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Guest post by Amber Kingsley

Thanks to Amber for this guest post. Remember, your dog can get a sunburn any time of the year! If you’re spending the day outdoors, remember your pet’s sun safety.

Can My Dog Get A Serious Sunburn?

Being on or near the beach is one of the many perks of living in Hawaii, but it does come with a few cons for canines. The sand and surf can sometimes cause skin allergies or other irritations. Some dogs are at a much higher risk for getting sunburnt (even in the winter) and this can be problematic for our pets.

Those with shorter hair, lighter colored skin and coats, like certain breeds of terriers are more susceptible from damage from the sun’s harmful rays. Breeds that are an increased risk include:

  • Boxers

  • Chinese Crested Dogs

  • Dalmatians

  • Greyhounds

  • Pitbulls

  • Weimaraners

Just because your dog’s breed isn’t on this list, it doesn’t mean they’re safe from harm. Similar to humans, areas left unprotected like their noses, underbellies, near their mouth, areas around their eyelids and the tips of their ears are also prone to a stinging sunburn. Areas affected can include redness, swelling and discomfort they can’t obviously describe. For example, their eyes can become runny, swollen or red without reason other then too much exposure to the sun.

Beach Bums

Often those that spend an inordinate amount of time on the beach become more accustomed to this extra amount of exposure to the sun. This may or may not be true when it comes to our sandy, animal companions.

Since animals don’t have the ability to communicate their possible discomfort from too much time underneath the sun’s rays, we must look for signs they aren’t dealing with this exposure very well.

They won’t give us any visual signs of their pain, but we may see them becoming more lethargic and exhibit “shade-seeking” behaviors and a place to lie down alone.

Responsibility and Responses

We can protect our pets from too much sun with some simple solutions. Sure we can keep them indoors, but they won’t enjoy this confinement anymore than we do. How do you protect yourself for this type of exposure? With sunglasses, hats, lightweight coverage options, time in the shade and these choices are also available and perfectly acceptable for our pets.

While protecting them from the sun’s harmful rays may demand a dress-up option that makes them look silly, but think about this: how cool do you look in your shades, a cute summertime coverup, sandals and other protective devices? A hat for your dog can protect your pet from a possible sunburn to their eyes, ears, nose and other parts of their face.

Recognizing a Burn

When it comes to recognizing signs of sunburn with our four-legged friends, sometimes this can be difficult since their skin isn’t readily visible underneath all of that fur and hair. Along with other times that they aren’t feeling well, they may become distant, lethargic, moody and especially in the case of a stinging sunburn, they may become sensitive to touch when they’re usually overjoyed with this type of attention.

Being distant, overly sleepy and aloof are always times to seek immediate professional, medical attention. Just like humans who experience a sunburn, we may consume more water than usual, toss-and-turn when we try to lay down, and are generally uncomfortable. Even though their fur may hide signs of a burn, look more deeply for places underneath their fur that appear abnormal.

These can include redness, blistering, white or dark spots that are unusual in their appearance.

Soothing Solutions

Obviously these changes and problems are reasons to take your pet to the pet immediately.

However, if you can’t get to a vet right away, there are some ways you can make them more comfortable until you can take them in for professional attention. Again just like a human sunburn, consider:

  • A cool bath – but do NOT apply super old water, ice or butter as a topical solution

  • Calm them by talking to them in a soothing, gentle voice and be there with them

  • Don’t give them aspirin, as this is problematic for their digestive system

  • Get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible as time permits

Different in Dogs

Although we’ve made some comparisons to humans and dogs when it comes to sunburns, but our skins actually burn a little bit differently. Unlike humans, if a dog gets a sunburn their skin can look leathery or turn white. It can also appear raw or broken. If you can see damage to your dog’s skin or coat caused by the sun, take them to see your veterinarian immediately.

When it comes to dogs, there are three types of sunburns that they can experience that are slightly similar but appear unlike their two-legged counterparts in some unique ways:

#1 – Superficial Partial Thickness Burns: Affect the top layer of skin and would be comparable to a first degree burn where the skin would appear red.

Treatment: The dog’s hair is typically shaved off of the burn area and washed with a disinfectant such as iodine, The burn is generally treated with a topical cream such as silver sulfadiazine. Once the burn has been treated, your vet will give you further instructions on how to care for the burn until it heals completely.

#2 – Deep Partial Thickness Burns: Appears as damage to the surface layer of a dog’s skin and also affects some deeper layers underneath. Unlike second degree burns on a human, canines do not get blisters as a sign of this type of burn. The skin will appear red and you may be able to see more than one layer of skin.

Treatment: Damage to this layer of skin is serious and requires hospitalization where your dog will be given intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and raise their electrolytes. After the affected area has been shaved and cleaned as mentioned above, the wound will be bandaged and monitored daily. If more than 15% of a dog’s body is sunburnt, they may require skin grafts.

#3 – Full Thickness Burns: Again similar to a third degree burn, but without the blackened tissue as seen in humans. This type of sunburn is very severe, extremely painful and penetrates through skin layers possibly affecting tissue beneath the skin’s surface.

Treatment: These severe burns can lead to permanent damage and in some cases death, but thankfully these types of sunburns in canines are rare. Treatment is similar to the deep partial thickness burns with hospitalization and intensive treatments.

Protection and Prevention

The obvious way to avoid a painful sunburn is to keep them indoors, but we all know that’s not possible. Just like our two-legged children, we can protect them from UV rays with a hat, sunglasses as mentioned previously. But when it comes to applying sunscreen, this type of protective lotion on your dog can be hazardous. Keep in mind that it needs to be non-toxic and these can often be found in some sources online.

Zip the Zinc

Zinc is commonly found in many different types of sunscreen products and can be found in more places than one might initially realize, especially in sun blocking remedies. Besides being added to some types of creams and lotions, it’s also prevalent in:

  • Zippers

  • Pennies that were minted after 1982

  • Many types of metal nuts and bolts

  • Some board game pieces and other toys

  • Jewelry

  • Staples and other galvanized metal objects

Left untreated, zinc poisoning in dogs can cause a life-threatening anemia, seizures, kidney and liver damage, heart problems, and even death. And it’s not only zinc that pet parents should be aware of when it comes to sunscreen, ingredients like PABA, an amino-based acid is also toxic. Some contain ingredients that can act as a laxative.

It is said that Benjamin Franklin was the one who coined the phrase, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and this certainly rings true in this instance. With a little bit of forethought and preventative care, we can assure our canine isn’t caught off guard underneath the sun’s powerful rays.

About the Author: Travel junkie, Amber Kingsley, is a freelance writer living in Santa Monica, CA. Her art history background helps her hone in on topics that are of interest to readers. She is a dog enthusiast and loves spending time with her Pomeranian, Agatha.

Featured image by Amber Kingsley

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