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Can Dogs Get Sunburned?

Unfortunately, they can.  The Sun gives provides warmth, light and is a vital source of Vitamin D but for extended exposure and under certain circumstances, like us, our pets need extra protection from the sun’s rays.

How To Tell If Your Dog Needs Sunscreen

  1. Your dog is an outdoor enthusiast.  If your dog will be spending the entire day at the beach, in the pool, or hiking the trails, they will need some added protection against prolonged exposure.
  2. A clean, close shave.  No we are not talking about a man’s face. Dogs that are getting a ‘summer shave” are more susceptible to burning than their furry counterparts. This is also applicable to short-haired dogs like pit bulls and bull dogs.
  3. The dreaded bald spot. Whether from surgery, allergies, sickness or just the ever-present bare belly, dogs with hair loss need sunscreen.  This includes ears.
  4. The nose knows.  Those pups with light noses are just asking for it.  That nose knows it needs extra protection against extended exposure to the sun’s rays.  Vitamin D is one thing, but after 15-25 minutes, noses can get burned.

There is much debate about the efficacy and the SPF measurability of natural oils compared to commercial FDA compliant sunscreens.  With skin cancer diagnosis on the rise, I can see where people would be concerned. That being said, it is also of concern the many toxic ingredients found in commercial sunscreens. For dogs, this is a more important issue because they lick their skin and fur.

“Dog Approved Sunscreens”

Many of the “dog approved” sunscreens that boast that they contain all-natural, healthy ingredients that are safe to lick and ingest are part of what I like to refer to as the American Marketing Machine,  a.k.a. Total crap.

These “dog approved” FDA compliant sunscreens contain a myriad of synthetic and hazardous chemicals.  To be safe, it is imperative that you read labels and look up the ingredients of the sunscreens you are considering. A good place to start is with the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Chemical Database.   They even have an app that you can download to your phone so you can check ingredients while you shop.

Here are examples of two very popular “dog safe” sunscreens that are on the market.

Distilled Water,  DMDM Hydantion, Glyceryl Trioctanoate Propolene Glycol,  Dicaprylate Dicaprate.  DMDM Hydation has a high toxicity rating  and Propylene Glycol is a skin irritant and with repeated exposure, an organ toxin.

Octinoxate, Oxybenzone Carnuba wax, corn starch, Ethylhexyl Stearate, hydrogenated caster oil, ozokerite, Castor Seed Oil, Mongongo kernel oil,  silica,  Sorbitan Sesquioleate and talc.  Octonoxate and Oxybenzone score 6 and an 8 on the toxicity scale.  The biggest concern I have with Octonoxate is that it can interrupt thyroid function. Oxybenzone absorbs quickly and acts like estrogen in the body.  Both substances are dermal allergens along with Sorbitan Sesquioleate.

The Natural Path to Sun Protection.

To help reduce skin cancer risk as well as toxic load, I recommend a common sense, natural approach to sun protection that involves a little help from our plant friends.

  • Don’t stay out in the sun for too long.
  • Know the areas in your environment where there is access to both sun and shade.
  • Avoid prolonged sun exposure between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are at their most potent.
  • When you want to go out during the heat of the day, leave your dog at home.
  • For dogs with missing hair on their backs, consider a cover made with lightweight cotton to give them extra protection from the sun.  There are even some companies that make dog protection clothing.  Remember to look for signs of heat exhaustion like heavy panting, vomiting, excessive panting, and weakness.

Our Plant Friends

Carrot Seed Oil

Carrot seed oil smells amazing and does wonders for wrinkles.  That being said, it has a SPF of 35 which makes it a top natural pick for sun protection.  I am not talking about Carrot Seed essential oil.

Red Raspberry Seed Oil

We all love raspberries, and a broad spectrum SPF of 20 and above, makes this happy oil a top pick for mixing with other oils like Shea, Olive, Coconut or Tamanu.

Yarrow

Yarrow (Ahillea millefolium)  is one of my favorite perennial plants to make medicines with. Known for its ability to stop wounds from bleeding, yarrow has many other uses,  sun protection being one of them.  Yarrow can also can be used to ward away fleas, mosquitoes, and other biting insects. I could go on for days about this versatile sunny plant, but I must stay on topic.

There are some precautionary factors that you need to keep in mind when using yarrow for sun protection. Never use Yarrow essential oil.  Only use the whole plant infused oil that you make yourself or purchase from a reputable maker or company.  Always test the oil on yourself before putting it on your dog.  I like to put a non-nano, zinc oxide based natural sun screen like Badger on my arm and leave a small area where I test the yarrow oil.  After I have confirmed that the yarrow oil is working,  I will use it in place of  mineral sunscreens.  Word of caution:  Never use zinc oxide based sunscreens on your dog because zinc is toxic to dogs if ingested or inhaled.

Here is a wonderful recipe for a homemade sunscreen that you can try (on yourself first) for you and your dog.

Ingredients: 

1 oz Unrefined Coconut Oil

1/2 oz of Shea Butter

1 oz  Olive Oil (use yarrow infused oil if available)

1/4 oz Red Raspberry Leaf Oil

1/4 oz Carrot Seed Oil (not the essential oil)

2 drops Lavender or Roman Chamomile essential oil

Directions:

Put oils into double boiler or small crock-pot on very low heat for 20 minutes.  Add essential oil and stir for 2 minutes.  Pour into a squeezable container. Remember to always test for sensitivity in a small area on yourself and your dog before applying the oil to a larger area.

When purchasing oils make sure you are using a quality supplier that sells organic or chemical free, cold pressed, unrefined oils. This is important because SPF values can vary depending on the extraction method and the quality of the oils.  Use a company that you can call or email to confirm extraction methods and sourcing.

Using natural sun protection for yourself is much easier for you than for your dog.  For people needing protection for extended sun exposure, I recommend using a non-nano, zinc oxide based, all natural sunscreen.  For example, if I know that I am going to be out in the sun without shade for more than an hour, I will use a commercially made, mineral based, all natural formula like Badger.  For everyday protection, I use all natural oils.

By using an all natural, common sense approach to the sun you can reduce your dog’s risk of skin cancer and the painful feeling of sunburn.  Put your dog first and know when to call it a day.  This way you both minimize overexposure to the sun while still enjoying your favorite recreational activities together.

Rita Hogan is the canine herbalist, wellness consultant  and co-founder of Farm Dog Naturals, an herbal product company for dogs. Rita lives in Olympia, Washington, with her partner and their two pugs, Finnbar and Francis.