Think sun protection is just for humans? Think again. Your dog needs a safe haven from those harsh ultraviolet rays, too. Here are seven pointers to help Spot enjoy the great outdoors this summer without feeling the burn.
When you shave your dog’s coat, it exposes his skin to sun damage. The hair coat acts as a protective barrier against the sun’s ultraviolet rays, and shaved skin is much more vulnerable to sunburn. Instead, thin out your pup’s coat using a Furminator or an undercoat rake, so your pup carries a lighter load in the heat.
Think of this as the difference between a cotton T-shirt and a wool sweater!
“Dogs most at risk for sunburn include dogs who are experiencing hair loss due to health reasons, such as allergies or hormonal changes,” explains Heather Peikes, board-certified staff dermatologist at New York City Veterinary Specialists. “Chemotherapy can also thin out a dog’s coat.”
Your geographic location determines how much protection you’ll need to give your dog, she adds: “On the East Coast, we worry less about sun-induced melanomas and skin changes, but in Colorado, California, and Australia, it’s much more of a concern.” Also consider your dog’s breed. A hairless Chinese Crested, for instance, will need extra sun protection.
Some dogs are serious sunbathers, and could happily fry themselves for hours. But don’t let them sizzle!
Dogs who worship the sun while lying on their backs risk developing tumors on the inguinal area, that vulnerable stretch of skin where the belly and hind legs meet; this area is unprotected by hair even on furry breeds. When you notice your sun-worshipping Spot panting, it’s time to bring him back indoors before he sustains a sunburn. Please take extra precaution if your dog’s snout is pink. Light-skinned dogs, like light-skinned people, are more prone to sun irritation.
Protect your pup’s inguinal area, and her snout if it’s on the pink side.
If Spot does sustain a sunburn, give him a soothing bath with cool water and a gentle, soap-free product such as TheraNeem Pet Shampoo. Before lathering up, add 5 drops of miracle product neem oil to the shampoo in your palm, then work the mixture through your dog’s fur, down to the skin. Wait a few minutes before rinsing with cool water. Nontoxic neem works quickly and safely to heal heat as well as chemical burns.
For an ounce of prevention, use sunscreen on Spot. “Select a sunscreen that’s safe for human babies,” Dr. Peikes advises (Jason Kid’s Natural Sunscreen is one option). There’s also an all-natural balm designed specifically to prevent and soothe doggie sunburn: The Natural Dog Snout Soother (SPF 10), which contains shea butter, kukui nut oil, and vitamin E.
Whatever sunscreen you select, make sure it contains no zinc oxide, which is toxic to pets. Look for a product that’s labeled “natural” — if it’s labeled “mineral,” then it contains zinc oxide. But be warned: Even “natural” products contain many chemicals that are potentially harmful to people and pets. “Try the product out on one small area of your dog’s skin before spreading it further,” says Dr. Peikes. If you see no adverse reaction, go ahead and apply to your dog’s inguinal area (see above) and snout. These are the key areas; there’s no need to coat your entire dog with sunscreen.
If your dog had to be shaved for a surgical procedure, protect that area from the sun using a T-shirt that you customize to fit him. If you anticipate spending hours out in the sun with Spot — say, while out sailing or hiking — investigate performance sun protective dog clothing such as a rash guard.