Dog Sunburn: Prevention Tips, Detection Methods, and Natural Remedies

Sunburn is as painful for dogs as it is for people. Holistic veterinarian Dr. Anna Maria Wolf shares essential tips for putting sunscreen on your dog, preventive measures you can take, and how to treat a dog sunburn.

Inside this article:

Can Dogs Get Sunburn?

Just like people, dogs can get sunburn from too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. Dogs are at risk if they spend a lot of time outside or have traits or sensitivities that increase their chances of sunburn.

How to Keep Your Dog from Getting a Sunburn

Dr. Anna Maria Wolf is a holistic veterinarian in Brinnon, Washington, with over 20 years of experience. She is also a member of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, International Veterinary Acupuncture Association, Washington Veterinary Medical Association, and College of Integrative Veterinary Therapies. Wolf recommends using sunscreen on dogs in specific situations. She believes it’s important to consider the risk factors, type of dog, location, and season.

“There are specific conditions that require sub-protection, such as DLE (discoid lupus erythematosus).” Wolf says and advises, “In general, it’s always good for your dog to wear safe, natural sunscreen on exposed areas if they are going to be in the sun—especially for activities such as hiking or swimming where the risk of sunburn is high.”

Dr. Wolf recommends using a sunscreen that is specifically for dogs. She emphasizes that owners need to avoid products containing zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), which can be toxic for dogs if ingested. According to Wolf, “It’s good to avoid [artificial] fragrances or other artificial ingredients. And it helps if the sunscreen is waterproof, too.”

For dogs with health issues, Dr. Wolf explains, “It’s important to use sunscreen with these dogs (such as those with DLE, also known as Collie Nose, and other autoimmune conditions). You should still use sunscreen even if it is not particularly sunny because they are so sensitive to UV-light. You should limit your dog’s exposure to strong sunlight, if at all possible. A dog may need other treatments to minimize the sun’s effects and curtail further damage. Also, UV-protective coats and even hats and goggles are available for some dogs.”

Apply Sunscreen on Your Dog

If possible, apply sunscreen about 20 minutes before going out. You’ll want to reapply every few hours or after your dog has been swimming or rubbing in the grass. Our canine friends are notorious for licking, and even if you use a natural sunscreen product, it needs a few minutes to soak in for effectiveness.

Dr. Wolf offers these tips for applying sunscreen:

  • Apply sunscreen on exposed areas before going out in the sun.
  • Use a treat, with positive reinforcement, and possibly training to help your dog sit still.
  • Use something they can lick off a spoon (like no-xylitol peanut butter or almond butter) to help distract them and keep them from picking while the product soaks in.
  • It’s best to apply a thin layer over the sensitive areas.

Video Title: How to Put Sunscreen on Your Dog

You may want to test a small spot on your dog first to make sure there is no allergic reaction to the sunscreen you choose. When selecting a natural sunscreen, aim for something with SPF 30 to 50, and never use tanning lotions or oils on your dog.

Dogs at Highest Risk of Getting a Sunburn

While all dogs can get a sunburn, some types of dogs are at higher risk. Hairless dog breeds, such as Chinese Crested, naturally have very little protection from the sun. Any dog may have exposed skin patches due to conditions that cause coat thinning, such as alopecia, atopic dermatitis, fleas, or fungal conditions. Seasonal shedding or haircuts may also increase a dog’s chance of getting a sunburn. Dr. Wolf notes that dogs that are especially vulnerable to sun exposure are those with light pigmentation and short hair, or ones at higher risk for or currently have an autoimmune disease.

Here is a list of dog breeds that are more likely to get a sunburn:

Dog Sunburn Symptoms and Signs

Sunburn can cause a range of symptoms depending on burn severity. The skin is generally pinker and sensitive. Dogs that shy away from touch, scratch, and whimper, or otherwise show that contact is painful, are providing clues about their discomfort level.

You may also notice dry, flaking, or peeling skin, which is similar to the way human skin peels after a sunburn. Serious burns can cause hair loss, skin ulcers, skin infections, and even a slight fever. Consult your vet to understand your dog’s symptoms and provide appropriate care.

“In general, vets are looking for redness, inflammation, ulcers, peeling and also underlying conditions that might be aggravated, and the degree of pain and discomfort present,” explains Dr. Wolf. “It’s [sunburn] usually straightforward unless something else is diagnosed, such as autoimmune conditions or skin cancer.”

Burns are classified as first-degree, second-degree, or third-degree and based on the affected layers of skin.

  • First-Degree Burn: Also known as a superficial burn, a first-degree burn impacts the outermost layer of skin—the epidermis—causing mild pain and redness.
  • Second-Degree Burn: Also referred to as a partial-thickness burn, this type causes deeper damage, affecting the epidermis and dermis, and can cause blistering.
  • Third-Degree Burn: A full-thickness burn that causes damage to the deepest layers of skin and subcutaneous tissues. This type of burn is severe, requires medical attention, and involves a prolonged period of healing.

There are also certain areas on a dog that get more exposure to UV-rays, including the nose, ears, eyelids, around the mouth, belly, groin, and tip of the tail. Focus on those areas when applying sunscreen and watch for signs of sunburn.

