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How to Protect Your Dogs from Sunburn

In the dog days of summer, how do you protect your pup from the sun? By Claudia Bensimoun

Since our dogs spend so much time outdoors, it only makes sense to question how much sun is harmful. Not surprisingly, pet parents need to monitor their dog's exposure to the harmful effects of UV rays. Dr. Christa Horvath-Ungerböeck, a veterinary dermatologist from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, suggests that dogs that have white or thin coats need to have special preventative sun care, since these dogs are particularly at risk. Extreme care also needs to be given to dogs that have recently had their fur clipped short, and to dogs with pre-existing medical conditions.

New research by Dr. Horvath-Ungerböeck demonstrates which dogs and other animals are most sensitive to sun exposure, and the harmful effects of sunburn. "Some animals particularly enjoy lying on their backs to bask in the sun. This exposes the skin on their bellies, which is often hairless, to the rays of the sun, increasing the risk of sunburn," explains Dr. Horvath-Ungerböeck via Science Daily. In this new study, the doctor discusses why dogs and all animals with very little or no hair or pigmentation may also be vulnerable to sunburn. While some owners will apply canine sunscreen on their dog's noses, the doctor discourages pet parents from ignoring other areas such as the skin around a dog's eyes, his ears, his back and the bridge of his nose. These parts are very sensitive to the sun and need extra protection. 

Vulnerable Dog Breeds

While breeds like Dalmatians, Whippets, white Bulldogs, Beagles and the Dogo Argentino are particularly at risk for sunburn, Dr. Horvath-Ungerböeck suggests looking out for any dogs that have white pigmentation or clipped coats. These dogs will also have a tendency to suffer from sunburn. With short hair, the UV rays can penetrate all the way through to the sensitive skin, and result in sunburn. Dogs that have no hair will have no natural sun protection. Dogs and animals that have darker skin pigmentation are less prone to sunburn. Dr. Horvath-Ungerböeck suggests that owners of dogs that are vulnerable to sunburn should be careful to protect their dogs from harmful UV rays. 

Recognizing Sunburn

In dogs, sunburn can appear as red skin or even hair loss. "Most dogs have pigmented skin. White dogs have pink skin, but most of it is protected from the sun by fur. Skin cancer from excess exposure to the sun most often occurs in two places: the noses of white dogs or dogs with pink noses or white markings on the top of the muzzle, and on the ears," says Dr. Nancy Scanlan, DVM, via Animal Wellness, Vol. 15, Issue 3.

Kate, owned by Sarah Duke, got sunburned by her eye. Sarah is searching for sunscreen that is safe to use by the eye. Photo courtesy of Sarah Duke. 

What Type of Sun Protection Should Dogs Use?

What many of us need to know is that a sunscreen doesn't need to contain any unhealthy synthetic or chemical sun filters, yet many do. Some veterinarians recommend using a children's sunscreen that contains avobenzone, also called Parsol 1789. Parsol 1789 contains a UVA blocker and octisate, which blocks UVB rays. This is safer than using a sunscreen that contains zinc oxide because any ingestion of that chemical could lead to hemolytic anemia in pets. Never use a sunscreen that contains PABA, as this can be fatal if licked off. 

Epi-Pet's Sun Protector sunscreen is formulated especially for dogs and is fragrance free. Epi-pet worked together with the FDA to ensure that their sunscreen meets the ingredient stability requirements for pet sunscreens. They also


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