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Is the Sun Dangerous For Dogs?

Updated on August 8, 2016
Angel - American Bulldog/Pit Bull mix
Angel - American Bulldog/Pit Bull mix | Source
Dezl - American Bulldog
Dezl - American Bulldog | Source
Dino - Cavapoo
Dino - Cavapoo | Source

Why Do Dogs Lay in the Sun?

Not only does the warmth of the sun feel good to a dog, it’s a natural source of vitamin D. According to puppyleaks.com, “When we stand in direct sunlight the oil in our skin reacts to the UV rays by breaking down the chemical bonds and creating vitamin D3.” Vitamin D3 is not efficiently absorbed into a dog’s body, but stays on their fur and is ingested when they groom themselves with their tongue.

Vitamin D is important for a dog’s bone formation as well as muscle and nerve control. Stored in the fatty tissues of a dog’s body and liver, it also helps keep the calcium and phosphorous levels balanced.

The Danger of UV Rays

Like humans, fair-haired dogs run a greater risk of sunburn. You may think that because a dog wears a fur coat he is protected from the rays of the sun. This is incorrect. Over exposure to the sun can cause sunburn, skin ulcers and ultimately, cancer. Breeds with white hair or light-colored noses are also at greater risk. Prevention.com states that “33% of tumors in dogs start in the skin, and about one third are malignant.”

Something people are probably not as familiar with is reflective sun exposure. This is sunlight that reflects off a beach or hot sidewalk and hits the bare areas of your dog’s stomach, which is where most skin cancers are found. This is sometimes referred to as solar-induced cancer.

It might seem like a good idea to shave your dog in the hot summer months, but think again! Shaving your dog’s coat only exposes his skin to sun exposure, leading to possible sun damage. Not only is your dog’s fur his protection from the sun’s dangerous ultra violet rays, shaved skin is more vulnerable to sunburn. You are better off thinning out your dog’s undercoat for relief from the heat. As dogster.com puts it, “Think of this as the difference between a cotton t-shirt and a wool sweater!”

Sun can also cause damage to your dog’s eyes. You might consider trying a dog hat, or dog goggles, which are increasing in popularity. It’s a good idea to protect the sensitive areas of your dog’s face from the sun’s damaging rays.

Sunscreen

You probably don’t think twice about putting sunscreen on yourself or your child, but don’t forget your pooch! There are many sunscreens to choose from, but it’s important to do your homework. Be sure you choose a sunscreen that is pet safe - zinc oxide and salicylates are found in regular sunscreens, but are dangerous for dogs. In large amounts both can be toxic if licked off, then ingested.

If you are trying a sunscreen for the first time, put a small amount in a test area and watch carefully. Pay attention not only to changes in the skin, but your dog’s behavior as well. If anything appears out of the ordinary, call your vet immediately.

Your dog does not need to be slathered in sunscreen. Dog hair doesn’t need protection; just the areas that will be exposed to the sun. Sunscreen should be applied to your dog at least thirty minutes before going outside. Apply pet-safe sunscreen to all sunburn-prone areas, such as the ears, bridge of nose, inside of legs, groin and underbelly. Petguide.com tells us that a sunscreen of SPF 15 is optimal, and should be applied every 4-6 hours and after long periods of time in the water.

Don’t have any pet-safe sunscreen on hand? A white t-shirt will do well in a pinch. Don’t like the idea of putting sunscreen on your dog? Believe it or not, UV sun suits are available.

It’s a good idea to get in the habit of monthly nose-to-tail checks on your dog. If you notice anything out of the ordinary such as lumps, raised bumps, skin lesions or wounds that won’t heal, contact your vet immediately as these could be signs of skin cancer.

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