Can Dogs Get Sunburned?

Written by Shaunice Lewis
Published: October 18, 2022
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We know that as people it is important to protect our skin from the sun when outdoors, however, you may find yourself wondering if your dog needs the same protection. Is it possible for dogs to get sunburned? They are also at risk of the same diseases associated with too much sun exposure. Read on to discover if dogs can be sunburned and the risk.

How Does the Sun Affect Dogs’ Skin?

Dogs experience sunburns in a similar manner to how people experience them. A dog’s skin can become red and tender to the touch if exposed to too much sun. The most susceptible areas to sunburn for a dog are the nose, ears, and stomach. These areas are more easily exposed to direct sunlight and are most likely to show signs of sunburn before other parts of the body that may be covered in more fur.

You can tell if a dog has been sunburned by looking for areas of its skin that appear to be red and inflamed. You should also look for areas that are dry, cracked, or have patches of peeling skin. You might also notice that your dog scratches at tender spots on its body while whimpering due to the pain. If you attempt to pet your dog and it shrinks away from you, it may be an indication that it has been sunburned and that petting it causes pain. In cases in which the sunburn is more severe, you may even find that your dog runs a slight fever.

Not only can sunburns be very painful to dogs, but they can also lead to the development of certain conditions like skin cancer. It can also lead to the worsening of autoimmune disorders as well as dermatitis. These are among some of the many reasons why a dog’s skin should be protected from the sun just like a human’s.

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Can All Types of Dogs Get Sunburned?

Although almost all dogs can experience sunburn, there are some types of dog breeds that are more easily susceptible than others. For example, hairless dog breeds like Chinese crested, American hairless terrier, and xoloitzcuintli will need more protection from the sun than other dog breeds—especially if they are going to be outdoors for a long time. Also, dogs that have thin coats or very short fur may also be easily sunburned. If the dog has a light-pigmented nose and eyelids it will be more at risk of sunburn. These would be dogs like bulldogs, Dalmations, whippets, or any other dog that has lighter pigmentation on their ears or nose.

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Can Dogs Wear Sunscreen?

Sunscreen can be useful in helping protect dogs from too much sun exposure, but it’s important to be sure that you use the right kind. Not just any sunscreen can be used on dogs — you definitely wouldn’t want to use one on your dog that’s meant for humans. The only type of sunscreen you want to use on your dog is one that is specifically designed for dogs. You’ll also want to check to ensure that it does not contain zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA). This is because those ingredients are toxic to dogs. Since dogs lick their skin so often, consuming either of those ingredients could cause them to become sick.

If you plan to apply sunscreen to your dog, the first thing you’ll want to do is to test a small amount of it on your dog’s skin to be sure that it does not cause an allergic reaction. Afterward, you can apply the sunscreen as directed on the bottle to any spots on your dog that may be exposed to the sunshine like the tips of its ears, the bridge of its nose, its stomach, and other areas where its fur may be thinner and more skin is exposed, or wherever you see light pigmentation. Just be careful not to get any of the sunscreen in your dog’s eyes and make sure that it doesn’t lick the sunscreen off after you put it on. You should monitor your dog closely for around 10-15 minutes to make sure that it stays on as intended.

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What Do I Do if My Dog Has a Sunburn?

If you notice that your dog has a sunburn, the first thing you should do is make sure you get your dog to a place out of direct sunlight, whether that be moving indoors or into a place with sufficient shade. You can use a cool compress or soothing ointments to ease the pain on your dog’s skin, but it is always recommended that you take your dog to be seen by a veterinarian for further care—especially if the burn is more severe or your dog is showing signs of pain or discomfort. This is because the sunburn may need to be treated with a cortisone product that may not be available over the counter, but could help your dog by reducing the inflammation from the burn. In some severe cases, your dog may even be susceptible to a secondary infection which would require the use of antibiotics.

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What Are Some Alternatives to Sunscreen for Dogs?

If you’re looking for an alternative to sunscreen for dogs or you don’t have access to it, there are a few other options for protecting your dog from the sun. The simplest way to do that is to have your dog wear protective clothing. There are sun shirts and other clothing for dogs that are made to help protect their skin from the sun. These clothes will cover large areas of your dog’s skin that may normally be exposed to the sun. This is a great alternative for pet parents that are afraid their dog may lick off the sunscreen and become sick. It is also a more natural alternative to some of the chemicals that can be found in sunscreens.

If you choose to have your dog wear sun protective clothing rather than use sunscreen, just remember to provide access to fresh water for your dog, as the additional clothing could cause your dog to overheat. Dogs will need to have plenty of clean water during hot temperatures whether they use sunscreen or wear protective clothing. There are even hats and goggles that are made to help protect your dog from the sun.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Todd Kreykes/

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About the Author

Freelance writer specializing in natural health and wellness.

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