Sunburn in dogs

Written by Dr Andrew Miller MRCVSDr Andrew Miller MRCVS is an expert veterinary working in the field for over 10 years after graduating from Bristol University. Andy fact checks and writes for Pure Pet Food while also working as a full time veterinarian. Pure Pet FoodPure Pet Food are the experts in healthy dog food and healthy dogs featured in media outlets such as BBC, Good Housekeeping and The Telegraph. Working with high profile veterinary professionals and nutritionists, Pure Pet Food are changing dog food for the better. - Our editorial process

Dogs can get sunburn just like we do. We all know the excruciating pain of sunburn, so us humans try to take that extra precaution to avoid any sun damage. Lathering ourselves in sun cream, wearing sun hats and using parasols to keep us shaded. But do we take that same care and caution for our dogs?

Your pup may love to sunbathe in the garden on a summer’s day, soaking up the rays. But prolonged exposure to the sun can cause many issues, such as heatstrokedehydration and sunburn.

Sunburn is not only painful, but it can also lead to more serious issues such as dermatitis and types of skin cancer, including hemangiosarcoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Pet owners should be aware of the risks and warning signs of sunburn to avoid their dog ever getting too much sun.

Signs and symptoms of sunburn in dogs

Recognising sunburn in your pooch is very similar to how you would recognise it in yourself. Likely to appear a few hours after extended exposure to the harmful UV rays, the mains signs to watch out for are:

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What types of dogs are prone to sunburn?

Too much sun can be a problem for any dog, however, some are more susceptible to sunburn than others. Dogs that have little pigment in their nose and ears (and ears that stick upright) can get sunburnt very easily, so be extra cautious and keep an eye on these areas for any of the signs listed above.

Hairless dog breeds such as the Chinese Crested dog, Xoloitzcuintli and American Hairless Terrier are extremely susceptible to burning in the sun as they do not have a furry coat to shield their skin from the UV light rays. Similarly, dogs with thin, short hair or white coats are at risk from sunburn, such as Dalmatians, Weimaraners, Boxers and Whippets just to list a few.

However, even if your dog does have a thick, dark coat they are not completely protected from the sun.

The hair on a dog’s tummy is a lot thinner, so if your dog likes to lounge out on their back to soak up the sun, be careful it doesn’t get burnt.

How can I stop my dog getting sunburn?

Preventing sunburn from occurring initially is much safer for your pup rather than trying to treat it afterwards. If your dog gets sunburn, it means they were also at risk of heatstroke too. You must keep your dog cool and safe in the sun can be done through a combination of these methods:

  • Dog-friendly sun cream

  • Keeping your dog in a cool, shaded area, possibly using a parasol

  • If your dog stays outside when you are out, ensure they have a doghouse/shaded area to reside in

  • Protective clothing to cover at risk areas (just an old t shirt or you can buy specific doggie suits)

  • Exercising your dog in the early morning or evening to avoid peak sunshine hours

Applying sun cream

Be careful, sun cream can’t fully guarantee that your dog won’t get sunburn, so make sure you don’t fully rely on it.

Keeping your dog out of the sun as much as possible is the most effective way to prevent sun damage, especially when the sun is extreme. However, when used correctly, sun cream is great to use in conjunction with limiting sun exposure.

Dog-friendly sun creams are readily available and are recommended to prevent your pooch from sizzling in the sun. It is important to choose a sun cream that is waterproof, unscented and does not contain zinc oxide.

Many dogs are prone to licking themselves, especially when they are lathered in sun cream, but some ingredients such as zinc oxide can be dangerous if your pooch decides they want a taste.

When applying the sun cream, it is advised to test a small patch of the cream on your dog to confirm they are not allergic to it. Afterwards, apply the sun cream to the areas most exposed to the sunny weather. These areas are usually the ears, nose, tip of the tail, belly, back and anywhere where the pigmentation is lighter.

Make sure you apply the cream at least 20 minutes before going outside and reapply every 4 hours.

If they decide to go for a little dip in the water to cool off, apply extra cream straight after. Making sure your dog is topped up throughout the day will make sure the cream is utilised to its full potential.

How to treat your dog's sunburn

If you consider the sunburn to be severe, seek medical advice and get your dog checked out. However, most sunburn in dogs is usually minor and can be treated at home.

Upon noticing any of the symptoms, immediately take your dog out of the hot sun and into a cool area.

Keeping your dog cool in shaded, ventilated areas with plenty of fresh water is essential, as you do not want your pooch to develop heatstroke.

Sunburnt dogs can benefit from cold compresses or a damp, cold towel to relieve the burning pain. However, ensure you are gentle when touching your dog’s sunburn. Just like us, it is painful to touch.

Paw-haps you are excited for the long summer days, so both you and your furry friend can sunbathe in the garden all day. Your dog is more vulnerable to the sun than you are, so it is essential that you are aware of the signs and take all the precautions necessary to make sure you and your pooch can enjoy the summer.

  1. Some dogs and cats prone to sunburn: How to protect your animal from skin damage Science Daily, June 2014,