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Can Dogs Get Sunburned?


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Sunburn is a condition that is both painful and damaging to the body’s largest organ, the skin. After exposure to the ultraviolet rays of sunshine or from artificial light sources like sunlamps, the skin will show evidence of sunburn within a few hours. For human beings, the surface of the skin becomes red, painful, and hot to the touch.

This skin condition may take several days to subside and fade. It is the repeated exposure of the skin to these extremes that can cause severe physical damage over time. Sunburn can be prevented with appropriate skin protection, even on days that are not warm and sunny.

Sunburn is a common condition amongst people, but what about canines? Can dogs get sunburned too?

Can Dogs Get Sunburned?


Dogs are as likely to become sunburned as a human being. There are certain breeds of dogs that are more susceptible to being sunburned, such as hairless dogs, short-haired dogs, and white or light-colored dogs. However, regardless of breed or coat color, all dogs can suffer from this condition.

Sunburn most frequently occurs in these areas of a dog’s body that often have little to no fur:

■ Nose
■ Belly
■ Ears
■ Eyelids
■ Mouth

Sunburn is just as painful and frustrating to a canine as it is to a human. As with people, dogs who regularly develop sunburn run the risk of more serious illness, like cancer, in the future.

Read on for more information about Sunburn in Dogs and learn more about common canine skin issues in Dry Skin in Dogs.

Is My Dog Sunburned?

The symptoms of sunburn in a dog are similar to what one would see in a person suffering from sunburn. They usually appear within an hour of sun exposure and may reach the peak within three days:

■ Blistering
■ Inflammation
■ Reddened areas of skin
■ Dry, cracked skin
■ Vocalization of pain when touched or when moving

Some breeds of dogs are far more susceptible to sunburn than others, If you own a dog that qualifies as part of any of the following breeds, you need to be aware of the higher likelihood of sunburn occurring:

■ Golden retrievers
■ White boxers
■ Dalmatians
■ Pit bulls
■ Weimaraners
■ Yellow Labrador retrievers
■ Chinese Cresteds
■ Greyhounds
■ Beagles
■ Dogo Argentinos
■ White bulldogs
■ Whippets

There are also medical circumstances that may put a canine at greater risk for sunburn. Dogs who have areas of scar tissue, who have recently undergone surgery and had fur shaved for skin exposure, who have autoimmune diseases, and suffer from genetic defects need to be carefully monitored while exposed to the sun.

Sunburn will be diagnosed by a veterinarian to determine the exact cause of the burning. The condition of your dog’s skin, his breed, and his medical history will be taken into account preceding an official diagnosis.

How do I Treat My Dog’s Sunburn?

If your dog is suffering from sunburn or accompanying heat exhaustion, there are a few steps to take to provide some initial relief. You can apply cold compresses to the dog’s skin to cool it down, prevent further damage, and reduce pain. However, your dog should be seen by a veterinarian who, if the damage is extensive enough, may provide the dog with intravenous fluids to rehydrate or stabilize the dog.

Other options that the veterinarian may opt to use are anti-inflammatory cortisone ointments or topical antifungal or antibacterial cream to prevent or address and secondary infections that may occur.

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How is Sunburn Similar in Humans and Dogs?

The main similarities of sunburn in people and canines are the manner in which sunburn occurs, the symptoms of it, and the treatment. Like humans, when dogs are overexposed to the ultraviolet light from the sun, they develop sunburn. Also similarly to people, a dog’s color and genetics factor into how much more prone he is to sunburn than other dogs.

The symptoms of sunburn are the same between the two: reddened, sensitive skin; dry, cracked skin; blistering; and inflammation. Treatments with topical cortisones and antibacterial creams are also the same.

How is Sunburn Different in Humans and Dogs?

There are virtually no differences between sunburn in dogs and humans with the exception of people’s ability to vocalize more precisely when suffering from it. Dog owners need to examine their dog carefully when he is outside for extended periods of time as dogs can’t speak up when they are sunburned.

Case Study

After a long afternoon playing at a park in the sun, a dog owner notices brighter, redder skin on his greyhound’s body. When touched by the owner, the dog yelps and shies away. The skin is hot and inflamed. The owner applies cold compresses to provide relief to the dog, then calls the veterinarian.

During the appointment, the veterinarian examines the dog’s skin condition, and takes its breed into account, before diagnosing the dog with sunburn. As this is a milder case, the veterinarian prescribes cortisone to reduce inflammation and an antibacterial cream to prevent infection.

Within a week, the dog’s skin is a normal color, and he is back to living a happy, active, pain-free life.

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