Two dogs enjoying the sunshine in dog hats and sunglasses, their collars and ID tags.

Protecting pets from summer sun

Team Walmart Pets

June 16, 2021


min read

There’s something magical about sunshine that cleanses, ignites and renews us all. Our dogs and cats must feel it, too, based on the amount of windowsill naps and porch slumbers they enjoy — especially the cats. Long days spent frolicking outdoors, swimming at the lake or playing in the park are fueled by the summer sun’s warming rays. 

Sun protection for pets 

We want pets to have fun in the sun, but they need to do it safely. So how do pet parents know how much sun is too much for their dog or cat? What can overdosing on daylight do to a pet, if anything? How can pet parents protect best friends from ultraviolet radiation? 

Let’s shine a light on these questions to reveal the facts about facing the sunshine. And remember, while pet sunblock can keep them protected from the summer sun, enrolling them in Walmart Pet Insurance keeps them protected when they get sick or hurt all year long.

Prevent dehydration    

One of the most preventable sun-related health hazards is dehydration. Pets can become dehydrated quickly, whether they’re playing outside or just napping in the shade on a hot day. This is especially true at the beach, where it’s likely they’ll swallow some salt water while swimming. Look out for signs of dehydration, like excessive panting, slowing down during play and reluctance to keep pace on a walk are all signs that your pet probably needs to cool down. 

To avoid exposure to intense sunlight and reduce the risk of dehydration, limit time outside with your pet to the hours before 9 a.m. and after 4 p.m. from May until October. If you must be outdoors during the heat of the day, take water breaks every 20 to 30 minutes. Drinking water before, during and after exercise is essential for a dog to keep cool. There are tons of options for pet parents who want their dogs to drink water while on the go.

And of course, never leave your pet in a parked car unattended, even on more temperate days. It takes only a few minutes for the sun’s powerful rays to heat the inside of the car to dangerous levels. 

Do pets need sun protection?

Most pet parents scoff at the idea of sunscreens or sun protection clothing for their furry friends —  but many have also never considered whether their pets can tan. 

In humans, tanning of the skin is one of our body’s basic defenses against harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays; the skin darkens with the help of a pigment called melanin, which reduces UV rays’ penetration into cells. Our pets don’t seem to produce much melanin, particularly on the face, nose, ears and other areas with little or no hair, which makes them more susceptible to sun damage. The best way to protect dogs from the sun is with sunscreen for dogs. Or you can spice things up, and make other pet parents jealous, by going the fashionable route with a dog sun hat, a fun top or some eye protection from stylish sunglasses

Obviously, fur-covered areas of a pet’s body are better protected from the sun’s rays, but pets who are hairless or have thin coats, light pigmentation and pink noses are particularly at risk. So consider lathering them up with sunscreen, or dressing them up in protective gear when you’re lounging outside or going swimming.

Can too much sun hurt your pet?

Soaking up the sun may sound like fun to you, but your pet’s health can be harmed by overexposure. Here are a few of the conditions that could be created or worsened by too much time in the sun:

Solar dermatitis

The leading sun-related condition veterinarians see is solar dermatitis or skin damage due to extended exposure to ultraviolet light (UVL). It’s caused by repetitive “sunburns,” so the areas exposed to the sun, like the top of the muzzle, nose and tummy, are most at risk. Affected skin turns bright pink, followed by thickening and roughness, and can look similar to eczema in people. 

Skin cancers

Like people, dogs and cats who are repeatedly exposed to the sun can develop skin cancer — and it happens more often than you might think. 

The most common types of sun-induced skin cancers are melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), hemangioma and hemangiosarcoma. Skin biopsies can be performed during a physical exam; your vet will numb the area around the lesion before taking a sample, and close it with a small stitch or staple. If you observe an unusual spot or fast-growing lump, don’t delay. Have it checked by your vet immediately.

Skin irritation

Sunlight can also exacerbate allergies and other skin conditions; it’s not unusual to see pets suffering from more severe itching and redness after they’ve been in the sun too long. If your pets experience skin problems due to allergies, protect them from the sun as much as possible. Other skin conditions commonly seen include the development of blackheads, skin infections and scarring.

Which pets are at risk for UV exposure?

Remember, any pet who sees the light of day can be at risk, but pet parents of these furry friends should take extra precautions when lounging or swimming in the summer sun: 

  • White-skinned, short haired breeds such as Dalmatians, Bulldogs, Bull Terriers and beagles are at higher risk for solar dermatitis.
  • Keeshonds, Standard Schnauzers, Basset Hounds and Collies seem to develop squamous cell carcinoma at a higher rate than other breeds.
  • Pets prone to conditions that cause hair loss, including hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease and pattern-alopecia have less natural sun protection; these include short-coated breeds like Dachshunds, Greyhounds, Boxers, Weimaraners and Chihuahuas.
  • Older pets often have many years of sun exposure under their pelts, which could explain why many pets develop skin issues between the ages of 6 and 11.
  • Pets with white, yellow and light gray coats (and those of any color that sport a shaved look in warmer months) also have less UV protection than their darker toned cousins.

Sun protection for dogs and cats

To protect pink, thinning or hairless skin on your pet, consider a sun shirt. These tight-fitting stretchy outfits turn heads while turning away harmful UVL. If you’re spending the day at the lake or beach, they’re must-have garments for summer safety. 

If sunscreens are more your thing, ask your veterinarian to recommend a pet-friendly one. Never use products with zinc oxide, which is toxic to pets. In a pinch, you can try baby-safe, zinc oxide-free lotions or sprays two to three times a day with reapplication after swimming. Apply liberally, paying close attention to the underside, ears and snout. 

An old-fashioned umbrella is also a great idea for a beach or boat day. Pop-up beach tents for babies also work as a retreat for dogs when they need a break from the rays. 

While you’re shielding the skin, don’t overlook the eyes. Eyelids, irises and even the retina are all sensitive to sunlight. Vets are diagnosing skin cancers of the eyes more frequently, and they are among the most challenging cancers to cure. And while most cataracts in pets are caused by diabetes or genetics, many vets are becoming concerned that they could be caused by long-term sun exposure, as well. 

Dog hats, protective goggles and dog sunglasses are a good idea if your dog is regularly spending significant time swimming around or lounging about during the summer. They not only protect them, they look awesome.

Outdoor adventures bond us with each other and our pets in ways nothing else can. Relish the rays, embrace the sun’s energy. Sunlight warms our bodies and souls. Explore and experience the joys of long days spent under the sun, but do so safely with your pet.

Pet Health

Pet Care

Photo by Apostolos Vamvoura on Unsplash