Dog Days Of Summer

Slap some sunblock on those hot dogs!

With the dog days of summer just ahead, it’s a good time to review some sun safety tips for pets.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the 40 hottest days of the year start July 4th and are called the “Dog Days of Summer” as they coincide with the rise of Sirius, the “Dog Star”. Whenever the sun is baking us, my own dog stars are usually content to seek out shade and cool surfaces, so I don’t worry too much about their safety. If your pets are outside in the heat of the day, some simple precautions are in order.

Obviously providing shade and access to water are primary, but some dogs need encouragement to take a break from the sun. Game-driven, high energy breeds such as Labradors, Australian Shepherds and some types of terriers have been known to play until they drop from heat exhaustion. A few years ago, I treated a black lab that had eroded all of his foot pads right through to the flesh while chasing a ball on hot pavement. Don’t play vigorous games in the hottest part of the day and be sure to make your canine friends take lots of rest breaks.

Precautions are even more important for thin-coated, light-skinned or closely clipped dogs. These guys really should be kept inside from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. when the sun is blazing her hottest. Just as in people, sun damage can lead to skin cancer in pets down the road. Redness, scaling or sores, particularly on pink skinned areas should prompt a vet visit.

Protect light-coloured nose-leathers, ear-tips and hairless bellies with sunscreen made for human babies, providing at least 15 SPF protection. When the lotion has just been applied, offer a chewy treat or a bit of food to stop the dog from licking for a few minutes. Once dried, the sunscreen should be effective for several hours and can then be reapplied. Don’t use any products containing zinc which is toxic and will quickly cause vomiting. For more on sunscreens, see Veterinary Partner.

Dogs with thin, light-coloured coats can be protected with UV-proof clothing and, yes, there is such stuff on the market for pets. Seniors and others with sensitive eyes can be taught to wear doggie sunglasses. They can even be fitted with tinted contact lenses.

In an effort to keep mosquitoes and black-flies away, some pet owners swear by the Avon product Skin-So-Soft. It does seem to help a bit and is considered non-toxic, but its oily base can promote sunburn. A lot of veterinarians recommend Bush Splash as a safe insect repellent for dogs, although for pets badly affected by bug bites, keeping them inside may be the only solution. Never use DEET-containing products on animals; they can cause serious neurological side-effects from skin contact alone.

Even so-called “natural” insect repellents containing essential oils can be toxic if they are too concentrated. This includes tea-tree, citronella, jojoba, neem, witch hazel, peppermint, lemon basil, lemon oregano, and other essential oils. Ask your vet before using any human products on your pet.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital
June 2012