Can Dogs Develop a Tan under Sunny Weather? Understanding the Dangers of Sun Exposure


This summer, my family and I enjoyed the extended sunny weather, spending most of our days outdoors. Of course, we made sure to take precautions to prevent sunstroke and sunburn, not just for ourselves but also for our furry companion – our beloved dog. As I pondered the effects of the scorching sun on our pup, I became curious about whether dogs, like humans, could develop a tan. Considering that our dog has short hair and pinkish skin, it seemed plausible. To satisfy my curiosity, I delved into some research to unravel the truth about dogs getting tanned under the sun.

Can Dogs Really Develop a Tan?

Dogs do, indeed, have the capability to get sun tanned. However, the tanning process in dogs isn’t as evident as it is in humans due to their fur. The fur on dogs, even those with short hair, acts as a protective barrier against a significant portion of harmful sun rays. Nevertheless, dogs are still susceptible to sunburn and skin cancer. It’s important to note that the fur prevents excessive tanning. Thus, the rate at which dogs get tanned is not as rapid as it would be on exposed human skin.

Where to Look for Signs of Tan

The fur on a dog often masks the presence of a tan. However, there are specific areas on their body that are more likely to display visible signs of tanning:

  • The belly and stomach area: These regions have relatively less fur covering them, making tanning more noticeable.
  • The tips of the ears and the nose: These exposed areas are also prone to tanning.
  • Male dogs: Their testicles, being non-furry, are susceptible to tanning.
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It’s worth mentioning that white dogs, with paler skin, typically exhibit tanned bellies more prominently than dogs with darker fur.

The Risks of Dog Tanning

While a suntan on a dog may seem harmless or even aesthetically pleasing, it’s crucial to understand that it can be detrimental to their health. In reality, a dog’s tan is not significantly different from sunburn. Dogs, like humans, require protection from the sun, as there is no such thing as a safe or healthy suntan. Tanning, in essence, heightens the risk of skin cancer for dogs. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun causes genetic damage to the cells on a dog’s outermost layer of skin. To mitigate this damage, the skin produces melanin, resulting in darkening, i.e., a tan. Nonetheless, this damage accumulates over time, increasing the likelihood of skin cancer in dogs.

Recognizing Sunburn in Dogs

Differentiating between a tan and sunburn is crucial for safeguarding your dog’s well-being. Severe sunburn in dogs can resemble the following signs:

  • Visibly red skin
  • Dry, scaly, and cracked skin
  • Itching or scratching of sunburned areas
  • Sensitivity when touched or petted
  • Curling of the ears’ tips and edges
  • Formation of bumps or lumps on the skin

Should you notice any of these signs, it’s important to take immediate action to alleviate your dog’s discomfort.

Protecting Your Dog from Harmful Sun Exposure

Considering the risks associated with dog tanning, it is advisable to prevent suntanning altogether. Besides limiting their time outdoors and minimizing sun exposure, investing in a dog-friendly sunscreen is crucial. However, it’s essential to choose a sunscreen specifically formulated for dogs. Avoid sunscreens containing zinc oxide and para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) as they can be toxic to dogs if ingested. Opt for a waterproof, unscented dog sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

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With hotter summers and global warming on the horizon, it’s crucial to be proactive in protecting our furry friends from the dangers of sun exposure. While dogs can, indeed, develop a tan, it’s prudent to prioritize their health and prevent tanning altogether. The risks of skin cancer associated with prolonged sun exposure outweigh any aesthetic appeal of tanned fur. By taking necessary precautions and utilizing dog-friendly sunscreen, we can ensure our loyal companions enjoy a safe and happy summer.

Image in header via Pixabay

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