Can dogs get sunburn?

After the cold winter months we all look forward to some summer sunshine. But heat and sun require dog owners to take some extra precautions to help their canine companions avoid discomfort, sunburn and serious health problems posed by overheating or dehydration.


Heatstroke, which can be lethal, happens when dogs are no longer able to control their body temperature. As in humans, it can take hold very quickly. The symptoms include rapid panting or laboured breathing, very red gums, lethargy and lack of coordination, sometimes accompanied by vomiting and diarrhoea. In severe cases, your dog could even have a seizure. Prompt action is vital: cool your dog down quickly and safely by moving him out of the heat and dousing him in cool (not cold, as this can lower his temperature too quickly) water. Ideally, use a fan to gently cool the damp fur, and give him small quantities of water to drink – then warn your vet that you’re on your way.

Panting to cool down

A certain amount of panting is normal, as that’s a dog’s main way of cooling down. When a dog pants, water evaporates from the tongue, which carries excess heat from the body. Because panting uses a lot of water, it’s essential there’s a plentiful supply. When you’re out, carry water with you and give your dog frequent small drinks.

Older dogs in particular always need to have water near them, as they may be feeling too hot and bothered to venture far – and bear in mind that their kidneys may not be as efficient at conserving water, making dehydration more of a risk. In fact, older dogs are more likely to have an underlying chronic condition, such as lung or heart disease, which will make them particularly vulnerable during hot weather, so extra care is required. If you’re at all concerned, phone your vet for advice.

Sensible precautions

Always make sure there’s a shady spot for your dog in the garden. If it’s very hot, keep him indoors, using a fan if necessary – but don’t allow any sunbathing in front of a window!

Avoid going out at the hottest time of day, between about 11am and 3pm – instead, walk your dog early in the morning or at night. Discourage any strenuous exercise: the internal heat generated by muscular effort just adds to the warmth and may result in heatstroke. A Collie, for instance, will happily chase a ball at full pelt for ages without feeling any discomfort until he stops, and by then he may well already be overheated.

Never, ever leave a dog alone in a car, even if it’s in the shade. Sadly, dogs do die this way, even though it’s entirely preventable. Also, make sure your vehicle is well ventilated when you’re on a car journey together.

If your dog is a long-haired breed, a trim will help him to stay cool – but always leave a layer of fur to protect the skin, and never shave a dog completely as it exposes skin to sun damage. Dogs can get sunburned too, particularly light-coloured ones, so ask your vet about pet-safe sunscreen if you’re concerned.

Take a look at this sun safety information sheet that we’ve developed with Battersea Cats & Dogs Home for further advice on summer healthcare.