ears, and belly. Dry, cracked skin and slightly curled ear edges may also be visible. Watch for signs like frequent scratching accompanied by whimpering and your dog shrinking away when touched. Severe sunburn can even lead to a mild fever.

Treating sunburn in dogs

If you think your dog has sunburn, place a wet, cool towel on the area to soothe it and contact your visit. Medicated creams may be prescribed, along with pain relief medication. If the sunburn is severe, your dog may need fluids, especially if they are also suffering heat-related issues.