Can dogs get sunburned? Yes. Here's what to know.

23 May 2024 - 6 min read
A white and brown dog laying down in the sun on a wooden dock

Summer is here, and while we're busy lathering on suncream, we might overlook a surprising fact: dogs can get sunburned too!

Sunburn in dogs can lead to skin damage and skin cancer. The most commonly affected areas are the nose, ears, around the eyes, and belly.

But don't worry; we've got you covered. We'll explain why dogs get sunburned, signs that your dog's sunburned, and prevention ideas. So whether you're a new dog parent or a seasoned pet owner, this guide will equip you with the knowledge to protect your pup from the harmful effects of the sun.

So, let's dive in and learn how to keep our four-legged friends safe and sunburn-free.

How do dogs get sunburned?

Sunburn in dogs is not much different from human sunburn. It's essentially an inflammation of the skin caused by overexposure to the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, and some dogs are more at risk than others.

What dogs are most likely to get sunburned?

Dogs with short, thin, or light-coloured coats are particularly susceptible. But even dogs with thick fur can get sunburned, especially in areas where their fur is thinner like on their tummy).

Dogs that are most likely to get sunburned have:

  • White or light-coloured fur

  • Short or thin fur

  • No hair

  • Certain medical conditions or medications

Dogs that are outside the majority of the time without protection are also at risk.

It's a common myth that fur provides complete protection against sunburn. While fur does offer some protection, it's not a foolproof shield against the sun's UV rays.

How can you tell if your dog is sunburned?

A close-up of a dog's face resting on a white blanket with black paw prints. The dog's eyes are closed, and its nose looks sunburned.

Recognising sunburn on your dog can be tricky, but there are some telltale signs:

  • Redness: Look for red or pink skin, particularly in areas with less fur coverage.

  • Tenderness: Your dog may flinch or pull away when you touch the sunburned area.

  • Peeling skin: Just like humans, dogs' skin may peel or flake off after a sunburn.

  • Blisters: Severe sunburn can cause blisters or sores on your dog's skin.

If you're noticing any of these symptoms, get your dog out of the sun as soon as possible and give your vet a call!

And because the sun and heat can go hand-in-hand, it's probably a good idea to make sure they're not getting overheated.

While some breeds, like short-hair Labradoodles and Chihuahuas, can handle hot weather better than others, all dogs can potentially develop life-threatening heatstroke.

Where do dogs get sunburned?

Certain parts of a dog's body are more prone to sunburn: their nose, ears, belly, and paws.

Of course, any area of your dog's body that's exposed to the sun can potentially get sunburned, particularly where the fur's thin (or nonexistent).

Is a sunburn dangerous for dogs?

Yes. Just like in humans, repeated sunburn can lead to long-term skin damage and a host of other health issues. Here's why it's important to protect your dog from the sun:

  • Long-term skin damage: Repeated exposure to the sun's UV rays can cause serious skin conditions in dogs. One of the most common issues is actinic keratosis, which manifests as rough, scaly patches on the skin and can be a precursor to more serious problems.

  • Discoid lupus erythematosus: This autoimmune disease can be triggered or exacerbated by sun exposure. It primarily affects areas of the skin exposed to sunlight, leading to sores, scabs, and loss of pigmentation.

  • Skin cancer: This is probably the most serious consequence of repeated sunburns. Dogs can develop various types of skin cancer, including melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and hemangioma. Sadly, these cancers can be aggressive and difficult to treat.

  • Compromised skin barrier: When a dog's skin is repeatedly sunburned, the protective barrier can become damaged. This makes it easier for bacteria and fungi to invade, leading to infections and other skin issues.

Protecting your dog from sunburn now isn't just about preventing immediate discomfort—it's about safeguarding their long-term health.

Here are some tactics you can use to keep your dog's skin safer in hot weather.

How to protect your dog from sunburn

A small tan Chihuahua with a black collar is lying on sandy ground, partially shaded under a beach chair with a blue towel draped over it. The dog appears relaxed with its eyes closed.

So keeping your dog inside all summer long isn't exactly fun (or healthy for them). Luckily, there are a few ways you can mitigate the risk of your dog developing sunburns while still enjoying fun in the sun.


