Dog Sunburn: Is It Even A Thing?

Snoozing in the sun is one of life’s pleasures, but if you have a white dog, you might be wondering if you need to worry about dog sunburn.

Can dogs get sunburnt?

In theory, yes. Make sure your dog has access to shade and is able to get out of the sun when he chooses.

In actual fact, with increased apartment living and more indoor dogs, you need to make sure your dog doesn’t suffer from a lack of sunlight.

In dogs, as in people, sunlight and fresh air are two important ingredients for good health.

This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to see my full disclaimer here.

Vitamin D for dogs is the “sunshine vitamin”

According to Australian vet Dr Ian Billinghurst, your dog can get all he needs by spending 15 minutes a day in “raw” sunshine.

What is raw sunshine?

It’s sunshine unfiltered by panes of glass which block parts of the light spectrum. If the full range of ultraviolet light doesn’t hit your dog’s skin, the important vitamin D producing effects can’t happen.

Clouds, smoke and air pollution all act as blockers too.

As long as your dog is getting plenty of time outside, you’re set.

Ideally your dog gets to soak up direct sunshine every day and gets to do it at different times from morning right through to midday and early evening.

Why do dogs need sunlight?

Made in your dog’s skin in response to sunlight, vitamin D is responsible for strong bones, as well as regulating the supply of calcium throughout the body. Dogs also receive vitamin D from their diet. According to Dr Billinghurst, a young and healthy dog on a well balanced diet of raw meaty bones receiving plenty of sunlight will not need additional Vitamin D.

Sunlight falling on your dog’s skin and hitting the backs of his eyes not only feels good. It helps regulate circadian rhythms. By the way it’s worth minimizing your dog’s exposure to artificial light including blue light from all the various screens for this same reason: it interferes with circadian rhythms. Using night shift on your computer is one easy thing you can do, for starters.

So what can you do to stop your dog getting sunburnt?

Avoid overexposure to the sun

This is both the easiest and the hardest approach.

Monitor and manage your dog’s sun exposure — or make sure you’ve set him up to be able to regulate it himself.

Notice if pupper likes to lie in the sun. If you’re usually home, it can be as simple as covering your dog’s face with a scarf or shading his face by pulling down a blind or strategically positioning a plant to block the sun. Even a heaped towel put in the right spot can offer shade. It’s not very Martha Stewart but it works.

If your dog is outside all day

If you’re at work from 9 to 5 and your dog is left to his own devices in the backyard, it’s trickier. But there are things you can do. The main thing is to make sure he always has shady spots to be, throughout the day.

You can encourage lying in spots that don’t get blasted with noonday sun by putting his mat or bed in a sheltered position.

If your dog seems to lie too long in the sun, get creative. If you have sprinklers you could set them to come on intermittently, spraying your dog and shifting him from the sunny spot — not to mention making it wet and less appealing to resume sun baking there later.

Don’t know whether your dog lies in the hot sun or not because you’re never home in the middle of the day? Try a dog cam to keep an eye on his habits so you know whether you have an issue or not.

Regulating sun exposure is the basis of my approach, mostly because it doesn’t involve applying any creams containing ingredients I don’t understand and that Shiva inevitably licks off and ingests. I’m almost always with my dog. So I keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn’t cop too much direct sun on his pink bits.

Sun hats for dogs

I’ve tried a couple of these hats designed specially for dogs. You can find them with ear holes and all. To be honest they weren’t the best fit and Shiva wasn’t a fan. He’s pretty long suffering but would paw them off the moment I looked away. Both hats quickly found their way into the back of some forgotten drawer.

I still do use a hat on Shiva here and there. But it’s one of mine that I just drape over his head. It does the job sometimes.. but it’s a constant supervision deal because he’ll usually remove it.

Dog sunscreen

I’ve never found a sunscreen that Shiva doesn’t lick off his nose. Which means it doesn’t stay on for long. But also, it means he’s ingesting the substance. Which I’m sure he’s better off without even if it’s “non toxic”. I used to use sunscreen on his nether regions (he’s an intact male) but that was surely a bit of helicopter parenting. It can also be reached and licked off and that is the greater health risk, in my estimation. I strive to keep Shiva’s exposure to chemicals of all kinds to an absolute minimum.

Tee shirts for dogs

The issue is usually less the body and more the nose and muzzle and around the eyes, and perhaps the belly where skin is exposed. That said, there are some really well made and good fitting sun shirts out there.

Dog sunglasses

Ok, we have to draw the line somewhere and I draw it here!

More reading

Neutering: Why the old advice is wrong

Are you speaking your dog’s language?