A sunburn is an inflammatory skin condition caused by over-exposure to sunlight. Most dogs have some natural protection from the sun because of their hair coats, which block solar rays and protect the skin from ultra-violet light. Some dogs have dark, heavily pigmented skin, which provides even more protection. Unlike people, many dogs also have the common sense to avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. Sunburns and sun-related skin problems aren’t especially common in dogs, but they do occur, especially on light, hairless or exposed areas. Certain breeds, including Dalmatians and white Bull Terriers, are particularly susceptible to getting burned by the sun. The top of the nose and the ear flaps are especially vulnerable. Repeated sunburns can increase the risk of the dog developing malignant skin cancer.
Causes of Sunburn in Dogs
Sunburns and sun-related skin problems tend to occur infrequently in dogs, but they do occur. However, for sun damage to occur in pets, a combination of factors must come into play. For example, if the skin is poorly pigmented or lacks pigmentation, it is at high risk. Furthermore, a sparse hair coat or areas of the body that are hairless are also more susceptible. These sensitive areas must be regularly and frequently exposed to the sun in order to cause skin diseases.
You can take safety precautions to minimize the risks the sun's rays pose to your dog. If practicality permits, apply a sunscreen to those parts of your pet's skin that are not pigmented and/or have little or no hair. In many cases, this may be impractical since the pet will immediately lick it off. Keep your pet out of direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day when the sun is strongest (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Whenever possible, provide shade and do not clip your pet's hair coat, especially for the summer. Remember that the hair coat acts as insulation, keeping cold out during the winter and cooling the pet in the summer. The hair also acts as a natural barrier, protecting the skin from the sun.
Dogs at Increased Risk
The sun's ultraviolet radiation can cause a number of skin problems in dogs. Sunburn, which is actually an inflammation of the skin, can occur. Certain breeds of dogs (such as Dalmatians and white bull terriers) and white cats, are highly susceptible. Certain parts of the body, such as the nose and ears, are also more sensitive than others. Dogs that have been recently groomed, have a thinner and less protective hair coat and are, therefore more susceptible. Repeated sunburns can eventually lead to malignant skin cancer.