Repeated exposure to UV rays can cause a host of medical issues for your dog, some quite serious. You might be surprised to know that dogs can (and do) get skin cancer just like humans.
The Dangers of Sun Exposure
Over time, the sun’s UV rays damages the cells in skin. This can lead to discoloration like freckles and can weaken the skin’s elasticity, causing it to rip more easily and take longer to heal. Dogs can also get sunscreen, and it hurts! By far the most detrimental affect of the sun on skin is the proliferation of pre-cancerous and cancerous cells.
There are three types of skin cancer; dogs can get all of them. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are by far the most common types of skin cancer, and also the easiest to treat. Melanoma is the type of skin cancer that leads to a vast majority of skin cancer deaths.
Which Dogs Are at Risk?
Certain dogs are more at risk in the sun than others. Just like people, dogs with more naturally fair complexions burn more easily, especially dogs with blue eyes, pale eyelids, or white fur. Of course, dogs who spend a great deal of time outside in the sun, particularly between the hours of 10am-4pm, are also more at-risk.
Dog fur is actually a highly effective natural barrier to UV rays. If your dog has a thick, dense coat, she’s probably pretty sun-tolerant. If your dog has bald patches, thin hair, or even sheds in the summertime (which exposes more skin), be vigilant. Know that Australian Sheepdogs, Dalmatians, Collies, Bulldogs, Whippets, and other short-haired dogs are most at risk of sun damage.
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How to Protect Your Dog in the Sun
The million dollar question: Do dogs need sunscreen? In a nutshell, yes! Most do. There are also a lot of other ways you can help protect your dog from the sun’s rays that don’t involve having to chase her down and lather her up.
When possible, only use sunscreen FDA-approved specifically for dogs. If you can’t find dog-specific sunscreen, baby sunscreen or sunscreen made for sensitive skin can work, but you should definitely talk to your vet first. What’s most important is to avoid any sunscreen that contains the common ingredient zinc oxide, which can be deadly to dogs if ingested. Also avoid PABA and salicylates.
Before apply, test the sunscreen you’ve chosen on a small patch of your dog’s skin to watch for any adverse reactions. Once you’re in the clear, apply to any exposed skin – pay close attention to the bridge of the nose, ear tips, belly area, and anywhere else pigmentation is light. Reapply if your dog goes swimming.
Do you shave your dog’s fur in the summertime to keep her cool? You could be elevating her sun risk. Allowing your dog’s fur to naturally shield her skin from the sun is an easy sunscreen alternative.
A host of pet product companies make gear specifically designed to protect dogs from UV exposure. Look for shirts, hats, and even goggles! Just know that a dog wearing clothing will be hotter than a dog without and will thus be more susceptible to heat stroke.
Shade and Water:
It’s always smart to be near shade when you’re outside with your dog. Not only does the shade help protect her (and you!) from the sun, it provides a cooling effect when things get hot. Also bring along plenty of fresh water so your dog can cool herself off by staying hydrated.