It’s an extra-hot, extra-dry summer in Alaska. Where last August it rained almost every day (5 inches total), this August it hasn’t rained at all. The leaves are turning brown and falling off the trees early. Dust is everywhere. Smoke from dozens of fires dims the views we usually have of the surrounding mountains. It got up to 90 degrees for the first recorded time in Anchorage in June, and compounded with our longer hours of daylight, that makes for a summer where all sorts of unusual things happen to those of us who spend a lot of time outside…like our dogs! While Eira comes inside all throughout the day, she also loves to romp on the grass, play in the water, and take long naps in the warm sunshine.
As a result, the skin of her nose started looking dry and cracked. The rest of her skin looked fine — she has black fur, so that blocks the sun’s UV rays pretty well. But her nose is exposed.
We bought her a hat to protect her eyes from the sun, but her nose sticks out farther than the bill of her cap. So I did a Google search to see: is there such a thing as dog sunscreen?
I was shocked, somewhat, to find out that there is. And here’s why:
Dogs Are Getting Skin Cancer at Higher Rates than Ever Before
UK-based Animal Friends Pet Insurance saw a 35.7-percent rise in skin-cancer treatment needs in 2018. This is likely partly attributable to the increase of sunny, hot, dry days (as evidenced by Alaska’s atypically hot summer), and partly because dog owners are not aware that their dogs can get skin cancer from overexposure to the sun.
One of the case studies in the article (linked to above) is the story of a white cat whose ears started to turn black at the tips. He had malignant melanoma and needed surgery to get the tips of his ears removed. Thankfully this took the cancer away, but some natural pet sunscreen would have helped avoid this problem.
If your dog starts to develop discoloration on her ears, nose, or belly, take her to the vet immediately. She could have a case of actinic keratosis (AK), which is a thick, scaly skin deformity that can progress to cancer. The most common skin cancer found in dogs is squamous cell carcinoma, which can be operated on and quickly removed and in most cases doesn’t spread. But the surgery alone can be extremely costly.
Squamous cell carcinoma, which affects middle-aged dogs the most, is caused by too much direct sunlight to the skin. Breeds most often affected by this cancer are: Schnauzers, Scottish terriers, airedales, and Doberman pinschers.
Malignant melanoma is another common type of cancer, also usually affecting middle-aged dogs. It affects basset hounds, collies, dalmatians, beagles, and any dog that has a short coat. This one forms in a dog’s pigmented cells (melanocytes) and spreads into typically non-cancerous tumors that can become cancerous if left untreated.
Mast cell tumors develop in the mast cells of a dog’s immune system — and my dog, Clancy (a German shepherd), died from this type of cancer, which is thought to be caused by inflammation in the skin. She also spent a lot of time in the sun without dog sunscreen. Any dog can get affected by this and all skin cancers, but knowing which breeds are more susceptible can help you realize the importance of dog sunscreen — and watching out for skin issues that point to cancer, such as:
- Small, flat, red discolorations — this could be a hemangioma (HA), which is not malignant but can become malignant if left untreated, or hemangiosarcoma (HSA), which is.
- Any ulcerations or lumps in your dog’s skin.
- Any changes in previous or normal bumps on your dog’s skin. (Think of a person’s lifelong mole suddenly growing and changing color, which would be a cause for deep concern.)
Thankfully, you can prevent most instances of skin cancer in your dog. There are lots of wonderful dog sunscreen choices out there, and I’m really pleased with the one I got for Eira.
Read on to find out which dog sunscreen did the trick for her! But before we start, let’s talk about what you DON’T want to find in your dog’s sunscreen:
- Zinc oxide. This ingredient can cause dogs to get seriously ill if ingested, so it’s best to keep it off their nose since it’s such an easy-to-lick area.
- Salicylates. These can cause breathing and respiratory problems in your dog if ingested.
The following dog sunscreens are safe to use — and many of them use natural ingredients only.
Handy Hound SnoutScreen
If your dog has extra-sensitive skin to go hand in hand with her sunburn, try this Handy Hound SnoutScreen. It’s an all-natural, chemical free, vegan choice for your sensitive dog, containing the following ingredients:
- Raspberry seed oil, which acts as a natural sunscreen up to about 50 Sun Protection Factor (SPF) against UVB rays and 8 SPF against UVA rays — close to the protection one gets from titanium dioxide, which is found in most sunscreens for humans.
- Carrot seed oil, which has a SPF of about 38-40 and is stronger when combined with a carrier oil.
- Cedarwood, a skin-soother especially for previously sunburned skin.
- Lavender, which reduces inflammation and swelling.
- Rose geranium oil, a natural anti-tick and bug oil that can help keep your outdoors-loving dog even more comfortable.
What’s not to love in this list of ingredients? The balm comes in a 2-ounce stick application bottle. It’s a little on the higher-priced side for its size, but it works exceedingly well at keeping your pup’s snout safe from the sun.
Sit. Stay. Forever. Organic Pet Sunscreen and Moisturizer
This 2-ounce tin of magic is what I bought for Eira’s nose.
Eira’s 2-ounce tin of dog sunscreen.
It’s a solid balm that easily rubs onto your fingers so that you can rub it into your dog’s nose. And it smells nice!
It’s kind of pretty, isn’t it?
I rubbed some onto Eira’s nose just before she took one of her famous long naps in the sun, and when she woke up, her nose looked as moisturized as it had when I first applied the dog sunscreen. Like the first sunscreen I mentioned, it contains red raspberry and carrot seed oil. But it also has:
- Organic beeswax, a natural barrier between the sun and your dog’s snout, that also reduces inflammation.
- Coconut oil, which has a SPF of about 4, and which allows raspberry seed and carrot seed oil to shine.
- Shea butter, a natural anti-inflammatory product and deep moisturizer for sun-dried skin.
- Hemp oil, a fantastic anti-inflammatory with a SPF of 6.
- Lemongrass oil, a natural bug-repellant.
And those are all its ingredients!
This balm is also cruelty-free and waterproof, so you can apply it before you take your pup to the lake.
I’ve gotten into the habit of rubbing this balm into Eira’s nose every day, and sometimes I also apply it on her belly, where her fur is lighter. She does like to turn her belly toward the sun while she takes those outdoor naps, after all!
Emmy’s Best Dog Sun Skin Protector Spray
If your dog isn’t a fan of balms or roll-on sticks, this spray might be easier to apply. The spray is designed for dogs in every way: it contains no aerosol — aerosol makes it hard to keep the spray out of a dog’s eyes or mouth — contains no zinc oxide, and is a non-greasy formula that won’t turn your dog into a walking dust-collector.
The sunscreen spray contains coconut oil and shea butter for sun protection and soothing, and the company is so confident that their product will work perfectly that they have a no-questions-asked lifetime guarantee. If you have any problems whatsoever at any time, you can return your spray. But they don’t think that you will want to.
Chris Christensen Ice on Ice Conditioner With Sunscreen
If your dog has white fur, no fur, or lots of areas with exposed skin, you might want a product that rubs into the whole coat without depleting the entire container. Chris Christensen’s Ice on Ice Conditioner with Sunscreen is 16 ounces of spray that you can apply to your dog’s coat for detangling and shine…and widespread protection from the sun! It’s not all-natural and organic, but it is safe to use on dogs and is effective at keeping light-haired dogs safe from sunburn.
My Dog Nose It Moisturizing Sun Protection Balm
If you want a moisturizing balm with slightly stronger ingredients than the first two balms mentioned, the balm from My Dog Nose It contains Octinoxate USP 7.5% (derived from Cinnamon oil), a UV absorber, and oxybenzone USP 3% (derived from Benzoic acid, from gum benzoin) also a UV-absorber. Despite using these stronger ingredients, the sunscreen does not contain toxic chemicals found in human sunscreen and is safe for dogs to use. Plus it’s super effective! It’s also water-repellant so you can rest easy if you want to use the balm before you take your dog to the lake.
Dog sunscreens generally range in price from around 10 to 30 dollars, which is much cheaper than thousands of dollars for surgery to treat skin cancer. Don’t hold off any longer, especially if your dog spends a lot of time in the sun. She needs some quality dog sunscreen ASAP!
Dogs need to get out in the sun — but they also need to stay safe from too much sun exposure!