Heading to the beach or a park without a lot of trees? Don't forget your umbrella! Shady spots will help keep your pup cool between sessions of fetch and protect their skin from direct sunlight.


Avoid peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) for outdoor activities. During these hours, the sun's rays are the strongest and can cause the most damage. If you can't avoid being outside, make sure your dog has access to plenty of shade or use other preventative measures! Which brings us to the next point...


bulldog running on beach with mouth open, wearing gray shirt

UV-protective clothing, including lightweight doggy sun hats and shirts, doesn't just look pretty cute; it can also provide an extra layer of protection. These items can help shield vulnerable areas from harmful UV rays—that is, if your dog will tolerate wearing them. (This can be particularly helpful for hairless breeds.)

Just be sure whatever you select is appropriate for your dog's breed and coat. And don't leave them unattended in their clothes. Pups like to chew on all kinds of fabric, and you don't want your day to end in emergency services!


Keep your dog well-hydrated to help regulate their body temperature and maintain healthy skin. Always have fresh water available, especially on hot days, and consider adding ice cubes to increase their interest.

Dog-specific suncream

Believe it or not, they make suncream specifically for dogs! Speak to your vet about what they recommend; it could be a good option for your pup's hairless, exposed areas, like their nose.


Dog taking a bubble bath in grooming salon

Finally, stay on top of grooming sessions! Regular grooming can help you identify early signs of sunburn and any other potential health issues related to your pup’s skin. It also makes sure their coat remains in good condition, which should give them some natural protection against the sun.

Can I use human suncream on my dog?

It's tempting to use your own suncream on your dog, but it's actually not a good idea. Many human suncreams have ingredients like zinc oxide and para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), which can be toxic to dogs if they lick it off.

And let's face it—there's a good chance your dog will try to ingest any suncream you put on them. Instead, go for a suncream that's made specifically for dogs. These products are safer for your furry friend and will keep them protected from the sun without the same level of risk.

Oops, my dog licked suncream—is it toxic?

Don't panic—your dog is likely to try to taste whatever you put on your skin. A little bit of fast-absorbing, dog-safe suncream might be OK (as always, ask your vet what they advise).

But if your dog goes wild on their suncream bottle—or worse, yours—it can be toxic.

Symptoms of suncream poisoning may include:

If you suspect your dog has eaten suncream, call your vet immediately! To prevent it from happening again, always store suncream out of your dog's reach.

And if they just can’t stop licking it off, try using lightweight UV-protective pup clothing and other preventative measures listed above to keep them healthy and UV-protected.

What to do if your dog gets sunburned

A nervous Jack Russell is calmed by a female veterinarian in an animal hospital prior to a surgical procedure.

Despite our best efforts, dogs can still get sunburned. If you suspect your dog has a sunburn (reread those signs of sunburn above), start by getting in touch with your vet. Peeling skin or irritation could also be a sign of other health issues that aren’t related to sunburn.

Here are more serious symptoms that should prompt a vet or emergency visit:

  • Signs of infection (pus, redness, swelling)

  • Behavioural changes

  • Clearly in pain or discomfort

  • Not eating or drinking normally

Check out our post on dog first aid so you can be better prepared for situations like these and keep your pup safe until you're able to see a vet.

Dog sunburn treatments

If your dog seems uncomfortable and you can’t get in touch with your vet right away, get your pup out of the sun and try using cool washcloths to help soothe the skin and reduce inflammation.

If it does end up being a sunburn, your vet may prescribe treatments such as corticosteroids or antibiotics to help heal the sunburn and prevent complications.

And don’t forget—regular veterinary check-ups are also important for early detection of sun-related skin issues. This is especially true for dogs with a history of sunburn or a lack of fur, as they have a higher risk of developing skin cancer.

The bottom line

Protecting your dog from sunburn is as important as protecting yourself! By understanding the risks and taking preventive measures, you can ensure your furry friend enjoys the summer safely.

Dog-specific sunscreen, ample shade, plenty of water, and a little bit of vigilance can go a long way toward keeping your dog safe in the sunshine.

But if your dog does run into an accident or illness—in any season—it's a good idea to have dog insurance. This can help you stay prepared, whatever the season.

A person high fiving a dog

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Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.