By Gina Spadafori
The risks of overexposure to the sun can indeed be a problem for many dogs. For information on which animals are at risk and how to protect them best, I turned to a top veterinary dermatologist, Dr. Peter J. Ihrke of the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine.
“Unfortunately, dogs can develop a wide variety of sun-associated problems beyond sunburn just as humans can,” says Ihrke. “Repetitive sun exposure can lead to chronic skin changes and sun-induced skin cancer just as it can in people.”
Ihrke says the animals most at risk for sun-caused skin disease and cancer are those with short, white coats, light-colored skin, and sparse tummy fur. Breeds that fit these characteristics include Dalmatians, bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, whippets, Italian greyhounds, and greyhounds. The more sun, the greater the risk, he says, noting that dogs who like to sunbathe and are permitted to do so are at the greatest risk.
Skin cancer can hit dogs as young as 4 years old, he says, which is why prevention is essential. Decreasing exposure is the only way to protect an animal from sun-related problems.
“Preventing sunbathing, roofs over outdoor runs, and solar protective T-shirts or dog shirts can be beneficial,” says Ihrke. “We also recommend waterproof pediatric or children’s sunscreens. Sunscreens designed for children are less likely to be irritating and commonly do not have scents added.”
Ihrke’s brand names as being safe for use on pets include Johnson & Johnson’s Waterbabies, Bullfrog waterproof, and EltaBlock waterproof. The benefit of waterproof products, says Ihrke, is that they’re also dog-saliva-proof.