When I was thirteen my sister and I went to California for the summer. Being from Kansas the Bay area was something we saw on television or a movie, and even then that was rare, so getting on that TWA flight and taking off during a tornado (true story because it was safer above rather than below) was the beginning of an exciting adventure.
That summer I learned that my aunt put mustard on ham before she baked it, my other aunt made chitterlings and stunk up the house for the rest of the summer, and that she and my uncle drank coffee from sunrise and way past sunset. My cousin was weird, now he owns a comic book store, and it never rained. Okay, I’m sure it rained, but in the way of kids, I only remember the sun.
That was the summer I learned that everyone sunburns and they sunburn anywhere skin is exposed. Our first beach day on our trip to Mexico we stopped at Santa Monica. Bottoms of my feet, part in my hair, elbows, backs of my thighs. I’ve never before or since had such a horrible case of sunburn. So for those of you who think that brown people don’t sunburn, think again.
But what about our dogs? Just like humans, canines are susceptible to painful burns and potential skin cancer. The same precautions we humans employ are what we need for our dogs as well.
That white shorthair who is the love of your life? He’s more easily burned by the sun. White dogs tend to have fair skin underneath their fur, I know, who knew? For this reason, they have a greater potential for sun damage. Dogs with naturally thin hair, and especially the hairless breeds are also at risk for sunburn and skin cancer.
Whether a dog has thick or thin hair there are some especially vulnerable areas of the body with less fur or none at all. The belly and the ears have delicate skin, and even a dog’s nose can become dried out and sore.
This next part sounds obvious but for some, it’s not. If the sidewalk or sand or path is too hot for your feet it’s too hot for your dog. Avoid going for walks during the middle of hot days and make sure to test the temperature of the paths you are walking on. Take precautions to walk in the shade or carry your dog if you need to cross hot paths and roads. If your dog will allow it, and mine certainly won’t, booties will help to prevent the pads on their feet.
When I’m hot I wear as little as possible while still being modest. If that works for me, then maybe shaving my dog in the summer to keep him cool is a good idea. The thing about that is that when you shave your dog you are exposing “virgin” skin to the sun which can be much worse than leaving the hair in place. A better tactic is to keep your dog hydrated, use shade as much as possible, and listen to your dog. Dogs are smart and they will instinctively seek shelter from the sun when the rays become too intense. Don’t force them to stay out longer than is reasonable. Take a look at their pace, their eyes, their panting, and use common sense.
Sun shirts and sun hats along with booties can help when being out in the sun is a must. You can also use a pet-friendly sunscreen to prevent potential harm caused by licking and ingestion. Apply sunblock to the tips of the ears, nose, belly, and groin areas.
Just like people who get too much sun, dogs also get red skin that is tender to the touch. The most susceptible areas—the nose, ears, and tummy—are likely to show overexposure before fur-covered areas. Look for dry, cracked skin and curling at the edges of the ears. Other signs of doggy sunburn are constant scratching in tender places accompanied by a whimper, and shrinking away when you try to pet him/her. If the sunburn is severe, your dog may even get a slight fever.
As with most things your veterinarian is your best friend if you are worried about overexposure to the sun.
The American Kennel Club has some great ideas on sunscreen for dogs. You can also Google recipes but always double check that the listed ingredients can be ingested by dogs.
So take a walk, go on a hike, spend time at the pool or a beach. Your dog wants to be with you versus at home in a kennel. And then send us pictures!