What you Need to Know about Sunscreen for Dogs

Are you serious about protecting your dog from avoidable harm?


Yes, you keep them on a leash near the road.

Yes, you're vigilant about what they eat.

Yes, you keep household toxins under lock and key

Yes, you apply sunscreen….Oh, wait! Perhaps not.


Dogs have fur. Therefore it's easy to assume they have inbuilt sunscreen, but this isn't always the case. Indeed, for certain dogs the risk of sun damage (leading to cancer) is high. Here is what every pet parent needs know about the potential problems and how to avoid them.


#1: Which Dogs are at Risk?


Those dogs at greatest risk of sun damage are those that lack the pigment melanin. These guys are easy to spot because they have pink noses and white ears.


But the danger isn't just limited to areas without much fur, like a nose or ear tips. Short coated dogs with white hair are also at risk. Indeed, if you own a dalmatian or a bi-colored dog such as a pit bull, the darker patches can be fine whilst the white areas could be at risk of precancerous sun damage leading to cancer.


These breeds include:

  • Dalmatians

  • Bull terriers

  • Greyhounds

  • Boxers

  • Pit bull terriers

  • French bulldogs


Also, you should worry about any dog that spends lots of time in the sun. Indeed, the sun is especially fierce 10am - 4pm, so any four-legger that spends lots of time in a yard or outdoors should wear sunscreen.


#2: What Does Sun Damage Look Like?


Just like people, dogs suffer 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 angry looking 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:

  • Malignant melanoma

  • Squamous cell carcinoma

  • Hemangioma

  • Hemangiosarcoma

And remember, this isn't limited to nose and ears, this can affect the trunk of a white-coated dog - hence the need for sunscreen.  


#3: How to Protect your Pooch



However, it's important to use special pet sunscreens that lack zinc oxide.

Sunscreens that are low in para aminobenzoic acid (PABA) are also preferred - although difficult to come by.


And a quick shout out for our feline friends - avoid sunscreens containing octisalate. This is from the aspirin family and is toxic to cats.


Know what to Avoid

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. Which is why pet sunscreens are formulated without zinc.


Pet Sunscreen to 101

Read the label!

If an ingredient is zinc, put it back on the shelf.

However, most pet sunscreens are zinc free. Spray formulations work the best as you can simply spritz the dog, and then distract them for a few minutes whilst it dries in.


Choose a product that is:

  • A minimum of SPF 15

  • Broad spectrum (blocks UVA & UVB)

Be sure to reapply the sunscreen after swimming and then every 4 - 6 hours.




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 10am - 4pm. You can also source UV protective T-shirts for dogs, which are a great idea for obsessive swimmers!


Oh, and one last point. Think about protecting their eyes. Doggys 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?

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