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Sunburn (Solar Dermatitis) in Dogs

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Updated: July 8, 2014

Overview of Solar Dermatitis in Dogs

Solar dermatitis, commonly known as sunburns, can occur to dogs. Although dogs do not sunburn as easily as people, dogs can suffer from sunburn. Sunburn is caused by direct UVL injury to skin cells. Most often, dogs sustain a superficial partial thickness burn. At worst, sunburns may result in deep partial thickness burns. Full thickness burns are rare.

The most common area this occurs in dogs is on the top of the muzzle referred to as dorsal muzzle/nasal solar dermatitis, (the junction of the nose and muzzle). The other common area is the trunk referred to as canine truncal solar dermatitis. This occurs over the back or belly of dogs that like to lay in the sun.

Breeds commonly affected include the American Staffordshire terrier, Dalmatian, bull terrier, boxer, Basset hound, and beagle. Light-colored or hairless dogs are more at risk than other types of canines. . Solar dermatitis can affect any breed – especially light skinned dogs that like to sun bathe.

Lesions can wax and wane depending on repeated sun exposure.

Types of Burns

Superficial partial thickness burns are similar to first-degree burns. Only the top layer of skin is involved. The hair (if present) may still be attached to the skin. The skin appears red and no blisters are seen. Many lesions begin as red inflamed skin irritation, hair loss and scaling. Repeated exposure and deeper burns can cause skin thickening, papule type lesion, skin infections and scarring.

Deep partial thickness burns are similar to second-degree burns. The surface layer and some deeper layers of skin are involved. Unlike in humans, these burns usually do not have blisters. The skin is red and some layers of the skin may be exposed.

Full thickness burns are similar to third-degree burns. The burn extends through all layers of skin and may even include tissue beneath the skin. Immediately after the burn, the skin may look like leather or the surface of the burn may appear white.

Sunburn usually occurs in the summer months when at-risk animals (such as white dogs and hairless breeds) spend too much time in the sun.

Veterinary Care for Solar Dermatitis in Dogs


The diagnosing sunburn is based on the time of year and possible prolonged exposure to the sun. The skin will have characteristic signs of a thermal burn.

Blood tests are not initially necessary to make a diagnosis. Depending on the severity of the burns, blood tests may be done later to determine the overall health of the animal.


Treatment of sunburn is based on the severity of the burn.

Superficial Partial Thickness

  • For these burns, the hair is carefully shaved from the burned area in order to ease treatment and better monitor healing.
  • The wound is gently cleaned with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine.
  • Topical creams such as silver sulfadiazine are quite effective in burns.
  • Most superficial partial thickness burns can be treated on an outpatient basis with the remainder of treatment and care done by the owner.

    Deep Partial Thickness

  • For these burns, hospitalization is necessary.
  • Intravenous fluids are necessary to provide hydration and needed electrolytes.
  • Daily wound cleaning with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine.
  • Daily bandage changes.
  • Topical cream such as silver sulfadiazine.
  • If over 15 percent of the body is burned, skin grafts may eventually be required.

    Home Care for Solar Dermatitis in Dogs

    If you suspect your pet has a sunburn, veterinary care is recommended. Dogs do not burn as easily as people, so more damage has occurred to the skin than you may be able to initially see. After diagnosis and initial treatment, daily treatment with wound cleaning and topical medication may be necessary.

    Preventative Care for Solar Dermatitis in Dogs

    For dogs at risk, apply sunscreen before spending time outdoors. As in humans, it is suspected that repeated sunburns may result in permanent skin damage and even possible skin cancer.

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