Dog Sunscreen: It’s More Important Than You Think

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / May 15, 2018
dog sunscreen

The older and wiser we become, the more sunscreen becomes apart of our day to day lives. Maybe it’s the recent (ish) science backing it or maybe it’s the fear of wrinkles, but at some point, it starts clicking in our heads that sunscreen is extremely important. So why wouldn’t it be different for our four-legged friends?

Can Dogs Get Sunburned?dog sunscreen

Yes! Just like humans, dogs can burn with too much sun exposure. When you look at your precious pup you may see a bundle of fur and assume that their fur is protecting them against the sun’s harmful UV rays. However, this isn’t entirely true… at all.

In the right elements, without proper protection, your dog is absolutely at risk for getting sunburned. Consistent sunburns, in the summertime, for example, can not only be terribly painful for your dog but can significantly increase their risk of developing tumors and skin cancer.

Should Your Dog Wear Sunscreen?

Yes! Of course, we don’t recommend nonstop sunscreen, all day every day. There are certain times when sunscreen may not be necessary, while there are other times when it should be mandatory. There are also specific breeds that are seemingly magnets for sunburns, while other breeds have thicker, darker skin and don’t tend to burn as easily.

Dog sunscreen can be the summer component that you didn’t even realize your pup needed. Now, let’s get into all the details.

What Dogs Should Wear Sunscreen?

Dog sunscreen is definitely not a fad and certain dogs should have sunscreen implemented into their lives ASAP.

Dogs Who Are Losing Hair or Who Have a Bald Spot

If your dog is undergoing chemotherapy, coping with allergies, or dealing with hormonal changes, they may be losing their hair. The hair loss means new, unprotected skin that is sensitive to the sun’s harmful rays and can easily burn.

Dogs Who LOVE The Sun

Does your dog squeeze themselves into the tiny sliver of sunshine at any cost? Next time they do, look to see what areas of their skin are not covered in hair. Pet parents should make sure that their sun-loving pup is protected while lounging. Also, if the sun time is all day, every day, pet owners may want to consider limiting the amount of direct sunlight exposure depending on where they live and how powerful the sun is.

Dogs (And Pet Parents) Who Are Outdoor Enthusiastsdog sunscreen

Dog sunscreen should be a staple for outdoor enthusiasts. Campers, hikers, paddle boarders, etc., first of all, we commend you. Way to be fit and breathing in fresh air with your fur baby! However, constant sun exposure means a constant risk of sunburns.

Pet owners should be aware of the exposure that their dog is getting on a daily basis and plan to use dog sunscreen accordingly. This also goes for touch-ups. If you are touching up your own sunscreen after a dip in the lake, you should probably touch up your dog’s skin as well.

Dogs With Short White Hair

You may be a fan of a summer shave for your dog. We understand it’s hot and you certainly don’t want your dog overheating, but if Fido has white hair or light features, you may want to think twice.

Some of the breeds that are most at risk of sunburn and therefore, at risk of skin cancer are:

  • Staffordshire terriers
  • Boxers
  • Bull terriers
  • Shorthaired pointers
  • Dalmatians
  • Pitbulls

Breeds with thicker, darker skin may be less likely to get sunburned, but due to their dark coloring, it is also more difficult for pet owners to notice a sunburn. Just because your dog has a dark coat doesn’t mean they are unable to get sunburned.

Dogs with Light Colored Noses

Dogs with light-colored noses go hand in hand with dogs with light or white fur and lighter features.

Studies show that a dog with a light-colored nose needs extra protection against the sun’s UVA and UVB rays.

dog sunscreen

Safe Sunscreen for Dogs

When it comes to dog sunscreen, there are a couple of extremely important factors that come into play.

Best case scenario, find a sunscreen that is designed specifically for dogs. Pet owners may want to ask their veterinarian for suggestions.

Canine sunscreen should be fragrance-free and free of zinc oxide (we’ll tell you why in a minute).

