Vet urges dog owners to put sunscreen on their pets

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Dr. Anna Foreman, Everypaw Pet Insurance’s in-house vet, has issued a warning against dogs being left in the sun for too long – and urged pet owners to apply sunscreen to their pets.

Does the sun have any health benefits for dogs?

Dogs are unable to absorb UVB rays cutaneously (via skin absorption) like we are, and so they rely solely on dietary intake of vitamin D. Sunlight does however aid in the production of the hormones melatonin and serotonin like in humans, and so exposure to the sun helps regulate a dog’s circadian rhythm, aiding with sleep and general mental health.

Dogs like to sunbathe for the same reasons we do – enjoying the warmth and bright light! It provides a relaxing sensation which promotes rest and wellbeing.

How long should dogs be allowed in the sun for?

Much like with us, dogs can suffer from sunburn and heatstroke if they are in the sun for an excessive period of time. Dogs should be limited to sunbathing for a maximum of 45 mins to an hour when the sun is particularly intense (11am-3pm).

Dogs should always have shade to escape to (they tend to seek shade if too hot), and a bowl of fresh water available. They may also benefit from a clean, fresh water ‘pool’ or cool mat to cool down in/on too.

Dogs with breathing issues, such as brachycephalic breeds, or those suffering from respiratory disease, should not be allowed to lie in the sun at all, as the increase in body temperature and subsequent need to pant to cool down will put significant strain on already compromised airways.

Extreme caution should be taken when exercising any animal to any degree in temperatures above 24C°

Dogs in general should not be exercised in the middle of the day in warm weather – instead the cooler early mornings (before 8am) or evenings (after 8pm) are far safer. Generally it is safe to walk your dog in temperatures under 20oC, although dogs who are of a large or flat faced breed, or who are obese or suffering from other health conditions should always be kept a close eye on in any temperature.

Even normal healthy dogs who are rigorously exercised are at risk of heat stroke at temperatures as cool as 20-23C°. Extreme caution should be taken when exercising any animal to any degree in temperatures above 24C°.

Instead of a walk in the heat, consider setting up a paddling pool for your dog in the shade in the garden to play (monitored!) in, or indoor games in a cool room such as puzzle feeders, lick-e-mats and games with soft toys. If it is too hot to exercise a dog all together, particularly over a longer period, then cutting down the quantity of food and treats given is a good way to prevent weight gain.

dog playing in garden

What are the potential dangers of dogs being outside in the sun for too long?

• Heatstroke – If a dog gets too hot it can develop heat stroke, where the body’s internal temperature rises to above 39.2oC due to being in external heat for too long. Some breeds of dog cannot tolerate the heat, and particularly exercising in the heat, more than others. Brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs and French bulldogs, are particularly prone to heat stroke and so extra care should be taken with these dogs in hot weather. Additionally, older dogs, as well as those with underlying health conditions, do not tolerate the heat as well as younger healthy ones. Dogs in general should not be exercised in the middle of the day in warm weather – instead the cooler early mornings or evenings are far safer.

• Sunburn – dogs with poorly pigmented skin or a thin hair coat are at risk of sunburn and an increased risk of developing skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma. Dogs, cats and other mammals with pink noses or ear tips are also at risk. Sunburned skin is painful in animals as it is in humans. More chronically and seriously, repeated sunburn can lead to cancerous changes – we particularly see this on the ear tips and noses of white animals, especially cats. Cancers such as malignant squamous cell carcinoma can lead to ear flaps (pinnae) needing to be removed – they can be very locally invasive and tumours can end up being non-resectable if left for extended periods of time. Those on the nose are very difficult to remove in their entirety due to the tight skin and close association with the skull bone/cartilage.

• Pavements – There are other risks in the heat, such as burning paws on pavements. If a pavement is too hot for us to place the back of our hand on for five seconds, it is too hot for our dog’s paws.

Animals particularly at risk in the sun

• Those bred to have a sparse or no hair coat, such as Chinese crested dogs or sphynx cats
• Those with shaved bald areas, such as animal who has been clipped for veterinary investigations and treatment like a scan or surgery
• Those with white ear tips and pink noses – the lack of pigmentation (much like in pale skinned people) allows for more exposure of cells to the sun
• The bridge and planum (tip) of the nose and abdomen/groin of all animals is at risk of sunburn to some degree due to a general lack of hair in these locations – darker skinned animals are at less of a risk, however any exposed skin can become sunburned!

What are your top tips for keeping dogs and other pets safe in the sun?

• Provide shady areas and cool surfaces for animals to rest in/on when outside in the sun
• Check pavement temperature before walking a dog in the sun – If a pavement is too hot for us to place the back of our hand on for five seconds, it is too hot for our dog’s paws.
• Make sure dogs always have clean fresh drinking water available when out in the sun to prevent dehydration
• Make sure dogs with respiratory difficulties are discouraged from lying in the direct sun.
• As with most things, prevention is the best cure – in animals this is with sunscreen and by limiting sun exposure. Human sun cream is unsuitable for animal use due to the chemicals used within them, much like human toothpaste has too much fluoride for animal use, and so an animal specific one should ONLY be used. These are safe if they are ingested by animals (for example licking their nose or grooming)
• Make sure the environmental temperature of animals housed outdoors in enclosures is monitored – enclosed spaces can become even hotter than the air temperature with direct sun exposure

How can you spot if your dog is sunburned and what should you do?

A dog’s sunburn will look much like ours – pink tender skin which may blister. If a heat burn is seen, veterinary advice should be sought. In the meantime, cooling the area by running cool water over it can provide some pain relief. Like with humans, animals can become sunburned if their skin is exposed to the sun without protection.

This is a guest post by Dr. Anna Foreman. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk

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