Can Dogs Get a Tan in Sunny Weather? + The Risks of Canine Tanning

This summer we had unusually hot weather than went on for months. That was great for us as a family; we spent long days outdoors, the dog included. As you would expect we had to take precautions with him, so he didn’t suffer sun stroke or get burned. This meant limiting his time outdoors and out of the sun.

But one thing that piqued my interest was whether, like us, our dog would get a tan in this hot summer weather. He’s a short haired dog after all with pinkish skin, so I assumed yes.

Rather than just assume, I did some research and here’s what I learned about dogs getting tanned in the sun.

Can dogs get a tan? Dogs do get sun tanned. The parts of a dog’s body more inclined to tan are the exposed areas with no fur, such as their belly stomach, tips of the ears, and nose. White dogs are more likely to tan.

That’s the short answer, but there’s a little bit more to it. Read on for advice on dogs getting a tan on their belly, and when to worry that they’ve had too much sun.

Before I do that though, please do invest in a dog-friendly sunscreen. Click the photo of the bottle below – it’s the only FDA compliant pet sunscreen on the market.

Can dogs get sun tanned?

Just like humans, dogs can get sun tanned. However, the tan is not always as obvious as it is with human tans, because of a dog’s fur. And this is for two reasons.

Firstly. the hair on your dog, even a short-haired dog like mine, will protect the animal from a lot of the sun’s harmful rays. They are still at risk of sunburn and skin cancer, but the fur does offer a degree of protection (a reason why it’s bad to shave your dog in summer).

This means that your dog probably won’t get tanned at the rate you would do with your exposed skin. In other words, the fur stops a lot of the tanning from occurring.

Secondly, because your dog has fur, you won’t notice a suntan on them as much…aside from in a few places that is – the exposed areas of their body as I describe below.

dog suntan
Dogs will get tanned and can even get sunburn, just like us! (Image licensed via Storyblocks.com).

Can dogs get a tan on their belly?

Dogs can get very tanned on their bellies and stomachs. Reason being? It’s exposed skin which doesn’t tend to have as much furry hair on it.

Take a look at your dog, and there are certain areas on the body which don’t have fur on them. These are the places where your dog is most likely to have a visible tan. For example:

  • The tips of their ears.
  • The nose.
  • Their belly.
  • And for the male dogs… their balls.

You will notice suntans mostly on white dogs who have paler skin. Their tanned bellies are much more noticeable.

Our dog has greyish fur, but he does have a pinkish belly. We noticed that in the heat of summer, he had started to get a tanned belly. It was definitely noticeable.

I put this down to how dogs love to sunbathe, and ours is no different. He loves to lie on his back in the sun. We let him do that for 20 minutes tops, before we get him back indoors.

So, yes in short, dogs’ stomachs can get a tan.

Is a suntan bad for your dog?

The reality is, yes, it’s not ideal to let your dog get a suntan. I admit, there is a difference between getting sunburned and suntanned… but a dog with suntan isn’t that far off getting sunburn.

Just like us, dogs need protection from the sun, as there really is no such thing as a healthy or safe suntan. When a dog gets tanned, it is only increasing their risk of getting skin cancer.

According to SkinCancer.org, the causes of tanning are:

“Tanning is caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun that causes genetic damage to cells on your outmost layer of skin. The skin tries to prevent further injury by producing melanin (the pigment that gives our skin its color) that results in darkening – what we call a tan. This damage is cumulative, starting from the very first tan.”

Whilst that warning is intended for humans, the same applies to our dogs.

Skin cancer can affect canines too. Here are some sobering notes:

  • Dogs that have lighter skin or shorter coats are more at risk of developing skin cancer.
  • Skin tumors account for the highest proportion of canine cancers.
  • It is possible to buy specialist sunscreen for dogs (see my recommendations below).
  • Keep a check on your dog’s skin to look for anything unusual that could be skin cancer caused by the sun.

The Blue Cross animal charity recommend you keep checking for sunburn in your dog in hot weather. What you might think is a tan on your dog, could be sunburn.

“Sunburn can appear as red skin or hair loss. The most common areas affected are the bridge of the nose, belly, inside legs, ear tips, skin around the lips and any other area where skin pigmentation is low.”

You might read comments from pet owners saying their dog needs the sun for the vitamin D. However, this simply isn’t true.

Dogs get the vitamin D they need from their diet. The exposure they get from the sun’s rays isn’t enough vitamin D for what they need.

dog in sunglasses
You might even consider doggy sunglasses to help protect them in summer. (Image licensed via Storyblocks.com).

Signs of sunburn and not a tan in your dog

A tan and sunburn can be mixed up. As I’ve established, my opinion is that you should really differentiate the two for the sake of your dog’s health. But, bad sunburn in a dog can look like this:

  • Your dog has visibly red skin.
  • Your dog has dry, scaly, and cracked skin.
  • Your dog is scratching the sunburned skin.
  • Your dog doesn’t want you to touch or pet them.
  • Your dog’s ears are curling at the tips and edges.
  • Your dog develops bumps and lumps on the skin.

Dog friendly sunscreen products

Now, I hope you agree with me; I don’t want my dog getting tanned anymore. So, that means investing in a doggy sunscreen… as well as keeping them cool and out of the sun.

The American Kennel Club advise the following when choosing a suitable product.

“It’s highly important that you only use formulas that are specifically intended as sunscreen for dogs. They should not contain zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), as these ingredients are toxic to dogs if ingested, and dogs will often lick their skin and accidentally ingest the sunscreen. It’s also a good idea to look for a waterproof, unscented dog sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30.”

Based on that, I would choose the only sunscreen that is said to be FDA compliant. It’s this one on Amazon (read the reviews). You can also click the image below to see the latest prices.

Conclusion

Given the predictions for hotter summers and global warming, I can see us having another hot summer this year too. Given our dog loves to lounge around outdoors, I am going to take extra special care to make sure he doesn’t get a tan.

Yeh, dogs can get tanned, but it’s not something I recommend given the risks of skin cancer.

You might also like…

Here are some more summer-themed blog posts I’ve written this year to help you take good care of your dog.

Image in header via https://pixabay.com/photos/animal-bodyguard-breed-canine-5290295/

Marc Aaron

I write about the things I've learned about owning a dog, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips I've picked up along the way.

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