dog sunburn

Does Your Dog Need Sunscreen?

Humans aren’t the only ones at risk for sunburn and all the health issues that come with it.

“If there is a situation where a person might get sunburned, it is likely a dog will get sunburned as well,” according to Dr. Jennifer Kasten, DVM, Technical Services Veterinarian at Tomlyn Veterinary Science. Here’s a quick guide on keeping your pet safe while playing in the sun.

Which Dogs Get Sunburned?

While all dogs are susceptible to sunburn, some are definitely more susceptible than others. “Dogs with thin, white, or short hair, light-colored skin, or fragile skin are at the greatest risk,” says Kasten. When it comes to breeds, dogs with very short hair, no undercoat or very light skin are also at a greater risk. “American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, bull terriers, boxers, Dalmatians, American bulldogs, English bulldogs, collies, and whippets are among the most susceptible to sunburn and a more severe condition associated with sun exposure called solar dermatitis,” Kasten adds.

Watch Out for Danger Signs

While sunburn can happen anywhere, the most susceptible areas include around the nose, ears, ventral abdomen (belly), groin, and inner thighs, according to Kasten. “Sunscreen should be applied to those areas, as well as any area with minimal hair coverage,” says Kasten. In addition to using sunscreen, Kasten points out it’s important to provide shade if your dogs are going to be spending time outdoors. “If at the beach or a park, use a large umbrella or tent to provide shade,” Kasten says. “Trees and covered porches are excellent places for dogs to avoid the sun.” During very hot days, it’s best if you avoid long walks and outdoor time between 10am-4pm, when the risk of burning is higher.
dog sunburn istockphoto/Capuski

Pick the Right Sunscreen

While there are a few commercial sunscreens available for pets, sunscreens formulated for children or babies work just fine. “Look for a sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection of at least SPF 30 that is also waterproof or quick-drying,” Kasten says. “Pet owners should be careful to avoid those sunscreens containing zinc oxide, para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), and octyl salicylate as they can be toxic to pets.” To work effectively, sunscreen needs to be reapplied frequently if your dog is going to be outdoors for a prolonged period of time. “Waterproof sunscreens are actually a great idea for dogs as they may remain effective in the face of licking, drinking, and play in the water should be applied liberally and reapplied frequently when in the sun,” says Kasten. "Owners can also obtain clothing or sunsuits with ultraviolet protection for their dogs to help minimize exposure.”

See Your Vet if You Suspect Your Dog is Sunburned

If you notice red, painful, irritated or inflamed skin after a day outdoors, your dog might be sunburned. “Dogs can also develop a condition called solar dermatitis that is caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation,” says Kasten. This is in addition to more serious problems, including two types of cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and cutaneous hemangiosarcoma. If you suspect your dog had excessive sun exposure and seems uncomfortable, it’s a good idea to talk to your veterinarian. While there, discuss specific recommendations for sun protection for your pet so you can avoid lasting issues and more serious problems in the future.

Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and avid adventurer. She's gone hiking in Siberia, snorkeling in Thailand, and canoeing in the Mekong River. She also loves caves and has been known to get lost in one or five around the world. Diana's work has been published in the Discovery Channel website, Yahoo!, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can read more of her work on her website at
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