How to Prevent Sunburn on Dogs

In addition to using sunscreen, you can help prevent sunburn by limiting the amount of time you spend outside with your dog during peak sun hours, between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

If you’ll be outside for an extended time, provide some shelter, or find a shady area for your dog to give him a break from the sun. Be sure to provide water for dogs during hot days spent outside to keep them hydrated and to help prevent heatstroke.

Preventing Sunburn on Your Dog’s Nose and Ears

The nose is particularly exposed to sunlight, and ear tips are also sensitive spots. Be sure to apply sunscreen on those areas before going out and provide your dog with a distraction, so he doesn’t lick or scratch his ears and nose.

Can Dog Paws Get Sunburn?

Dr. Wolf reminds pet owners not to forget dogs can get burned paws from walking on hot pavement. Pay attention to your dog’s environment. When it’s extremely hot out, so is the sidewalk, and that can burn their paws.

Here’s a tip: If the pavement is too hot for you to walk on, it’s also too hot for your dog.

Are My Dog’s Eyes at Risk for Sunburn?

The surface of a dog’s eyes is also susceptible to damage from overexposure to UV radiation. The condition is known as photokeratitis. Dogs with lighter eyes, such as Siberian Huskies, are at higher risk of getting eye damage from the sun.

You can always get your pet a pair of doggy sunglasses. Shaped like goggles, they attach to your dog’s head for protection. At the very least, you’ll have the makings of a great selfie opportunity for you and your dog.

What If My Dog’s Skin Is Peeling Like a Sunburn?

Dry, flaky skin and redness and itching can be the result of multiple issues, including allergies, parasites, skin infections, and systemic disorders. Have your vet check your dog to determine if the cause is a sunburn or another condition.

How to Treat a Sunburn on a Dog

You can use home remedies for mild burns to support healing and provide comfort. Treatment of more severe burns may include cortisone ointment, a topical antibiotic (such as silver sulfadiazine) to help prevent infection, and even IV fluids for dehydration.

When treating a severe burn, vets may also evaluate your dog for a chemical burn to rule out the cause of symptoms. Even in mild cases, it’s a good idea to consult with your vet to ensure that sunburn is the only issue and that you’re applying the right treatments. If your dog has an autoimmune or other health condition, or you notice blistering or other severe symptoms, check with your vet immediately to help prevent secondary issues.

Home Remedies for a Dog Sunburn

Natural remedies for treating your dog’s sunburn at home include applying a cold compress, aloe vera gel, coconut oil, Vitamin E, and letting them soak in oatmeal. Here are how to use those items to help provide sunburn relief for dogs:

  • Cold Water Compresses and Sprays: Use a washcloth dampened with cool water to create a cold compress that you can put on the affected areas. You can also spray cool water directly onto the affected area to soothe the skin.
  • Aloe Vera Gel: Known for its healing properties, you can purchase aloe vera gel and apply it to the affected areas on your dog’s skin. Look for a gel that is 100-percent aloe vera, and keep it chilled in the refrigerator after opening.
  • Coconut Oil: Moisturizing and soothing, using some coconut oil on the irritated skin, may help reduce itching and skin irritation.
  • Vitamin E: An antioxidant that can help reduce inflammation and skin damage; you can apply Vitamin E oil directly on your dog’s skin.
  • Oatmeal Soaks: An oatmeal bath may help reduce inflammation and soothe dry, itchy skin. Blend one cup of whole oats in a blender to create an oatmeal powder and then stir it into a cool or lukewarm bath. Your dog should soak in the tub for about 10 minutes. During the bath, gently pour the water over his skin. After rinsing, use a towel to pat dry your dog carefully without aggravating the sunburn.

Dr. Wolf also mentions that CBD creams and ointments can help, and using herbal creams containing calendula, lavender and other healing herbs may also be beneficial.

Risks of Dog Sunburn

In addition to being painful and irritating for your dog, a sunburn can aggravate autoimmune conditions and increase his risk of developing skin cancer and malignant tumors.

“Sun exposure (and sunburn) is most directly a cause in squamous cell carcinoma and nasal cell tumors. Sun exposure is also thought to be a factor in other tumors. But any sun damage can predispose a dog to cancers of different types,” says Dr. Wolf.

She also warns that other issues can develop due to sunburn: “Infection, such as cellulitis, and scarring can be a result of sunburn, as well as shock and dehydration. There is also a risk of associated heatstroke.”

Natural Dog Sunscreen and Skin Conditioner

Seeing your pet feeling uncomfortable from dry, inflamed, or irritated skin is upsetting. That’s why it’s important to use a sunscreen that is also a dry skin conditioner. Not only will it help prevent sunburns on your pet, but it will also help keep his skin moisturized.

Veterinarian’s recommend our dog-safe sunscreen, which provides the equivalent of SPF 30 UV blockage. We never use any hard chemicals or elements like benzone that can cause allergic reactions and endocrine issues. Instead, we use enriching oils such as lavender and neem for their ability to heal burns on noses and soothe redness on thinner coats. Our Vitamin & Essential Oil Sunscreen and Skin Conditioner for Dogs is completely lick-safe because we use 100 percent natural ingredients.

Learn more about our line of soothing and relaxing pet aromatherapy grooming products.

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