Why do dogs sunbathe? This is an especially valid question when most dogs have a warm bed indoors. And for those of us with white dogs, the fight to keep them out of the sun and over covered in sunscreen is very real.
Dogs like white Bull Terriers, Dogo Argentinos, Dalmations, and similar white breeds are extremely prone to skin cancer. So while lazing in the sun is natural, it can be an unseen danger for many dogs. This is especially true for white dogs that sunbathe in the colder winter months, when we may not remember they need that vital sunscreen.
Still, long as your dog doesn’t overstay their welcome in the sun, basking in it is good for them.
Sun exposure is just as crucial for a dog as proper grooming with good shampoo, diet, and exercise. In this article, we will discover reasons why your dog loves and needs a sun bath.
So, Why Do Dogs Sunbathe?
Dogs sunbathe to keep warm, feel happier, ease body pain, relax, and dry their coats when they are wet. Other health benefits associated with basking in the sun include better sleep and easing painful joints. This makes bathing in the sun not just fun but also essential. However, we do need to be aware of the risks of sunburn and prolonged exposure to the sun.
6 Reasons Why Dogs Sunbathe
1. Dogs feel happier after laying in the sun.
Enjoying the sun for the right amount of time triggers your dog’s brain to release serotonin. The feel-good hormone regulates their mood and acts as a natural happiness enhancer. This is true for dogs as it is for humans.
Just like humans, dogs may suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during the cold winter months. When there is less daylight, dogs have less serotonin and melatonin in their brains, both responsible for a sense of well-being. We don’t know for sure if dogs suffer from SAD, but it’s safe bet that some time the sun can make them feel happier.
2. To Keep Warm
Most dogs are certified sun-lovers because who wouldn’t love the feeling of the sun against their skin? Basking in the sun helps dogs feel warmer, especially if your house is too cold for comfort. It is a simple and natural instinct to seek out a warm, sunny spot and soak up the heat.
3. Sunshine Can Ease Painful Joints
Being in the sunshine helps the body to release beta-endorphins. This hormone helps in alleviating pain and making your canine pal more comfortable. This is particularly important for old dogs who may suffer from arthritis or other painful conditions. A study actually shows that the beta-endorphins released can cause your dog to be mildly addicted to the sun.
4. They Get Improved Rest.
Dogs love to nap and rest during the day, and what better way to do it than in the sun? This is especially true in the morning sun before it gets too hot. Just as importantly, a study on sled dogs shows that dogs have more melatonin in summer with more daylight.
Melatonin is essential for proper sleep and rest in dogs. Vets even sometimes use melatonin supplements to treat behavioral problems, fertility issues, and seasonal hair loss.
Sunlight greatly impacts your canine’s circadian rhythm, influencing their sleep quality. Dogs, like all animals, need exposure to raw sunlight because their sleep pattern is regulated as UV rays hit their retina.
Therefore, exposure to sunlight in the morning suppresses melatonin keeping your dog alert and active due to the higher levels of blue light.
5. Sunshine Dries Wet Dogs
Nobody wants to be wet, especially when there’s an option to bask and feel the priceless warmth from the sun on our skin. This is true about animals too, so after shaking themselves off, dogs will often take the time to lie in the sun and dry off after a bath or a swim.
6. The Sun Helps Dogs Save Energy.
Preserving energy in the cold takes a lot of energy, as a dog’s metabolism needs to speed up to maintain their body temperature. Dogs will often need to eat more to survive in cold temperatures. So finding a sunny spot when its chilly, and sunbathing, is an easy way to spare some essential energy.
Does sunbathing help dogs absorb vitamin D?
One major difference between dogs and humans is that sun exposure does not help dogs synthesize or absorb vitamin D in their fatty tissues. While time in the sun is vital for humans as it helps our bodies create vitamin D, especially to regulate calcium and phosphorus, dogs and cats need to get this vitamin entirely from their diets. This does not mean that we should supplement vitamin D into our dogs diets however, because too much vitamin D is toxic to dogs.
While this vitamin is absolutely essential in a dog’s diet, it has to be in the right amounts or it can make dogs very sick. One should always be careful with homemade diets that contain too much liver or cod liver oil, as these are known to cause vitamin D poisoning in dogs.
Does sunlight help vitamin D in dogs?
The amount of time you can leave your dog sunbathing is determined by their age, breed, health, and temperature. Regardless, veterinarians advise 30- 60 minutes of direct sunlight for your dog. However, if your dog is white with pink skin, make sure they are wearing sunscreen when they are in the sun, especially on inner ear flaps, bellies, eye rims, and lips, as these areas are usually not protected by fur.
For your dog to get the best from the sunlight, take them out for 30 – 60 minutes during the day. From sunrise to midday to evening, the least exposure should be when the sun is brightest.
When is Laying in The Sun Harmful to Dogs?
If it’s too hot for you, it’s definitely too hot and even harmful for your dog to stay outside. Most dogs can handle temperatures up to 32℃ (89.6 ℉, and anything above that becomes too hot for them. Also remember the dangers of hot ground, particularly tarmac, gravel, and cement for your dogs paws.
For your sun-loving dog’s safety, it’s best to moderate the time they spend outside when it’s hot. Morning hours and evening sun are best for your dog, although a few minutes in the midday sun won’t hurt.
