Yes, dogs can get sunburned, too. It may not be as evident as the sunburn that we humans experience, but their skin can also get damaged by the harmful rays of the summer sun. However, like sunburn in humans, there are certain types of dogs that are more susceptible to the effects of ultraviolet radiation coming from the sun. When you also couple this with the dog’s insufficient ability to regulate its core body temperature, it is also possible to risk heatstroke and dehydration. It is for this reason that pet parents should do everything they can to help protect their pets against sunburn and its potential complications.
Understanding Sunburn in Dogs
There is not much difference between sunburn in humans and that in dogs. After all, the organ that’s most affected is the skin. And while it is true that dogs have fur covering their bodies, some dogs have coat characteristics that make them more vulnerable to the effects of UV radiation. There are also parts of the dog’s body that are more exposed to UV light. For instance, their nose, paws, and the inside of their ears often do not have fur to cover them. There are also sections that are thinner than others. These can include the belly and the region around the mouth and the eyelids.
In canine sunburn, UV rays cause the individual cells of the dog’s skin to heat up. This leads to inflammation and causing the characteristic redness we all associate with sunburn. With prolonged exposure, the skin can become painful while also increasing the risk of further damage to the skin cells. This can pave the way for the development of a number of health concerns, including skin cancer in dogs.
Factors That Can Affect the Risk of Canine Sunburn
While the main cause of sunburn is exposure to the sun’s UV rays, there are factors that can increase risk. These risk factors are almost similar to those seen in humans. There are, however, risk factors that are quite unique to dogs.
- Type of Coat
Dogs with thinner and/or shorter coats tend to be more susceptible to sunburn than dogs with thick and long fur. The reason for this is quite simple. There are fewer overlapping sections in a dog’s shorter coat than those with long fur. The gaps in between these sections can allow UV rays to penetrate and hit the animal’s skin. Hairless canine breeds like the Chinese Crested, the Argentine Pila Dog, the American Hairless Terrier, the Peruvian Inca Orchid, and the Xoloitzcuintli are more vulnerable to sunburn because of the lack of protective covering on their bodies.
- Color of Coat
Light-colored or white-colored breeds are at a greater risk of sunburn than dark-colored dogs. This has nothing to do with the actual color of the coat, however, but its skin. Dark-colored dogs often have darker skin. Light-colored canines, meanwhile, have fair skin. The Dogo Argentino, White Boxer, White Bulldog, Whippet, and Dalmatian are examples of dogs that are light- or white-colored. Hence, these dogs are at a greater risk of developing sunburn.
- Melanin Levels
Related to the animal’s coat color, dark-skinned canines have more melanin than light-skinned ones. This is the same substance that gives skin its dark color. What some people may not realize is that melanin also serves a protective role. This is a substance that is very proficient in absorbing UV light. Moreover, it can also dissipate absorbed UV radiation by more than 99.9%. In other words, melanin protects the dark-skinned dog against UV-B radiation damage. It also reduced the risk of skin degradation and folate depletion. Unfortunately, not all dogs have the same levels of melanin that their respective melanocytes produce. Some have higher concentrations of melanin while others may not be so lucky.
Some breeds of dogs are more vulnerable to the effects of prolonged UV exposure. This is somewhat related to the dog’s melanin levels, type and color of coat, and a genetic predisposition to sunburn. Examples of these dogs include the Dogo Argentino, Whippet, Beagle, Greyhound, Yellow Labrador Retriever, Pug, Pit Bull, White Boxer, Chinese Crested, and Weimaraner, among others.
- Underlying Medical Condition
Dogs that have an underlying medical condition can also be at risk of sunburn. These medical conditions can cause a thinning of the animal’s fur or can lead to hair loss or alopecia. This exposes the skin and leaves it vulnerable to the effects of UV radiation. Examples of medical conditions that can produce canine alopecia include Cushing’s disease, sarcoptic mange, allergies, and pressure sores. Tick and flea infestation can also lead to patchy hair loss, exposing the area to UV radiation. Certain genetic defects can also lead to canine alopecia, increasing the risk of sunburn in the pet. An example of this is follicular dysplasia.
- Certain Procedures and Skin Conditions
Dogs that undergo a surgical procedure will often have a scar tissue. Unfortunately, hair will no longer grow in this tissue because the cells have been replaced with fibrous connective tissues. The surrounding area of the scar tissue can be more susceptible to sunburn. The same is true for canines that can have scars secondary to injuries or accidents. Like a surgical scar tissue, hair will not grow in such areas of the dog’s skin.
- UV Intensity
The intensity of UV rays often reaches peak between 10 o’clock in the morning and 2 in the afternoon, give or take 1 to 2 hours. What this means is that exposing the dog during these times of the day can increase its risk of getting sunburned. That is why the recommendation is to walk or bring out the dogs early in the morning or late in the afternoon. For those who want to be safe, an early evening walk is better.
- Length of UV Exposure
Following the principle employed in UV protection products, the longer the time of exposure to UV rays, the higher is the risk of sunburn. When taken together with UV intensity, this can hasten the speed of sunburn development in dogs. For example, walking your dog for about 1 hour at 7 in the morning will not often lead to sunburn. However, walking your dog at 12 noon for 30 minutes can already increase its risk of sunburn. It’s like this – the longer you let the food stay in a hot oven, the greater is the chance that you’ll end up with a burned meat. That’s the same thing with the skin, whether it’s a dog’s or human’s.
Preventing Sunburn in Dogs
Preventing sunburn in dogs is also the same as the measures we observe as humans. These can include the following.
- Keep the Coat
People have this notion that it is necessary to give a dog a summer shave to help them against overheating. However, the coat of dogs serves more like a thermos. It keeps them cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold. As such, it is best to keep the coat intact and save the fur trimming for a later time.
- Stay in the Shade
Whenever you go outdoors, it is best to let your dog stay in the shade. If the animal stays outside the house, then it should have an appropriately-sized kennel with a roof. There are also doggie contraptions that you can put on the dog, although these may only cover certain parts of its body. There are dog t-shirts, hats, and other apparel that can help protect the dog.
- Schedule Outdoor Activities
Since the intensity of UV radiation is at its peak during certain times of the day, it is best to avoid bringing out your pet during these times. If you must bring it out, then it is imperative that you observe appropriate measures to protect your pet against sunburn.
- Apply an Appropriate Sunscreen
There are many online resources that say you can apply a kid-formulation of sunscreen with sun protection factor between 30 and 50+. However, the danger with such formulations is that it is for human use. Many of these also come in lotions or creams. Dogs have the tendency to lick almost anything that is present on their coat. A better solution is to apply a sunscreen product that’s formulated for dogs. Focus on areas that are most susceptible to sunburn like the belly, pinna, nose, and sections with thin hair.
Treating Canine Sunburn
Applying cold compress can help reduce the pain and swelling of sunburned skin in dogs. The cold compress can also help halt further skin tissue damage. In more severe cases of canine sunburn, a vet may recommend the application of a cortisone ointment to help in the reduction of inflammation. In addition to topical corticosteroids, an appropriate topical antifungal or antibacterial agent may be necessary to prevent secondary infections.
If the sunburn is only a part of a more serious problem like heat exhaustion, it is critical to start supportive intravenous therapy at once. This will help correct or prevent dehydration while also stabilizing the pet’s condition. Secondary infections require antibiotic therapy.
Dogs can get sunburned, too. The way this occurs, its management, and prevention are almost similar to sunburn in humans.