Never Use Sunscreen with Zinc Oxide

Zinc oxide is one of the main ingredients in sunscreen that people use. It is paramount that your dog sunscreen does not contain this harmful ingredient.

If your dog happens to lick sunscreen with zinc oxide, the side effects can be pretty severe and include:

  • Anemia
  • Nausea
  • Cough
  • Yellow eyes
  • Mouth and throat irritation
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Chills
  • Fever

dog sunscreen

Pet parents should also closely read the label of dog sunscreen to ensure it doesn’t have para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA). Para-aminobenzoic acid can also be highly toxic if ingested by your pup.

Also, we hope this goes without saying, but never use tanning oils on your dog. Even if it says it protects against UVB rays, it will not protect your dog and only cause harmful adverse reactions.

Test Area!

We recommend doing a test on a small area of skin before applying the dog sunscreen to all of the exposed areas.

Even with all-natural ingredients, all dogs, particularly dogs with sensitive skin, may react differently and pet parents should be prepared just in case an adverse reaction occurs.

Our Favorite Dog Sunscreen Brands

Doggles, NutriVet, and Vet’s Bes are all brands that are not only dog-specific, but they also contain all natural, non-toxic ingredients such as willowherb and aloe vera that help heal and prevent sun damage.

Epi-Pet Sun Protector Spray is another great, dog-specific product that has a 30+ SPF, is easily applied, and has all FDA approved ingredients.

Best Baby Sunscreen

If you are unable to find dog-specific sunscreen, experts recommend using quality baby sunscreen that is free of zinc oxide and para-aminobenzoic acid and fragrance-free.

Additional Ways to Protect Your Sun Loving Pup

Dog sunscreen isn’t the only way to keep your dog safe from the sun’s powerful rays.

Keep Long Hair Flowing

We briefly touched on why some pet parents may want to forgo the “summer shave.” Your dog’s long hair is helping to protect them from harmful sun damage.

You may want to consider purchasing a grooming tool known as an undercoat rake. This will help remove dead hair and keep your pup cool while allowing their hair to continue to provide protection.

dog sunscreen

Applying Dog Sunscreen to Exposed Areas

We should mention that you don’t have to slather your dog with sunscreen from head to toe (unless by chance you have a hairless Chinese Crested). Applying the sunscreen to the exposed hairs such as bald spots, their ears, and their bellies will provide a great deal of protection. Of course, every dog is different and as we previously mentioned, if you have a dog that is at a high risk of getting sunburned, you should use sunscreen more generously.

Provide Shaded Areas

Make sure that when sitting out on your patio or lounging at the beach, your dog has an ample amount of shaded area that they can retreat to. The best way to protect against the sun’s harmful rays is to avoid them.

Additionally, pet owners should avoid their dog being in direct sunlight when the sun is at its strongest, usually between 10 am and 4 pm.

Sun Protective Clothing

Some dogs, especially dogs with sensitive skin, may have an adverse reaction to sunscreen. If this is the case, pet owners should look into protective clothing for when their dog is going to be in direct sunlight. Experts recommend light colors to keep the dog as cool as possible.

Water Water Water!

While water won’t necessarily protect against the sun, we can’t stress enough the importance of hydration when you and your pup are spending long summer days in the sun. Sunburns and skin cancer are troubling enough, but when you add in the possibility of heat stroke, things can quickly get even scarier.

Ensuring your dog has proper shade and water are paramount for a safe summer season.

dog sunscreen

Dog Sunscreen = Worth it!

A dog sunburn can lead to more than just itchy skin. Skin cancer and tumors are nothing to shrug about. What some pet owners may see as nothing dangerous can prove to have irreversible consequences. Luckily, there are ways to keep your four-legged friends safe and still allow them to enjoy the sunshine.

When used correctly and appropriately, dog sunscreen is a great way to help protect your dog against the potentially harmful sun and plan for a fun, active, and safe summer season.


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About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for