Chances are you’re familiar with some basic sun protection rules: apply sunscreen every two hours, wear long sleeves and pants when possible, and drink plenty of water. But, did you know your dog needs sun protection too? Just like people, dogs are susceptible to sunburn, heat sickness and dehydration. The good news is that, with some preparation and planning, you can help protect your dog from the sun.
Preventing Sunburn in Dogs
Just because dogs have fur doesn’t mean they can’t get sunburned. Dogs with thin hair, no hair or light-colored skin are more susceptible to sunburns. Sunburns are painful for dogs, just like humans, and can lead to skin damage or even fur loss. The best way to keep your dog from getting sunburned is to keep them out of the sun during the heat of the day. If they have to be outside and a shaded area is not available, apply a special pet sunscreen to help protect their skin.
How to Choose Dog Sunscreen
Human sunblock often contains the ingredient zinc oxide, which is toxic to dogs when ingested. Dog sunscreen comes in various forms, including lotion, spray and gel. Read the label to make sure the sunscreen blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of 15 or higher. Choose a waterproof sunscreen if your pup is going swimming. And for dogs with sensitive skin, find a fragrance-free sunscreen to help minimize skin irritation.
How to Apply Dog Sunscreen
It is a good idea to test your dog’s sunscreen in a small amount on their skin before applying it all over. This will help you determine if your dog will have a reaction to it. Start by applying to a small area of skin and monitor throughout the day to see if any irritation, such as a rash or excessive itching, develops. If there is irritation, wash off the sunscreen and discontinue use. If the reaction is severe, contact your veterinarian.
Once you’ve determined which sunscreen is best for your dog, it should be applied before taking them outside. Apply the sunscreen to areas where your dog’s skin is exposed to the sun, including their face, abdomen, legs and the tips of their ears. Avoid getting sunscreen in your dog’s eyes, and do your best to minimize inhalation if you’re using a spray sunscreen.
Allow the sunscreen to soak in for several minutes. Watch your dog after applying the sunscreen to make sure they don’t lick it off (it may help to have a bone or treat handy to distract them). Reapply the sunscreen as directed, usually every two to three hours, and more often if your dog is in the water.
Sun Clothing for Dogs
Additionally, sun-protective clothing for dogs can help protect your pup from sunburn. Use hats, shirts or bodysuits to cover your dog’s skin from sun exposure. Look for items made with light and breathable fabric to help keep your dog as cool as possible. Also look for dog goggles or sunglasses to protect your dog’s eyes from harmful sun rays.
Preventing Heatstroke in Dogs
In addition to the risk of sunburn, keeping your dog outside during the middle of the day when the sun’s rays and heat are strongest can cause dehydration, overheating and, in severe cases, heatstroke (hyperthermia). Keeping your pet cool and hydrated is key to preventing heatstroke.
Signs of Heatstroke in Dogs
Dogs have a normal internal body temperature of 101-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. When they become hot, dogs pant to cool their bodies down. While they do have some sweat glands in their paws, dogs do not sweat to eliminate body heat like humans do. Sometimes though, panting is not enough to help your pup cool off. This can cause dogs to overheat and become sick.
Signs of heat exhaustion in dogs may include excessive panting, lethargy or weakness, a bright/dark red tongue and gums, rapid heart rate, increased salivation and thick or sticky saliva. Severe signs may include vomiting, collapsing, seizures or loss of consciousness.
What to Do if Your Dog Overheats
If your dog is overheating, get them to a cool environment right away. You can help bring their body temperature down by:
- Placing them in a cool (not cold) bath or shower
- Applying a cold pack to the back of their head/neck area
- Massaging their legs to improve blood circulation and prevent shock
- Ensuring they drink plenty of water
What to Do if Your Dog Has Heatstroke
If your dog is experiencing severe symptoms of overheating, they might be having a heatstroke. Heatstroke in dogs is a medical emergency and requires immediate attention. Remove your dog from the hot environment and get them to a veterinarian right away. While transporting your dog, you can help cool them down a couple of ways.
- Place cool, wet cloths or towels on their head and neck, abdomen, groin area, under their limbs and around their feet. Do not use ice water.
- If possible, direct the fan or air conditioning toward your dog’s body to provide increased air circulation.
More Tips for Preventing Overheating and Heatstroke in Dogs
In addition to keeping dogs inside during the heat of the day, or in a shaded area outside, and providing plenty of water, there are several tips to keep your dog from overheating and getting sick.
- Do not leave your dog in a vehicle. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), temperatures inside cars can reach near 90 degrees in just 10 minutes on a 70-degree day and can quickly exceed 100 degrees on summer days. Cracking the car’s windows will do very little to keep your vehicle cool.
- Do not over-exercise your dog. Take walks and play with your pup in the morning or evening when the temperature is cooler to avoid overheating. You may need to shorten walks or playtime if your dog becomes more easily tired in the heat.
- Avoid prolonged exposure to hot surfaces. Hot surfaces such as concrete, asphalt, rock and sand can burn your dog’s paws and radiate heat, making it more difficult for your dog to cool his body down. If going for walks, keep your dog on the grass to avoid burning their paws.
- Don’t muzzle. Leaving a muzzle on your dog can keep them from panting when they’re hot and can cause overheating.