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Should You Be Putting Sunscreen on Your Pets?

I never knew they made sunscreen specifically for dogs until today

One of the few outdoor activities you can do during quarantine is walk your dog. And if you’ve ever experienced the blistering wrath of that big, bright star in the sky, you should know by now that applying sun protection before stepping outside is always a smart move. But what you might not know is that your cherished puppo needs sun protection, too. 

“A dog’s skin can be damaged by the sun, just like our own,” says Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer at the American Kennel Club. “If a dog’s skin is exposed to significant amounts of sunlight, it can become red and inflamed. White dogs with short hair — like White Bull Terriers, Dalmatians, Collies with white ears or muzzles and Greyhounds — and hairless breeds, such as American Hairless Terriers, Chinese Crested and Peruvian Incas, are more susceptible and likely to get a sunburn than dogs with darker skin and thicker coats.”

In fact, some dogs are so susceptible to sun damage that applying sunscreen regularly may be necessary. “All dog owners may want to consider the use of sunscreen for their dogs in the summer, depending on their location and lifestyle,” Klein says. “The safest and most effective sunscreen to put on your dogs is one that’s specifically designed for canine use.” (This same advice goes for cats, too, although you may be less inclined to take your cat outdoors on a daily basis.)

“If doggie sunscreen isn’t an option,” Klein continues, “one can purchase a fragrance-free sunscreen formulated for babies and children with an SPF of 15 or higher at the local drugstore. But it’s extremely important for owners to read the labels on baby sunscreens before applying them to their pets — no sunscreen containing zinc oxide or PABA should ever be used on a pet. Pets may lick their skin and accidentally ingest these toxic ingredients.”

Likewise, you need to be extra careful with how you apply sunscreen to your pets. “When applying sunscreen to the face region, it’s important to be careful to not let it get into their eyes,” Klein says. “It’s also recommended to patch-check the sunscreen on a small area of the body and wait about 15 to 20 minutes to see if the pet has any unusual rash or reaction to the product. After applying sunscreen, allow the lotion or cream to soak in for several minutes, and monitor your dog to be sure he or she doesn’t lick the lotion or cream.”

Now, you might be wondering, “How the hell am I even supposed to put sunscreen on my dog? He’s covered in fur and refuses to stay still for more than half a second.” For your average outing, it can help to focus your attention on their danger zones — ears, abdomens and noses — and skip over any particularly hairy areas. “You don’t have to apply to areas with hair because they’re usually well protected,” Christine Cain, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, told Good Housekeeping.

If you take your pup on a prolonged adventure, however, you might even need to reapply their sunscreen several times. “If a dog has to be outdoors during peak sun exposure hours — 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — especially vulnerable types of dogs in extreme, intense sunlight, sunscreen should be reapplied to sun-sensitive areas of the body, like around the top of the muzzle, near the nose, around the lips, on the tips of the ears and on the underside of the chest and belly,” Klein says. “If the dog has gone swimming, or gotten wet, the sunscreen should be immediately reapplied.”

As for removing the sunscreen so you’re dog doesn’t mosey back into the house, leaving a trail of goop everywhere they go, your best bet is probably to invest in some doggie cleaning wipes, so you can quickly wipe down any areas you sprayed or dabbed with sunscreen right as they walk in the door. Of course, you should be bathing them regularly, too, but since you’re only applying sunscreen to select areas on your dog, and since dog sunscreens don’t contain zinc oxide, an ingredient that sits atop the skin, they tend to be less messy than that heavy-duty human stuff. So a simple wipe should suffice.

Finally, if the sun is strong enough to require slathering sunscreen on your dog, you should also make sure that they have enough shade and water at their disposal. “In addition to potential sunburns, dogs can also experience heat stroke in hot weather,” Klein explains. “Making sure your dog has access to water and shade is an essential part of keeping your pet safe on hot days. While adding sunscreen to your dog’s summertime safety routine is a good idea, pet owners should still be aware of the risks associated with excessive sun exposure. Keeping a dog indoors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. is the best way to protect them from the sun’s harmful rays.”

“Please realize that, in nature, no dog ever basks in the sun to get a tan, or develops heat stroke on their own, unless they’re kept in a car or tied to an object with no shade,” Klein continues. “Dogs naturally seek a shady area. If dogs do get sunburned or develop sun- or heat-related maladies, it’s because their owners have failed to provide a safe environment for them: One of shade and of free access to plenty of fresh water.”

Well then, please excuse me while I go on a doggie sunscreen shopping spree to ensure that the sun never ever hurts my smol boi again. Stupid sun…