Sunburn on Dogs: Can They Get Them and When is it an Emergency?

Medical Contributor:

Dr. Nicole Gaither

Jun 14, 2022

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Have you ever heard of sunburn on dogs? Some dogs are at a greater risk of sunburn than others, but it is possible for any dog to get a sunburn under the right conditions.

In the article below, we’ll explain the risks of sunburn on dogs and how to recognize when a sunburn may be an emergency for your pet. We’ll also explore signs and symptoms of sunburn to be on the lookout for. With this information, you should be ready to respond if your pet suffers from a sunburn this summer.

If you think your dog may be having an emergency situation due to being sunburned, or if you have any other concerns about their health, you should contact an emergency vet right away. By talking to and/or going to the emergency vet, you’ll be able to find out what’s going on with your pet and make sure they get the appropriate care

Who Has a Higher Risk of Sunburn on Dogs?

Before going into the symptoms of sunburn on dogs, you should know what types of dogs are most at risk for this condition. If you’re aware of these types of dogs, or if you have one yourself, then you’ll know when you should take actions on how to best avoid them getting sunburned.

3 types of dogs that have a high risk of getting sunburned are:

1. Short Haired and Hairless Dogs 

Dogs who have short fur or no fur at all are at a greater risk of sunburn than those who are covered in fur. Any dog can, however, get sunburned on exposed parts of the body, including the nose, belly and insides of the ears.

2. Fair Skinned Dogs 

Dogs who have very fair or very pink skin underneath their coats are at a higher risk of sunburn.

3. Dogs Who are Often Outside

Any dog who spends a lot of time outdoors, even on an overcast day, is more likely to be sunburned than those who do not.

4 Symptoms of Sunburn on Dogs

It’s important for you to know the symptoms of sunburn on dogs so that you know if your pet needs help. If you notice any of these symptoms or you’re not sure what to do, contact a veterinarian to find out if your pet needs any special care to help with this condition.

Common symptoms of sunburn on dogs are below:

1. Sunburned Skin is Turning Pink or Red

Affected skin may turn pink or deep red. Just like many humans who get sunburned, a dog’s skin will change color when burned. Pink indicates a mild sunburn, while deep red indicates a more severe one. These skin changes are some of the first signs you may notice when it comes to sunburn in your dog. Typically, burns will also worsen over the course of several hours to days. What you see initially likely won’t be the full extent of the damage.

2. Your Dog’s Skin is Becoming Dry and Flaky

Skin may become dry and flaky, much like a human’s sunburn.

After a few days, the skin affected by the sunburn will dry out and become very flaky. Typically sunburns are not itchy, but some dogs will chew and scratch at the affected skin. If they are chewing or scratching, this can lead to secondary bacterial infections.

Monitor the flaking skin closely, as you want to catch and treat these infections quickly.

3. Sunburned Areas of the Skin Could Cause Blisters

Some skin may develop blisters that will eventually pop. Blisters are a sign of a moderate sunburn on dogs. They are not an emergency, but they can let you know that your dog is burned a bit worse than a regular sunburn. You should keep a close eye on him and keep him strictly inside for a few days. If there are a lot of blisters, they have pus material inside them, or they are painful, bring your dog to a veterinarian right away.

4. Dogs Can Develop Fevers with More Severe Sunburns

Some dogs may run a low fever with a moderate to severe sunburn. If your dog has a fever associated with a sunburn, bring him to a veterinarian for assessment and further treatment including possible fluid therapy.

Make sure your dog is staying hydrated while recovering from a sunburn. Give him small chips of ice along with fresh, clean water often.

When is a Sunburn on Dogs an Emergency?

Dogs getting a sunburn isn’t always an emergency situation. If it’s a mild case, then you typically don’t have to worry about taking them to the emergency vet. However, there are instances where a sunburn can lead to an emergency and your pet will need immediate care. A sunburn on dogs is considered an emergency when your dog’s skin turns dark red or purple, if their skin is oozing pus, if they have stopped eating and drinking, if they’ve become dehydrated, or if they’re showing signs of being in pain.

When the Skin Turns Dark Red or Purple

If your dog’s skin turns very dark red to deep purple, this is a sign of a severe sunburn. This is one of the earliest signs of a more serious sunburn on dogs. It means the skin has been burned much worse than a regular sunburn, and it signifies that your dog may have other serious problems as a result.

Go to the emergency vet to receive treatment and wound dressings before the problem worsens.

When the Sunburned Skin Has Blisters and is Oozing Pus

Sunburns that ooze pus along with blisters are severe. Pus is a sign that the skin has become infected and has moved past the point of being just a sunburn.

While blisters are a moderate symptom, anything else oozing from your dog’s sunburn requires an immediate trip to the emergency vet to diagnose and treat. If left untreated, infections could lead to life-threatening sepsis.

When Your Dog Becomes Dehydrated

Another case when a sunburn on dogs is an emergency is when they become dehydrated. Dogs who show signs of dehydration along with sunburn may be at risk of a more severe problem.

Dehydration is one of the bigger risks of severe sunburn and can be fatal if left untreated for too long. If your dog is growing weak and lethargic following a serious sunburn, go to the emergency vet as soon as possible.

When Your Dog Can’t Move Well from Being in Pain

Dogs who are in so much pain they cannot move well have a severe sunburn. All sunburns are likely to be painful for a few days, but if your dog is crying, whining, yelping, or seems to be unable to move much without causing severe pain, it’s time to see an emergency vet.

Contact VEG for Help with Sunburn on Dogs

Sunburn is not often severe enough to require a trip to the emergency vet. However, there are always conditions that may cause a sunburn to become serious quickly. By paying close attention to your pet’s overall health and symptoms, you can recognize these dangerous signs before they get out of hand.

The sooner you take your dog to the emergency vet following a severe sunburn, the easier it will be for your dog to recover fully from the condition. Follow any advice provided by the emergency vet for home care to help your pet recover, too.

If you’re concerned about sunburn on dogs, or if you have more questions about this condition, contact any of our VEG locations to speak directly with an emergency veterinarian. Our team is available 24/7 to offer expert advice for you and compassionate care for your pet. We care about your pet’s wellbeing, and are here to be your partner in making sure your pet always gets the care they need.