Sunburn – Rhodes 2 Safety

Sunburn – Rhodes 2 Safety


It’s important to remember that even the most innocent of situations can result in sunburn or burns of one type or another.  There are 5 main types you need to be aware of – Hot, Cold, Friction, Electrical and Chemical.  When we think of Hot burns, we usually think about fire or may be spilling a hot drink but we should also be thinking about thermal burns from the sun – particularly if your dog has a pale coloured, sparse or short coat.

Photo courtesy of Ian McCormack - Jezza Beagle sunbathing
Photo courtesy of Ian McCormack –
Jezza Beagle sunbathing

The breeds most commonly affected are:-

  • Pitbulls
  • Dalmatians
  • Boxers
  • Weineramers
  • Greyhounds
  • Chinese Crested Dog

The areas most at risk from the sun are the top of the muzzle where the fur is shorter and less dense, the nose itself, the ear tips and also the underbelly – especially if your dog is a real sun-worshiper who likes to lie out and catch those rays!  Basically, anywhere with little or no fur to protect it is a danger area for your pooch.

Don’t forget, their eyelids can also burn and if you have a dog with little or no pigment in the eyelids, you could always consider something like the Doggles protective eyewear (

Doggles Protective Eyewear
Doggles Protective Eyewear

Sunburn doesn’t look like human sunburn – yes, it can be red and sore as you’d expect but often it might be that the skin looks dry and leathery, cracked or even turns white, so please don’t dismiss these changes out of hand as they may well be telling you that your furry could do with a little more protection.

If you know your dog likes to sunbathe, particularly if he is pale-coloured, then protecting him BEFORE he goes into the sun is a sensible idea.  You wouldn’t let your kids play out all day in the sun without applying sunscreen so please get into the habit of doing the same for your dog.

But which sunscreen should you choose?  We’ve already said that protecting the muzzle and nose is very important but you know as well as I do, if you apply any cream or lotion to his nose, that tongue is going to be out immediately to lick it all off, so its important to choose a sunscreen that is fragrance free (in an effort not to attract his licking lizard), waterproof (so that if he does lick, at least SOME of it may manage to stay on) and finally and perhaps most importantly, non-toxic.

Many human adult sunscreens have Zinc Oxide in them.  This is a toxic chemical for your dog, particularly if ingested in large quantities.  That being said, we must consider the size of our dog too and realise that what is not a particularly large quantity for a large breed dog, would be a massive amount for a toy breed.

There are specific doggy sunscreens on the market and though designed for dogs, I’m very sad to say that many of them still have ingredients which are not good for our furry friends and as such, its pretty difficult to find one that would suit.  You are perhaps just as safe to use a mild and sensitive sunscreen designed for babies instead – again go for fragrance free and waterproof if possible and always aim for a high factor such as factor 30 or above.

The following link is a really good article on sunscreens which may clarify things a bit for you and give you an idea of the kind of ingredients to look out for and avoid when choosing a sunscreen for your dog:

So hopefully, we will avoid sunburn.  But what do you do if you discover your dog has been burned by the sun?  Well, usually we would apply cold running water for at least 10 minutes and that’s fine for say, the underbelly, but what do you do if it’s their nose that they’ve burnt?  There is no way your dog is going to allow you to pour cold water over his nose is there (poor little sausage will think he’s being waterboarded at Guantanamo!)

If possible, hold a cold compress or place an ice pack on a light damp cloth on the nose being careful not to block up the nostrils as you try to help.  Another option is to take some frozen peas and wrap them in a sheet of cling-film to make a cold sheet, one pea thick.  Have the dog lay with his head across your lap and then gently raise his head up and more specifically the injured area of the nose.

Cover with a damp sling or clean tea-towel leaving the nostrils peeking out, and then drape the cold “pea-film” over the top of the sling.  Because it is damp, the sling will not stick and because the peas do not weigh very much, your dog will hopefully be able to tolerate the gentle cold feeling on his muzzle.

For other parts of the body, simply applying a cold, wet towel after you have cooled the burn will help – if skin dries it dies, so if we can keep the skin moist, it will prevent further damage.

For underbelly burns, bathing your dog in cool water will really help.  You can also try adding colloidal oat flour to the bath which will help soothe the burn and prevent itching and further damage to his skin surface by scratching that itch.  The one I like is Aveeno which you can get from a chemist or most supermarkets:


Remember, if you are going to bathe your dog in cool water to help ease the burn, do not use shampoo as this will irritate the skin – especially if the wound is severe.

Applying Aloe Vera, or Witch Hazel to the area once cooled will also help soothe him but please be aware that if the burn is full or partial thickness rather than merely just superficial, or if he shows any signs of discomfort or pain, he will need to see a vet.  Often, it is difficult to tell just how big a burn is because the dog’s coat obscures your view so if you are in any doubt as to the severity of the burn, please have him checked over professionally.  It might well be that the vet will need to shave off his fur to be able to treat his wound, possibly with a solution of Silver Sulphadiazine.  If it is more severe, he may even need to hospitalise him and keep him on a drip to prevent him going into shock so please do take all burns very seriously.