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Why You Need to Think About Sun Protection for Your Dogs

This article was originally posted on Long Haul Trekkers.

I never thought much about sun protection for dogs until we were in a teeny, tiny village on the Chile/Bolivia border preparing to pedal across the Salares de Coipasa and Uyuni. Everything we read about the salt flats stressed the importance of sun protection for ourselves, given the high altitude (nearly 12,000 feet) and the stark white surface that reflects the sun straight into your face.

This made me wonder, if we need to be super conscious of protecting our own bodies from the sun, what about Sora?

I did a bit of research and was surprised to learn that dogs also require sun protection. Dogs with light eyes, like Sora, are susceptible to eye conditions like pannus, which occurs as a result of ultraviolet (UV) light damage to the side of the cornea. Pannus means limited time outdoors and can lead to blindness. Dogs can also get skin cancer from too much sun exposure, especially on spots with thin or no hair like bellies, noses, and ears.

Fortunately, protecting your dog from the sun is quite easy with just a few pieces of gear and awareness. 

Dog Goggles

Like humans, we need to consider eye protection for dogs because harmful UV rays from the sun can cause eye conditions like pannus, sunburn around the eyes, and cataracts. Certain breeds like German Shepherds, Greyhounds, Labs and Border Collies tend to be more prone to pannus, an inflammatory autoimmune disease of the cornea. It is most common in the Rocky Mountain West. Dog goggles, like Rex Specs are specifically designed to prevent such diseases caused by exposure to the sun. Rex Specs lenses are rated UV400 to provide protection from 99-100% UVA/UVB keep the eyes safe from excessive sun exposure.

Rex Specs was born when founders Jesse and Aiden learned that their regular mountain excursions would be limited after both of their dogs were diagnosed with harmful eye conditions. While their German Shepherd, Tuckerman has Pannus, their husky suffered from chronic sunburn around her eyes. Sun exposure worsened these conditions. Rather than stop their adventures, Jesse and Aiden set out to find a pair of dog goggles. Dissatisfied with the selection available, they designed their own that would hold up to the wear and tear they’d go through and offered sufficient UV protection.

Dog goggles like Rex Specs not only protect your dogs eyes from the sun, but also dust and debris, bugs and wind, and punctures from sticks and thorns. We bring ours when we’re in high altitude, in the mountains, near water on a sunny day, at the beach, in sand dunes, and in windy locations.

Related: High Altitude: Will it Affect My Dog? See how high altitude can affect your dog and learn how to prevent altitude sickness.

When Should I Consider Eye Protection for My Dog?

A variety of factors, including location and various activities can make dogs more susceptible to eye damage from the sun or debris. Consider eye protection for your dog if any of the following applies to you:

  • You are from the Rocky Mountain West or live/spend significant time in a high altitude region
  • Your dog is one of the breeds mentioned above who is more prone to pannus
  • You spend a lot of time outdoors in the mountains, near water, in the snow, or beach
  • You hunt with your dog in areas with tall grass, thorns, sticks, etc.
  • Your dog goes along for rides on your motorcycle
  • You live in the desert or another sandy area with wind and sand storms
  • You frequent the beach regularly and your dog loves to dig and kick up a lot of sand
  • You have a working dog with an extreme job like military or police work

You may never have thought about the importance of sun protection for dogs, but like humans, the sun can lead to damaging eye conditions and skin cancer. Read the article to see how you can prevent sun damage to your dog.

How Do I Get My Dog Used to Wearing Rex Specs?

Wearing goggles is going to feel strange to your dog at first and she will likely try to pull them off before you can even put them on. The key is gradually getting them accustomed to them while using positive reinforcement.

Rex Specs has a great page with information on getting the right fit and training your dog to get used to wearing them, complete with videos.

Photo courtesy of Katherine Taylor of @robinventures

Protecting Your Dog’s Skin from the Sun

Can Dogs Sunburn?

Yes, they sure can. Prolonged exposure to the sun can cause skin damage, and result in conditions like ulcers, infections, and skin cancer. When we volunteered at an animal shelter in Peru, we met a sweet cat with skin cancer on her nose, a common sight in the sunny location.

Vulnerable areas include the nose, ears, around the eyes and the stomach. These are locations where dogs may have little or no fur and are therefore more at risk to sun damage. While all breeds require sun protection, certain breeds and dogs tend to be more sensitive to the sun, such as those with thin or short hair, light or white fur, dogs with exposed skin, and dogs that have had medical procedures that expose skin, like Sora’s radiation therapy did on her paw.

Sunblock for Dogs

In the photo above, you’ll see that I am using a Badger Sport Stick on Sora’s nose. I have since learned that zinc oxide can be toxic to dogs when consumed in large amounts. While I’m still not terribly concerned about Sora ingesting the minimal amount of zinc oxide that I put on her nose, I can’t recommend the product for pups (though it’s my favorite for humans!)

Several companies make specific sunblocks for dogs, however, I came across this post from Natural Dog Health Remedies that led me to believe that perhaps there isn’t really a safe sunscreen for dogs after all. I found one recommended to me by our Instagram pal @tulipthetraveler that I would feel comfortable using called Snout Soother. It’s made with natural sunblock ingredients like shea butter, hempseed oil, and vitamin E and I can recognize everything else on the list. Plus, it’s vegan, which is always a bonus for us.

Ok, so what sunblock should you use on your dog?

As far as a traditional sunblock cream, making your own is the only way to know for sure if it’s safe for your dog. I haven’t done this myself, but the article I linked to above has a recipe that seems fairly easy to make.

Otherwise, consider these alternative methods to protecting your dog from the sun:

  • Protective clothing like Hurtta’s Sun/Bug Blocker will protect your dog from UV rays, and also ticks and mosquitoes.
  • Hit the shade. During the summer months and on longer hikes, we try to find trails with plenty of trees and shade to protect from the sun. It also prevents dogs from overheating, which I discussed in my article about handling the heat with a dog.
  • Avoid the sun. Depending on where you live, the sun is strongest from about 10am to 4pm, so if you can, avoid being in direct sunlight during those hours.
  • Feed them sunblock. Certain foods boost antioxidant levels and can help protect against UV rays. Red fruits like watermelon and tomatoes contain lycopene, which blocks UV rays. Leafy greens like kale or spinach and vegetables with chlorophyll, such as broccoli are rich in carotenoids which block UV rays.

Dog goggles, like Rex Specs, sun protective gear, sunblock and avoiding the sun during certain times of the day will help minimize the potential damage caused by excessive sun exposure in your dog.

This article was originally posted on Long Haul Trekkers.



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How To Measure

Measure the circumference of your dog's muzzle where you expect the goggle to land on their nose - usually around the back of their mouth.

Measure the head circumference where you expect the goggle to land on the forehead - typically an inch or so behind the eyes.