That’s right—sun protection is important for canines, too.
Dogs can get painful sunburns and develop some types of skin cancer from excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Because many assistance dogs are out in the sunlight more often than pets as they accompany their people partners everywhere they go, sun protection is especially important.
Sun Damage Risk Factors
The sun’s rays are strongest—and most potentially harmful—during the blazing summer months and in mid- to late-afternoons, so these are the most crucial times for proactive sun protection. Any dog can develop a sunburn or skin cancer, but certain risk factors increase the chances.
Fur provides some natural sun protection, so dogs with thick or long coats are better protected, while those with short hair or thin coats are more susceptible to sun damage. Also, dogs with partial or full white coats and pale pink skin are at increased risk. For dogs with multicolored coats that include some white, you’ll notice that the skin under the white patches is paler than skin elsewhere; the darker the skin, the more natural sun protection provided by pigment. Pink snouts are also at higher risk.
Conditions that cause thinning coats or bald spots can leave your dog with less natural defenses against the sun’s rays. These commonly include parasitic infections and allergic skin conditions, as well as some medication side effects.
Sun Protection Tips
Avoiding excessive sun exposure is the best way to protect your service dog. Obviously, you have less flexibility in this regard than pet owners, but when possible, limit your dog’s time in direct sunlight from around 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Provide access to shade in the yard and as you walk around outside.
While keeping long hair neatly trimmed is part of a good basic grooming regimen, don’t shave it or cut it too short in the summer. Otherwise, your assistance dog loses built-in sun protection. If your dog is losing her hair due to a condition or medication, talk to your veterinarian about a treatment plan.
A light t-shirt or specially made dog clothing can also provide protection from the sun, but be careful about making your dog uncomfortably hot, as overheating can be a serious concern. This is a good option for covering bald spots (due perhaps to a skin condition or shaved area for surgery).
Sunscreen for Dogs
Using a topical sunscreen is a key part of protecting your service dog against sun damage, especially in the summer. But you can’t slather on just any product, as many common ingredients in human sunscreen are unsafe—even highly toxic—to canines, especially if ingested via licking.
Your best bet is a sunblock formulated specifically for dogs, but a product made for human babies also works. For a good pick, look for a sunscreen made with avobenzone and octisate, natural ingredients that block UVA and UVB rays respectively. Only use a hypoallergenic product that provides at least SPF 15 protection or SPF 30 for fair-skinned dogs, and waterproof products are preferable.
For your dog’s safety, never use a sunscreen containing any of these ingredients:
- Artificial fragrances
- Zinc oxide
- Methyl Parabene
- DMDM Hydantoin
Apply sunblock directly to your dog’s skin, paying particular attention to pale areas, her nose, the tips of her ears, her belly, and her groin.
Sunburn on a dog appears as a reddened area of skin that’s tender to the touch. The affected skin also often feels warm. Localized peeling or flaking skin and hair loss may occur as well, and in severe cases, the dog may run a fever. Scratching, whimpering, and avoidance of being pet may indicate itching or pain from a sunburn.
If your dog develops a sunburn, keep her out of the sun as much as possible for a few days. Cool compresses and natural soothing canine skin ointments can provide some relief, as can a temperate oatmeal bath. Neem oil, aloe vera, and vitamin E are helpful natural ingredients to look for in skin products. Coconut oil is an effective natural moisturizer, but it can irritate a new sunburn, so wait a few days before applying it.
See your vet for treatment of a severe sunburn. Steroids may be necessary to treat inflammation, and your dog should be monitored for secondary infections, especially if she’s scratching the area.
Now that you know how to protect your assistance dog against the sun’s damaging ultraviolet radiation, read about the proper precautions to keep her safe from excessive heat and prevent heatstroke.
Also, make sure you’re familiar with your dog’s water needs, as this is essential to her health and preventing complications from overexposure to the heat or sunlight.