Your Dog and the Summer Sun

Your Dog and the Summer Sun

Summer is here. The sun is bright; the trees are green; and flowers are blooming. The sun warms us, helps raise our vitamin D levels, and makes us smile. We know, too, however, that the sun can be dangerous; the rising numbers of people with skin cancer tells us that. What about our dogs though? Is the sun dangerous for them? It turns out that yes, the sun is just as dangerous for them as it can be for us.

The Sun's Heat Can be Deadly

One of my dogs years ago, Riker, was the ultimate sun bather. He'd go outside on a warm day and lie on the concrete patio, flat on his side, and soak up the sun's heat. While I envied him (and did it far too many times myself as a teenager) there were days when I called Riker inside because I worried he'd develop heat stroke. Dogs don't sweat as we do, so dissipating heat can be difficult. The only sweat glands dogs have are in their paws which is why a hot dog will often leave behind damp paw prints. Other than that, dogs pant to lower their temperature. When a dog is hot and panting isn't lowering his temperature quickly the dog can become hyperthermic and develop heat stroke. An overheated dog will pant excessively, drooling while doing so, and will be anxious. He might be barking and whining. He could have seizures and, if not treated promptly, he could die. If you suspect your dog has become overheated, remove him from the heat if at all possible. If you're outside and can't get him into some air conditioning, pour cool water over him. Get him wet all over and keep the water running on him. Massage him briskly to keep his blood circulating to move the cooler blood near the skin throughout the body. Once you've started to cool him call your veterinarian immediately and get him to your vet's clinic. If your veterinarian isn't available take your dog to the closest emergency clinic.

Sun Bleaching the Coat

Amazingly enough, the sun's rays can bleach your dog's coat. Just as some people who spend a lot of time outside in the summer develop sun bleached hair (usually lighter streaks) some dogs can also have a sun bleached coat. This is most common in dogs who have red or brown coats, including chocolate, reddish brown, liver, and similar shades. It's not unusual in black dogs either. Riker, who was a black tri-colored Australian Shepherd, would have shades of red in his black coat if I let him stay out in the sun too long over the course of a summer. Unfortunately, the sun bleached coat is also a damaged coat. The hair is usually dry and damaged as well as discolored.

Sun Burns are Bad News

When my old dog Riker spent time basking in the sun I wasn't too worried about his coat, but sun burns area different matter. Yes, dogs can get sun burned just as people can and it can be just as uncomfortable for them as it is for us. It can also have lasting repercussions for them as well; including the potential for developing skin cancer. Dogs with darker fur and a full coat aren't at risk for sun burns, since the coat protects them reasonably well. White dogs, however, especially those with a light colored (pink, beige, or liver colored) nose are at the highest risk for sun damage and potentially, skin cancer. Short haired dogs and hairless dogs also have a high risk for sunburn. The areas where sun burns are more likely seen are those where the hair coat is the thinnest and include the tips of the ear, the eyelids and around the eyes, the nose, the muzzle, and the belly. If your dog has spent time outside and his skin is red, feels hot, and perhaps has some blisters, call your veterinarian. Sun burns in dogs can range from first, second, and third degree burns just as they can be in people.
©istockphoto/Pekic ©istockphoto/Pekic

Yes, There are Sunscreens for Dogs

Don't use your sunscreen on your dog. Many of ours have ingredients that can be harmful for your dog, including zinc oxide. Keep in mind, you dog may ingest some of the sunscreen as he grooms himself. Our sunscreens were not created to be ingested. However, there are several sunscreens made for dogs. Nose Butter Summertime is a sunscreen for dogs made from shea butter and other safe ingredients. The Epi-Pet Sun Protector Spray is made to be used all over your dog for hairless or short haired dogs, or where and as needed for dogs with more coat.

Heat is Tough on the Paws

Do you have boots for your dog? Dog boots are one of the best ways to protect those paws from boiling asphalt. Plus if you like thinking ahead, boots are great for rough terrain while hiking and frigid ground during the winter. On a hot day, the temperature of the ground rises rapidly and can often be twenty to thirty degrees higher than the air temperature. One June day a couple of years ago, I wanted to see exactly hot the concrete sidewalk and asphalt street got. Using a digital thermometer designed to measure surface temperatures, I found that at 2pm, the hottest part of that day, the air temperature was 85 degrees F. and the concrete sidewalk was 22 degrees warmer. The asphalt street, however, was 30 degrees hotter. Imagine how much damage 115º ground could do to your dog's paws. If you hold the back of your hand to the surface you and your dog will be walking on, you can feel the heat. Either cancel the walk, or walk earlier in the day or later. Or, if the air temperature isn't too hot but the surface is suspect, teach your dog to wear doggy boots.

Water, Water, Water

When you're outside in the heat, you know you're supposed to drink more fluids and the same applies to your dog. Offer him water to drink more often and if he doesn't want to drink it, use a spray bottle with clean cool water to spray water in his mouth. Invite him to stand in a large water bowl with cool water (remember he sweats through glands in his paws). If he's standing in cool water he may drink more, too. A child's plastic wading pool is great for hot days. Fill it with water and drop in large chunks of ice, some bits of carrot and apple, or some dog toys. He'll have fun and cool off at the same time.
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