Puppies are very well protected against the sun by their fur, and don’t routinely suffer from sunburn. Shaving fuzzy puppies down to keep them cool can actually increase the risk of sunburn and heatstroke. When puppies do suffer sunburn, the hairless or thinly-furred areas of the body are most at risk, like the ear tips, bridge of the nose, and the tummy. White puppies are at highest risk; and curiously, so are bulldog breeds, because really like to sleep on their backs and bare their tummies to the sun.
Signs of Sunburn on Your Dog
Sunburn isn’t a medical emergency, but it can be painful. The skin turns red, can blister, become crusty, and peel. In severe cases, the tips of the ears can dry out, lose hair, and the edges curl. When that happens, the pet will need medical attention. But first aid and topical medication is usually all that is needed to take care of minor sunburn pain.
First Aid for Puppy Sunburn
- An easy, effective treatment first aid for sunburn pain is a cold water spray from a plant mister every half hour or so. If your puppy hates being sprayed, soak a clean cloth with ice water and apply as cold compresses to the affected area.
- Witch hazel is available at supermarkets or pharmacies and helps cool inflamed skin by evaporation, but doesn’t sting like alcohol. Dab some on with a cotton ball three or four times a day to soothe the burn.
- Over-the-counter sprays like Solarcaine and Lanacane contain local anesthetics that temporarily numb the pain of sunburn. You can use these safely on puppies but be careful about them licking the spots so avoid applying to tummies where puppy tongues can reach.
- Ice is a safe and quick alternative. Hold an ice cube against the burned area to numb the pain. A bag of frozen peas or corn also works well.
- Oatmeal soaks are extremely soothing and healing for damaged skin. You can use commercial products like Aveeno mixed in cool water. Or create your own homemade oatmeal soak. Just fill a cotton sock with raw oatmeal, and run the bath water through it as you fill the tub. This works great for puppies with sunburned bellies. Let the dog sit and soak as long as he’s willing.
- Sunburn dries out the skin. Aloe vera creams not only moisturize but also help heal burns faster. You can use the gel directly from the plant by breaking off a leaf and squeezing out the liquid. Or use a commercial product that contains aloe. Apply several times a day to the sore spots. Aloe isn’t harmful if licked off, either, although swallowing too much may cause some diarrhea.
- Vitamin E not only helps speed the healing, and soothes the burn, but also works great to prevent scars from forming. Squeeze the oil from a vitamin E capsule and spread on the puppy’s nose or ear tips once or twice a day. You’ll need several capsules to apply to a belly burn. Vitamin E isn’t a problem if the pet decides to lick it off—it’s actually good for the pet on the inside, too.
- The most dangerous times of day for sunburn are 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. so keep susceptible pups indoors during these hours, and draw the shades so window-worshippers aren’t exposed. When sun exposure can’t be avoided, especially for pup that love to sunbathe on their backs, fit them with a tee shirt that covers up tender tummies.
- You can also use sunscreens on the ear tips, bridge of the nose, tummy, or other places affected by sun exposure to protect your pet. Choose a product with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher. Avoid human products containing zinc oxide or PABA—pet products are best.
Your puppy won’t care about sunburn that turns fair skin to leather-like textures. But sunburn can be painful even if it isn’t a medical emergency.
[ Edited By: Margaret Jones Davis]