Should I let my dog sunbathe?

Brown Labrador sunbathing on a yellow sun lounger
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Be it outdoors or indoors, most dogs are sun worshipers, raising the question: should I let my dog sunbathe? Similar to humans, sun exposure is good for dogs and ultimately they enjoy it, so why would you want to stop them? But, like humans, dogs need to follow good sun safety practices to protect their skin. 

Even if your dog is just lying in the sun playing with one of the best puppy toys, they may be at risk of getting sunburnt. We spoke to Vet Emma Chandley BVetMed PGCertSAS MRCVS, a representative for Perfect Pet Insurance to get her input on just how much sun exposure is too much. If you’re worried that your dog is getting too hot, we’ve also looked into how to cool down a dog to give you some tips and tricks to keep your pal cool as a cucumber.  

Emma Chandley
Emma Chandley BVetMed PGCertSAS MRCVS

Emma graduated from the Royal Vet College in London in 2011. She has a keen interest in surgery and went on to do a postgraduate certificate in small animal surgery and was then awarded advanced practitioner status in the same discipline. When she is not practicing she provides expert commentary on behalf of Perfect Pet Insurance

Why does my dog sunbathe?

“Nearly all dogs love sunbathing,” explains Chandley. “Dogs tend to gravitate towards warm sunny spots to sleep in, regardless of the season. Basking in the sun feels good for dogs, which is why they seek out the sun’s rays to bask in.”

In some ways, dogs are a lot like us humans: the sun is warm, pleasant and can be energizing to experience. If you’ve ever found yourself lifting your face to appreciate the kiss of winter rays, you know that the sun can be a powerful source of joy for people, and the same goes for dogs!

“It is believed that exposure to sunlight helps to regulate a dog's circadian rhythm. Melatonin is affected by the amount of light a dog is exposed to. Serotonin, which is dubbed the 'feel-good' neurotransmitter, is responsible for overall well being and a sense of happiness,” she said.

Can dogs get sunburnt?

 “Dogs can suffer from sunburn just as people do. Common places for dogs to get sunburnt include: 

  • Nose  
  • Ears 
  • Eyelids 
  • Stomach  

“Dogs that have lighter coloured coats or thinning hair and bald patches are more at risk,”says Chandley. 

You should also bear in mind the climate where you live. A dog sunbathing in Australia is going to be more likely to overheat quickly than a dog sunbathing in Iceland. A thick coated or double coated dog might have better sun protection, but struggle with the heat when lying in direct sunlight.

Is laying in the sun harmful for dogs?

“Lying in the sun for prolonged periods of time can be harmful for dogs. UV rays from the sun can cause skin burn. As mentioned above, dogs that have lighter coloured coats and who have bald patches or thinning hair are more at risk of becoming sunburnt,” warns Chandley. 

While you may think that your dog has lots of hair protecting them, remember the exposed patches we mentioned earlier: a dog with a pink nose or large ears may catch the sun on these spots faster than on the rest of their bodies.

“Dogs lying in direct sunlight (as opposed to through a window pane) and dogs lying in the midday sun are at higher risk too. On hot days, lying in the sun can cause your dog to overheat which can lead to heatstroke,” she adds.

Dog catching some sun streaming through a wondow

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can the sun benefit dogs?

“Exposure to sunlight can benefit dogs,” advises Chandley. “It can boost their mood by causing the release of serotonin and dopamine, therefore improving their mental health. 

It can help with coat and skin health. The heat from the sun can stimulate oil production from glands in the skin. This means the coat is glossy and smooth. It promotes a healthy sleep cycle by influencing the production of melatonin.” 

It is worth remembering that, as with humans, the sun’s benefits are best seen with short periods of exposure. A dog popping in and out of the sun is more likely to enjoy the benefits over the risks than a dog trapped outside in it all day. 

How to let your dog sunbathe safely?

“If your dog is going to spend time in the sun, it is important they are monitored to ensure they do not become too hot,” says Chandley. “Even if the temperature is not that warm, if your dog is running around in the sun, their own body temperature will increase very quickly. Always ensure they have access to fresh water.”

Dogs are generally quite good at knowing what they need, but as an owner it’s your job to make sure they aren’t putting themselves at risk. If you think your dog has been out in the sun too long or is showing signs of overheating, take the initiative to bring them in and try to cool them down, even if they aren’t done playing.

“Be cautious if they are light in color or have any skin issues,” she adds. “If they are a darker color and otherwise fit and well, 20-40 minutes, up to three times daily is safe as long as they are supervised.” 

Lou is an experienced writer and keen dog lover who works at PetRadar's sister site, LiveScience. When Lou isn't covering health and fitness, she's busy spending time with her family dogs or growing all kinds of veggies and flowers on her allotment.