Does your dog love to lay in the sun? Do they seek out a sunny spot and sleep the afternoon away? It seems that, like us, our dogs enjoy the feeling of the sun warm on their backs.
But do we need to worry about a dog sunbathing, or can we just let them enjoy the feeling of the sun on their skin, and is there anything more to our dog’s love of sunshine than 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 the sun’s rays. Although dogs get most of their vitamin D from their food, laying in the sun can provide a much-needed top-up.
As the sun’s warmth heats the natural oils on both our dogs and our own skin, they react to the sun’s UV rays, resulting in the breakdown of the chemical bonds of the oils and produces vitamin D3.
While the process of absorption is simple in our case, the vitamin D gets automatically absorbed back into the body and directly into the bloodstream. Our dogs have a harder time because of their fur. Because the oil gets trapped in our dog’s coat as they groom and lick themselves, 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, 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 percent benefits and helps maintain muscle strength and support the immune system.
What if our dogs have too little Vitamin D?
Vitamin D deficiency is becoming more common as concern about direct sunlight 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.
Can 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 production 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 laying in the 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 significantly raise a dog’s vitamin D levels, it’s not the only consideration.
Prolonged exposure to the sun’s rays can lead to the same problems in our dogs as it does for us. Sunburn, heatstroke, and the increased likelihood of skin cancer are possible side effects of a dog that likes to sunbathe a bit too much.
Especially at risk of sunburn are dogs with short, thin coats or white or light-colored fur, while heat stroke is common in brachycephalic or flat-faced dogs. However, we can still let our dogs enjoy a sunny spot 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 exposure to 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 from direct sunlight and water. If possible, provide a paddling pool to help keep them cool.
Restrict time in the sun
Some dogs love to lay in the sun all day, given the opportunity. If you think your pet is overdoing it, bring them inside and ration their time outside.
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 sun’s rays but also traps cooler air and helps regulate their temperature, and prevents them from overheating.
For dogs with white or light fur who like to sunbathe can end up with a serious sunburn. Delicate areas, including ears, tummy, and nose, need special attention to protect them from exposure to too much sunlight. Protective clothing can be useful if you’re out all day and can’t restrict your dog’s time in the sun.
Sunscreen for dogs
Yes, it’s a real thing and essential for ears and nose. The hair on a dog’s ears, nose, and tummy are thin and the skin much more delicate.
Using sunscreen provides much-needed protection from the sun. Always choose a dog-specific sunscreen or block as human sunscreen often contains zinc oxide toxic to dogs.
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. If your dog loves to lay in the sun before 11 am and after 3 pm is a less dangerous time to catch some rays.
Know the signs of heatstroke
Heatstroke is a genuine risk and much more common in flat-faced dogs like bulldogs, pugs, and Boston terriers. Heatstroke can be fatal, so if you notice any of the following symptoms, move your dog into the shade, place a cool 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 summer day. And there’s no reason why our dogs can’t enjoy it with us.
Allowing our dogs time to lay in the sun not only provides a boost to their vitamin D level but it makes them feel good. 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 overexposure and heat exhaustion. Then spending the day together enjoying the good weather is the perfect way to relax.
Last update on 2023-10-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API