The topic of sunscreen for dogs is a tough one for sure due to the typical chemicals used and the varying amounts of time each dog spends outside. Most modern dogs do not need sunscreen because they predominantly live indoors and/or in a shaded area outdoors, have black noses, and are often not walked as much as they should be. In fact, only one out of our 200 resident greyhounds at Hemopet has sunscreen applied to her nose before going outside.
Nonetheless dogs can get skin cancer. So, you should decide based on your household structure and lifestyle about your companion’s (and your own) sunlight exposure risk. Alternatives do exist.
Honestly, I am more concerned about heatstroke for dogs. A dog releases heat only through panting, their paw pads and around their ears. A groomer can trim off ear hair to help dissipate the heat and a salve or booties can be used to protect the paw pads from hot sand or sidewalks.
Dogs should never be left in parked cars either with or without the windows rolled down. Additionally, it is cruel and inhumane to have dogs outdoors all day without access to water, shade and shelter (they preferably need air conditioned shelter with access in and out of doors).
I applaud those of you who want to experience life with your dog and take him with you on summer activities. However, you need to know when your dog’s body has had enough. With boating, please take a life preserving jacket for your dog to wear, bring ample amounts of water, and provide a shady spot. Definitely take a collapsible light colored kennel or umbrella with you to the beach.
Color of Nose
A dog with a black nose would be considered “protected” from the sun. A dog with a pink, fading to pink or pale nose needs sunscreen applied to this area. Pet caregivers can also opt for a visor.
A dog’s coat generally provides enough protection for short periods of time outside. Remember, coats are a breeding feature to shield dogs from the elements at varying degrees, depending on the nature of the breed’s “job”.
I would not recommend shaving a coat that normally sheds. You can have it thinned out a bit if you are concerned about overheating, but regular brushings should do the trick. Additionally, I would not shave a non-shedding coat as far down as the skin. Hairless, naturally thin coated, or shaved dogs should wear a light colored T-shirt or a UV Sun suit in lieu of full-body sunscreen.
For exposed areas of skin like the stomach, consider a sunscreen if the dog likes to “sunbathe” on his back.
Most importantly, AVOID sunscreens with zinc oxide. Zinc oxide can damage a dog’s red blood cells, cause them to rupture then leading to vomiting and diarrhea, and anemia. Personally, I would avoid even using this type of sunscreen on yourself if your dog has a tendency to lick you.
Other chemicals to consider avoiding are para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), octinoxate, oxybenzone, triethanolamine, imidurea, methyl paraben, octisalate, DMDM hydantoin and benzophenone-3. Some of these ingredients are found in “doggy safe” sunscreens.
But, although I do not recommend products or brands, I do recommend that you go to a locally owned and operated pet store to check out their brands and advice. You also may be able to find a baby sunscreen that may be suitable.
You can treat sunburns with 100% pure Aloe Vera gel. This is readily available at major drugstores. You can also consider Witch hazel or a little vitamin E oil.
Bottom line is to be careful with sunscreens on dogs and avoid zinc oxide. Except for a pink nosed dog, preventative measures such as shade, white T-shirts and visors should provide enough protection against sunburn.
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