Protect your pup.

By Abigail Wilt
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Dog enjoying beach in Norway
Credit: James D. Morgan/Getty Images

We take a lot of care to slather on sunscreen and sport hats when we go outside to protect our skin, but have you ever wondered about your dog's skin? Although fur provides a small barrier to the natural elements, everyone in your family is susceptible to a sunburn – even pups.

Just like humans, prolonged exposure to the sun can be harmful to a dog's skin. The first areas to be affected are those not completely covered in fur – the tips of your dog's ears, nose, belly, and any thin-hair patches. Although your dog's stomach isn't directly in the sunlight (unless he or she likes to take a good belly-up nap in the backyard), the sun's rays can easily be reflected off of light sidewalks or water. The hair on your pup's belly is usually thinner, as well, so tummies are more likely to burn. Anywhere that is not pigmented or light-colored will be the first area affected.

While you can use a child-safe sunscreen of 30+ SPF on those danger zones, Dr. Shane West at Vestavia Animal Clinic says that the average dog doesn't need it; "they're going to lick it off their nose anyway." Because it's the South, and we have some extra-hot days, protect your pets against sun damage by keeping them out of the heat during full-blazing sun hours. If you shave your dog during the summer or have a breed with thin hair, this is especially important. "Much of the dog's skin is not pigmented, so if you shave them and expose [the skin] directly to the sunshine, it'll absolutely burn," Dr. West said. "And it can progress to Squamous Cell Carcinoma and other nasty stuff. Avoid sun. I wouldn't take my dog to the beach and spend the day with him. That's not a good idea."

If you want to take your dog out on the lake, Dr. West also recommends sunglasses or goggles. "Just like blue-eyed people, there's not a lot of pigment in the retina, and [their eyes] are way more sensitive to the sun. But they learn. Dogs are smart. They know to get in the shade. They don't sit there staring at the sun. They know what to do." When he takes his four dogs to the lake, he makes sure that there is shade on the boat and that they've got their sunglasses on. "They'll wear their goggles. If we think they need them, they'll wear them. It's about trust. And, we always have shade in the boat. They may go out and swim for an hour, but we try not to do it in the early afternoon when [the sun] is the worst."

Keeping dogs out of the sun isn't just important in avoiding sunburns, but also avoiding heat stroke (exacerbated by fur) and keeping paws safe. If you're letting your pup out in the middle of the day, be sure that you've got plenty of fresh water around and shade in case they get a little too heated.

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Some breeds of dogs are more likely to get burned than others, for their lighter skin and finer hair. If your dog has white patches of fur, chances are the skin underneath is also paler; they're more likely to burn. Be extra careful with breeds like Chinese Crested (hairless), Boxers, Dalmations, Whippets, Jack Russell terriers, Greyhounds, Weinaraners, Chihuahuas, American Staffordshire Terriers, English Pointers, and Beagles.

Why is this so important? According to the AAHA, skin cancer is one of the most common cancers for pups, and taking precautionary measures can ensure their health and safety. "We see it year-round," Dr. West said, "but it comes from chronic exposure. It's not just getting sunburned once or twice." If your dog has been sunburned, you'll notice that their skin is pinker than normal, and may be sensitive to the touch. For bad sunburns, you may also notice some blistering or a slight fever. Although you can sooth your poached pooch's burns with a cold cloth, be cautious about using aloe vera. While soothing to the skin, the compound is dangerous to pups if ingested. And, if you see blistering of the skin or crusty, dry patches – you may want to take your dog to the veterinarian for some professional treatment.