Sunburn in pets

isolated cat dog and rabbits

Overview

  • Pets can get sunburnt just like people, especially if they are light coloured or have a thin/patchy coat.
  • Sunburn is painful, causes skin damage, and can lead to certain types of skin cancer.
  • Fortunately, it’s easy to prevent your pet getting sunburnt by limiting their time in the sun, providing shade and using sunblock.

General information

An image of a dog with sunburn on their nose

Just like us, our pets can get sunburnt if their skin isn’t protected. Your pet is most at risk if they are light coloured (ginger/white), very short haired, or have any thin/bald patches of fur. The most common areas for pets to get sunburnt are the ears, nose, tip of the tail, and tummy (especially if they enjoy basking on their back in the sun!) Sunburn is typically very painful, causes skin damage and can sometimes lead to skin cancer. 

Signs of sunburn in pets

Sunburn in pets looks just like sunburn in humans, you may notice:

  • Redness
  • Crusting
  • Flaking
  • Itching
  • Blisters
  • Pain

Treatment

The treatment your pet requires will depend on the seriousness of their burns.

If you are unsure how serious your pet’s burns are, call your vet practice for advice.

Mild sunburn often heals within a few days with treatment at home:

  • Use cold compresses to cool your pet’s skin (but be very gentle when touching their sunburn).
  • Keep your pet cool and out of sunlight until their skin has healed.
  • Use sunblock to protect their sunburnt skin if they have to go outside.
  • Alternatively, you can use sun protective clothing, such as a highly rated SPF fabric/T-shirt to cover their sunburn.

Severe sunburn should always be checked by your vet straight away. If your pet is severely sunburnt, they might need pain relief, anti-inflammatories, possibly a fluid drip, antibiotics, and wound dressings.

Which sunblock should I use on my pet?

Check out our pet-safe sunblock range

As a general rule, if you are applying sunblock to your dog/cat/rabbit, try to use one that is:

  • Pet or child safe
  • SPF30 or higher
  • Waterproof

Apply two layers at least 15 minutes before your pet goes outside, and reapply as necessary.

Prevention

Limit sunlight exposure

  • Don’t allow your pet to sunbathe for long periods of time in direct sunlight.
  • Make sure they always have access to plenty of shade.
  • Avoid walking your dog in the middle of very hot days, instead, stick to the cooler mornings and evenings.

Apply sunblock

  • Apply sunblock to any areas of unprotected skin on sunny days. Dogs often need it on the end of their nose and tummy, and cats tend to need it on their ears and the end of their nose. If possible, try to discourage your pet from licking their lotion off.

When to contact your vet

It’s usually fine to treat mild sunburn at home, but if your pet has severe sunburn, or appears to be in pain, you should contact your vet for advice straight away.

You know your pet best, always contact your vet if you are concerned.

Published: June 2021

PetWise Pet Health Hub – brought to you thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery 

Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.

Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst