Dog sunbathing; keeping safe in the sun
Does your dog love to sunbathe? Do they seek out the sunniest spot and snooze the afternoon away? It seems that our dogs just like us enjoy the feeling of the sun warming their backs.
But do we need to worry about our doggy sun worshipers or can we just let them enjoy the feeling of sun on their skin?
Is there anything more to our dog’s love of sunshine than it simply feeling good?
Why do dogs sunbathe?
Apart from feeling good, sunbathing plays an important part in our dog’s health. Just like us our dogs get a dose of vitamin D from laying in the sun.
Although dogs get most of their vitamin D from their food, snoozing in the sun can provide a much-needed top up.
As the warmth of the sun heats up the natural oils on both our dogs and our own skin they react to the suns UV rays. This results in the breakdown of the chemical bonds of the oils and produces vitamin D3.
While the process of absorption is simple in our case, as the vitamin D gets automatically absorbed by the body and goes directly into the blood stream.
Our dogs have a harder time because of their fur. Because the oil gets trapped in the hair, it’s when our dogs groom and lick themselves that the vitamin D gets ingested orally.
The importance of Vitamin D
Although vitamin D is classed as a vitamin, it actually transforms into a hormone when it’s absorbed into the body.
In fact, once vitamin D reaches the liver and kidneys it is converted into its active form, vitamin D3 or 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, to give it its proper name.
As almost all tissue types within our bodies have vitamin D receptors, it means that they require it for optimal function.
Almost ninety-nine percent of the vitamin D3 that we absorb goes towards regulating the calcium balance in our bodies.
It’s essential for the formation of new bone in both children and adults, and of course our dogs. The other one per cent helps maintain muscle strength and supports the immune system.
What if our dogs have too little Vitamin D?
Vitamin D deficiency is becoming more common as concern about sun exposure increases. Not getting enough vitamin D can have serious consequences, not only for us but also for our dog’s health.
Low levels of this vital hormone have been linked to;
- Congestive heart failure
- Rickets, although rare in dogs
- Joint and muscle pain
- Bone fractures
Not only that but the lack of vitamin D has also been associated with a lowered immune system and inability to fight infections.
What happens if our dogs have too much Vitamin D?
Despite vitamin D being essential for health, having too much is much more damaging to our dog’s health than having too little.
Vitamin D toxicity is a life-threatening condition that needs immediate veterinary treatment. Too much vitamin D can cause levels of calcium and phosphorus to rise dangerously.
Once this happens, it can lead to calcification and hardening of body tissues, particularly within the kidneys, arteries and heart.
If not treated quickly, renal failure is a real possibility so watch out for the following symptoms;
- Erratic heart rate
- Muscle weakness
It’s rare to have too much vitamin D but if your dog has ingested supplements or drops meant for human consumption contact your vet straight away.
Can too much sun be harmful?
Although we know that sunbathing can provide a much-needed vitamin D boost. And that vitamin D is essential for our dog’s health, it’s also important that your dog not overdo it.
While it’s unlikely that a day of sunbathing will raise a dogs vitamin D levels significantly, it’s not the only consideration.
Prolonged sun exposure can lead to the same problems in our dogs as it does for us. Sunburn, heat stroke and the increased likelihood of skin cancers are all possible side effects of a dog that likes sunbathing a bit too much.
Especially at risk of sunburn are dogs with short, thin coats or those with white or light coloured fur. While heatstroke is common in brachycephalic or flat faced dogs.
However, we can still let our dogs enjoy their time in the sun as long as we take some precautions.
Dog sunbathing safety tips
Many of us are familiar with our dogs ‘sun dance’ where they continually move from the sun to shade and back again.
But our dogs aren’t always good at self-regulating their time baking in the sunshine. Often they fall asleep or get much too hot before moving into the shade.
So here are our top tips for keeping your dog safe in the sun
Always make sure that your dog has access to shade and water. If possible provide a paddling pool to help keep them cool.
Restrict time in the sun
Some dogs will bake themselves all day given the opportunity. If you think your dog is overdoing it, bring them inside and ration their time in the sun.
Natural is best
It may be tempting to trim your dog’s fur when they are suffering in hot weather. But the hair on our dog’s body not only provides valuable protection from the suns rays, but it also traps cooler air and helps prevent dogs from over-heating.
For dogs with white or light fur, sunbathing can result in serious sunburn. Delicate areas including ears, tummy and nose need special attention.
Protective clothing can be useful if you’re out all day and can’t restrict your dogs time in the sun.
Dog sun cream
Yes, it’s a real thing and especially important for ears and nose. The hair on a dog’s ears, nose and tummy are thin and the skin much more delicate.
Avoid midday sun
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, as the saying goes, but it’s much safer to avoid the sun when it’s at its most powerful.
For sun loving dogs, before 11 am and after 3 pm are less dangerous times to catch some rays.
Know the signs of heatstroke
Heatstroke is a real concern and much more common in flat faced dogs like bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers.
Heat stroke can be fatal, so if you notice any of the following symptoms move your dog into the shade, place a cold towel on them and immediately contact your vet;
- Rapid or excessive panting
- Swollen tongue
- Red or pale gums
- Muscle tremors
Should I let my dog lay in the sun?
Laying in the sun with a gentle breeze playing through your hair is probably one of the best ways to enjoy a sunny day.
And there’s no reason why our dogs can’t enjoy it with us. Allowing our dogs time in the sun not only provides a boost to their vitamin D level but it makes them feel good.
The warmth of the sun can ease sore muscles and stiff joints and relax our dogs in the same way that it does us.
As long as precautions are taken to protect our pets from over exposure and heat exhaustion. Then spending the day together enjoying the good weather is the perfect way to relax.