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Are You Sun Savvy? UV Protection for Canines

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Image Credit: Chip Laughton

Are You Sun Savvy? UV Protection for Canines

Sunshine, fresh air, and playtime with your canine companion is great for the soul. Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun can cause health risks in dogs similar to those which have been well-documented as risks for people. These risks include sunburn and skin infections, cancer, and premature aging and thickening of skin. Follow the sun savvy tips outlined in this article to keep your pet protected from the damaging effects of UV light!

Avoid peak sun hours

UV light is strongest between the hours of 11am and 2pm*.  Help protect pets from sun damage and heat stroke by minimizing activity and outdoor time during this span of hours. Outdoor activity, primarily in the early morning or evening hours, will help prevent sun damage to the skin.

Lather up

Yes, you read that right! Sunscreen for pets is a real thing. Choose a broad spectrum high SPF (greater than 30 SPF) lotion and opt for waterproof when possible. Apply to areas not protected by thick fur such as ear tips, nose and muzzle, around the eyes, and on the belly and inner thighs about 15 minutes prior to outdoor time for best protection. Dogs with thin hair or who have recently been closely groomed may need a more generalized application. Dog-specific sunscreens are available through certain retailers, though human baby sunscreen is also generally safe to use on canines. Avoid products that are not safe to be ingested, have scents or dyes, or contain zinc oxide. I find the children’s stick type applicators are easy to apply and dry quickly. Remember to reapply frequently for pets in and out of the water or on those pets that lick it off!  A treat or chew toy can do wonders to distract your dog from licking off sunscreen.

Protective gear

A variety of options in UV protective gear are available on the market.  Some popular and easy-to-use items to help protect sensitive areas include sun shirts, visors, or goggles. Umbrellas or protective tarps can be used to create shaded areas to play or relax outdoors. Reminder from a previous blog article regarding heat stroke in pets, dogs need plenty of water and shade to keep their bodies cool as they do not have many sweat glands.

Recognize skin damage early

Sun-induced skin damage can take on a variety of forms. Acute sun damage can cause painful pink skin with scaly or pustule-like sores. Patchy or generalized hair loss can also occur.  Sunburned skin is painful and can be soothed with cool water or aloe (topically) for initial first aid, though burns may require stronger medications for pain or infection. Chronically damaged skin can appear thickened and dark and develop blood-blister like lesions. In either acute or chronic skin damage, it’s best to have your pet’s vet take a look to ensure proper treatment. Other skin conditions can appear similar to sun-induced damage and a professional opinion is needed to confirm diagnosis. In some cases, a biopsy is needed. Important to note, not all sun related tumors stay in the skin, they can spread to other organs. Dogs with sun-related tumors may be “frequent fliers” at the veterinary office for removal of suspicious masses.

Know your dog’s risk level

The following may increase a pet’s risk of sun damage:

  • naturally short hair coat
  • recently groomed coat
  • light colored coat/skin color
  • medication or health condition that causes light sensitivity or hair loss
  • frequent sunbathing
  • outdoor kenneling 
  • young or geriatric age
  • allergic or autoimmune skin condition

Please help keep your pets safe in the sun this summer! Ask your pet’s veterinarian for more sun safety tips if you have any questions. 

*Depending on geographic location, peak UV hours may vary.

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Amanda Burow, D.V.M. (Dr. B), is a graduate of Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Burow’s patient list includes hunting dogs of all varieties, as well as several field trial dogs and full time sporting guide dogs. In addition to practicing general veterinary medicine, she has special interest in the areas of preventive care, emergency medicine, and dermatology. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors and on the lake, staying active, reading, and spending time with family and friends.

Mud River is proud to share these tips from Dr. B with our customers. Keep in mind it is best to work with your local veterinarian to determine the needs for your animals.

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