Some dangers of staying in the sun too long for dogs include:
This occurs when your dog is subjected to the heat of the sun for a long time and doesn’t have enough water to stay hydrated. Dogs need to pant to regulate their body temperature in hot conditions, causing them to lose moisture from their bodies. In this process, dehydrating in a warm climate happens very easily and can be very dangerous.
Hot temperatures can make it harder for your dog to work, play, or exercise, often leaving them listless and looking for a shady spot to rest in. Just like with humans, excessive heat can sap them of their energy and leave them apathetic and uncomfortable.
Difficulty in Breathing
Breathing difficulties are common in short-nosed (brachycephalic) dogs like Pugs and Bulldogs, which are more likely to have difficulty breathing in high temperatures. These dogs are prone to brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS). They also struggle to cool themselves down when it’s hot because of their shorter airways. This makes them extremely vulnerable to the next risk.
Heat stroke, also known as hyperthermia, occurs when your dog’s temperature is higher than usual. A dog’s ordinary temperature ranges from 101 to 102℉. Anything more is considered dangerous and shouldn’t be ignored.
Signs of a Heat Stroke in Dogs:
- Heavy panting
Panting is how dogs regulate their body temperature. Heavy panting can signify your pup has elevated temperatures and cannot maintain their normal body temperatures.
Drooling excessively due to overheating can lead to the death of your pup. Make sure they have plenty of water when you notice this sign.
- Increased heart rate
Your dog’s heart rate increases when they are trying to regulate their body temperature due to overheating.
- Increased body temperature
Dogs’ skin temperatures range from 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything more than this should be a call for concern.
- May Appear Lethargic
Your canine buddy will seem tired and weak and sleep more, accompanied by episodes of disorientation.
- Dry or Sticky Gums
Your pooch will lose more water than it can replace when overheating, leading to sticky gums.
Skin cancer is a long-term risk of prolonged light exposure and is a severe, maybe fatal condition. These dogs will have scabs, strange colored lumps, skin tags or wart-like protrusions, and signs of pain. Their whiskers can also fall off if the skin underneath them is affected.
Dogs with pink skin, like Dalmatians, Dogo Argentino, and White shepherds, lack protective pigment in their skin and can’t be in the sun for long. Similarly, hairless dogs like the Chinese Crested Dog need you to apply sunscreen to avoid skin cancer.
White or light-colored dogs with pink skin, or hairless breeds like the Xoloitzcuintli or Chinese crested doggy sunscreen applied every 4 to 6 hours to avoid sunburn. Do not use human sunscreen since it can contain zinc oxide, which is toxic to dogs.
If dogs lick sunscreen products containing zinc oxide or other harmful ingredients, it may damage their nervous system, kidneys, or ability to breathe. Certain health conditions like liver failure can also cause photosensitization in dogs, where they are far more sensitive to the sun and may scratch or rub exposed areas of their skin.
Do all dogs love sunbathing?
Most dogs enjoy a good time in the sun; some do more than others. Dog breeds meant for hotter climates, like Basenji, Chihuahuas, and Pharaoh Hounds will appreciate the sun more. Dogs made for the cold, like Northern Breeds such as Huskies and Malamutes, may avoid the sun like the plague.
What about artificial light?
Artificial lighting lacks all the benefits that come from natural light. It also has a high proportion of blue light that suppresses melatonin by 80%.
Artificial light also stays the same, unlike natural light, which changes naturally throughout the day. However, your dog can still enjoy a good night’s sleep even after walking into the sitting room with the lights on.
How To Allow Your Dog To Sunbathe Safely
1. Watch Them When They are Outside & Make sure they have access to shade
Watch out for any signs of dehydration, lethargy, difficulty in breathing, and panting heavily. If you notice any of these signs, hydrate your dog and give them time to rest in shady spots.
2. Provide Plenty of Water
Provide water for your pup when they are outside enjoying the sun. Make sure they have somewhere they can retreat to when they need to.
3. Apply Canine Sun Cream.
There is sun cream specifically made for dogs. Apply it to their exposed skin 20 minutes before going out to allow the body to absorb it and reapply after about four hours.
4. Go for Walks Early in the Morning or the Evening
The sun is at its coolest at these times, making walks comfortable for your canine
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Do Old Dogs Lay in The Sun Too Much?
Old dogs enjoy the warmth of the sun on their fur. Sun also alleviates pain in their bodies, especially in their joints. Older dogs suffer from more conditions that cause pain, like osteoarthritis, so the sun’s warmth can help them cope.
Why Do Dogs Sleep on The Hot Pavement?
Dogs will sleep on the hot pavement to keep themselves warm and to enjoy the sun on their backs. Dogs are also happier after spending some time in the sun due to happy hormones like serotonin.
Why Do Dogs Sunbathe When it’s Already Hot?
In most cases, dogs will seek refuge when they have overexposed themselves to sunlight. If it’s already warm and they are still sunbathing, chances are they still need the warmth to help regulate their body temperatures=.
Dogs naturally love the sun because its warmth keeps them happy and improves their rest and sleep. It’s important to monitor your dog’s stay outside when it’s hot to avoid heat stroke and dehydration.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.
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