Should dogs wear suncream? How to keep pets safe during the heatwave

·5-min read
Dogs need sunscreen too (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)
Dogs need sunscreen too (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

A red extreme heat warning has been issued by the Met Office for parts of England next week, meaning a risk to life is likely as temperatures could hit 40C.

As the heatwave closes in, it’s not just people who’re feeling the impact of the hot temperatures, but also our pets.

In a recent poll of over 2000 Brits, it was revealed that over half (55%) weren’t aware of any potential side effects of their dog being sunburned – and 70% have no idea how much sunscreen to apply to their dogs.

Worryingly, 57% never apply sunscreen when they take their dogs outdoors, while 40% think it’s fine to use human sunscreen on dogs – despite these often containing chemicals that may be toxic to them.

Here’s everything you need to know about keeping your pets safe in the sun...

Can dogs get sunburned?

Just like humans, dogs can suffer from sunburn from sun exposure, particularly on parts of their body that are sparsely covered with hair.

A sunburned dog can suffer from red, inflamed skin that becomes irritated and painful, and sunburn on dogs can also lead to hair loss as well as scaly skin.

Should dogs wear sunscreen?

Yes, you should put sunscreen on your dog.

Richard Goldstein, chief medical officer of the Animal Medical Centre, said: “It’s actually very important to put sunscreen on dogs, especially those with light skin and white fur or hair.”

He added: “A dog’s skin can be damaged by the sun just like our own, so they require the same protection against the development of sunburn and skin cancer.”

Certain types of skin cancer in dogs can also be associated with sun exposure, including:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma

  • Malignant melanomas

  • Hemangiomas

  • Hemangiosarcomas

Elsewhere, if a dog needs to be outdoors during peak sun exposure hours (10 am to 4 pm), sunscreen should be reapplied to sun-sensitive areas of the body - including the nose, around the lips, tips of the ears, the groin, and the belly - throughout the day. If the dog has gone swimming, the sunscreen should be reapplied immediately.

Vet Dr Anna Ewers Clark, a veterinary research and standards lead at the national pet charity Blue Cross, highlighted how important it is to get dog owners thinking about keeping their four-legged friends safe in the sun.

She said: “Fur is a really great natural sun protector. But there are areas where they won’t have a lot of fur, and those are the key hotspots we worry about – like their ears and the tip of their nose.

“A lot of dogs’ bellies are sparsely furred. If you have a pet who has a light, very thin coat, they are a lot more sensitive to sun damage.

“Plenty of dogs will naturally avoid the sun, but not all of them. One of the biggest problems we see is with dogs who like to sunbathe.

“People love to see their pets lying out in the sun, they think it’s so cute.

“But even if it’s not a hot day, we know that temperature isn’t always linked to UV damage.

“If you go walking with your dog and take them to the beach, along cliff tops, or even up mountains, you don’t often feel the heat from the sun because you have a nice breeze.

“But the reflection off the waves, or being higher up, can make that risk higher.

“There is often not a lot of shade so your pet is forced to be out in the sun all day, which they may love if they’re having a great day running around – but you don’t want them coming back with sunburn.”

How to apply sunscreen to dogs?

In order to apply sunscreen to your dog, you must carefully test it to make sure the cream doesn’t cause an allergic reaction.

Next, the sunscreen must be applied to areas exposed to sunshine, such as the bridge of the nose, ear tips, skin around his lips, groin, and inner thighs – and anywhere else where pigmentation is light.

When applied to a dog’s head, dog owners should be careful not to get the product into the animal’s eyes. When the sunscreen is applied, it’s also important to make sure the dog doesn’t lick it off for about 10 or 15 minutes – until it’s been absorbed.

Suncream should be applied about 20 minutes before the dog goes outside, and while the animal is out in the sun, the sunscreen should be reapplied every four-to-six hours or after your dog goes swimming.

How to treat sunburn on dogs?

According to American Kennel Club’s Chief Veterinarian Dr. Jerry Klein, any time that sunburn is visible as reddened, warm, or flaking skin, you should move your dog inside or at least into the shade as quickly as possible. Cool compresses and ointments may soothe the skin to help relieve the initial symptoms.

Aloe may help a minor burn. However, if the burn is severe, you should call your veterinarian because treatment with a cortisone product may be needed to prevent inflammation.

There may also be a secondary infection requiring antibiotics. If these complications do occur, the dog will need to be well protected from the sun in the future to prevent permanent damage.

Although sunscreen is important, it can’t be counted on to be 100 per cent effective. “The best way to protect your dog from the sun is to keep him indoors or in the shade, except for quick elimination periods, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” says Dr. Klein.

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