Are you serious about protecting your dog from avoidable harm?
Yes, you keep them on a leash near the road. You're vigilant about feeding them healthy food. You keep household toxins under lock and key.
And, you apply sunscreen….Oh, wait! Perhaps not.
Dogs have fur. Therefore it's easy to assume they have built-in sunscreen, but this isn't always the case. Indeed, for certain dogs, the risk of sun damage that can cause cancer is high. Not only that, but conditions like atopy and dermatitis can get worse. Here is what every pet parent needs to know about the potential problems of sun exposure and how to avoid them.
Which dogs are more at risk from sun exposure?
Dogs at greatest risk of sun damage are those with thin, light skin and fur. These guys are easy to spot because they often have pink noses and white ears. Any breed with thin fur, and of course, the hairless breeds, are susceptible to sunburn and need to be protected when outside.
The areas without much fur, like a nose or ear tips need sunscreen coverage. As well, the underbelly and armpits can get sunburned, too.
Breeds that can easily get sore and tender skin after playtime in the sun include, among others:
Any dog that spends lots of time in the sun, such as a working dog, needs safe, vet-approved coverage all day. The sun's rays are especially fierce between 10 am and 2 pm, so any four-legger that spends lots of time outdoors should wear sunscreen.
What does sun damage look like in dogs?
Just like people, dogs can suffer from a range of sun-related problems. These range from sunburn to precancerous changes to cancer.
The dog that falls asleep in the full midday sun is likely to get painful red, inflamed skin. When they repeatedly snooze in the sun, the skin becomes damaged with thickened raised patches. Small scabs form, and the hair falls out. This is the precancerous phase.
Sadly, repeated skin exposure leads to a variety of cancers including:
Squamous cell carcinoma
And remember, this isn't limited to nose and ears, this can affect the trunk of a dog - hence the need for sunscreen. For example, if you have your pooch at the beach for a day at the ocean, the sun's rays can reflect off the sand to the underbelly and cause a burn.
How can I protect my dog from sun damage?
It is important to use special pet sunscreens that lack zinc oxide. Zinc is toxic to dogs, but zinc oxide is a major component of most human sunscreens. A difference between people and dogs is that people don't lick their sunscreen off, whereas dogs do. A dog that ingests zinc regularly is at risk of a serious form of anemia, leading to jaundice, weakness, and collapse. This is why pet sunscreens are formulated without zinc.
Sunscreens that are low in para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) are also preferred, although can be difficult to come by. Consult with the vet to discuss the best product for your companion.
And a quick shout out for our feline friends - avoid sunscreens containing octisalate. This is from the aspirin family and is toxic to cats.
Pet Sunscreen 101
Read the label! Most pet sunscreens are zinc-free so don't settle for anything less. Spray formulations work the best as you can simply spritz your dog, and then distract them for a few minutes while the spray dries on the coat. Be sure to reapply the sunscreen after swimming and then every 4 - 6 hours.
Choose a product that is:
A minimum of SPF 15 or as recommended by your pup's vet
Broad spectrum (blocks UVA & UVB)
And finally, other important strategies to protect your pet from sun damage include avoiding the worst of the sun. Where possible, avoid sun exposure between 10 am and 2 pm. You can also source UV protective T-shirts for dogs, which are a great idea for obsessive swimmers! Some fashion-savvy pooches will even wear a protective sun hat. Remember, pet parents who live in four-season areas still need to employ precautionary sun exposure rules. The snow reflects the brilliant rays just the same.
Oh, and one last point. Think about protecting your four-legged buddy's eyes. Doggy sun-goggles don't just look cute, they are a serious way to protect your dog's retinas against UV damage. An interesting thought… isn't it?