Now that we are heading into the warmer months, we need to think about how we can protect our canine friends from that harsh (but lovely) Australian sun.
Those of us that grew up with the Slip, Slop, Slap sun safety message, may not know that Sid the Seagull has also added in Seek and Slide. Seek shade and slide on some sunglasses is the new addition to the sun safety message of ‘Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat’.
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world and during our warmer months we definitely need sun protection between 10am-4pm. The UV index can vary however, so even on a relatively cool and overcast day the UV rating can be high enough to burn us and our pets.
Sun and dogs
So how do we protect our pets? Unfortunately some sun-loving dogs may actually go and deliberately lie out in the sun on a warm day. And while dogs are not as prone to melanomas as humans, but they certainly suffer the pain of sunburn, develop skin damage and can also go on to develop skin cancer.
High risk dogs
Not all dogs need sun protection. Those with a dense coat, darker pigmentation and darker hair are less at risk of sun damage. Those with pale skin, hairless dogs or those with thin hair or a sparse haircoat are at higher risk.
Non-haired pale areas around the eyes, along the bridge of the nose and the tips of the ears are also less protected. Dogs that are real sun-seekers that love to lie on their backs in the sunshine to warm their bellies are very much at risk of nasty burns and sun damage.
Areas that burn on dogs:
- Tips of ears
- Around the eyes
- Back (if the coat is thin)
When do I need protection?
To work out whether you need to apply sunscreen and during what periods, the SunSmart app has a very clever tool to tell you during what times the UV rating is high. So if you are heading to the beach or park with your dog, you know what the danger times are and it even gives you a warning when it is time to reapply the sunscreen.
Generally the danger periods for high UV radiation are between 10-4pm in summer.
Sun protection options
To protect your dog we can provide shade, physical barriers (dog rashies, bellybands or an old t-shirt modified for your dog), hats, doggles and of course sunscreen.
If your dog loves to sunbathe, rub some pet-safe sunscreen on the belly in the morning before you go to work and make sure the most attractive place to rest is in the shade.
Sunscreen for dogs
Generally there are some great pet-safe sunscreens available. The thing to avoid is zinc oxide. Children’s sunscreen can be used on dogs as it is also designed to be safe if accidentally ingested. Whenever trying out a new product, do a patch test and ensure your dog’s sensitive skin doesn’t react to it, wait around 12 hours before applying it all over.
Dogs actually have skin that is half the thickness of human skin, so in some cases they can react differently to us. Ideally sunscreen should be reapplied every 4 hours.
To clip or not to clip
For dogs that get regular haircuts, consider leaving the coat longer to protect light coloured skin in the warmer months. To some degree hair is insulating against the heat of the sun, so even though it seems counter-intuitive sometimes they are cooler with their hair left on.
Just make sure you really strip out any dense undercoat with a good brush out every 3 days. You can also clip just the underbelly, so your dog can cool down by lying on cool tiles and shady concrete, but has some protection along the back.
Treatment of sunburn
If your dog does get badly burnt visit your vet for treatment. A deep burn is painful, will need protection from infection and your pet could do with some pain relief for the bandaging. Bandaging needs to be done carefully to avoid trauma to healing skin.
For a mild burn, apply a cool compress or pop your dog into a cool bath. Avoid putting any creams or moisturisers on the burn, unless recommended by your vet. Fresh juice from the aloe vera plant can be applied once the initial heat has been taken out of the skin.
Dogs are particularly susceptible to heatstroke in the summer months, due to their inability to sweat. Find out more information about how to help your dog escape the heat.
- Apply a pet sunscreen to pink areas, those areas with thin hair and along the bridge of the nose.
- Avoid spending long periods out in the sun between 10am-4pm during summer.
- Provide a shady, comfortable resting spot for your dog.
- Keep hair long if the skin is a lighter colour.
- Grow some aloe vera in case of burns-it grows well in pots.
Dr Eloise Bright
With 7 years of small animal practice, Dr.Eloise Bright came to Love That Pet as animal lover and advocate for all animals from baby birds to stray kittens.
With two sons in tow and hubby, Eloise mainly practices in Sydney, Australia. Meet her and the dog, Duster, and cat, Jimmy, on her profile page.