Holidays are exciting for both Westie owners and their pups, but don’t forget the importance of keeping your best pal summer safe says Ali Lowe.
One of the joys of having a canine companion is exploring new places with them. Westies in particular are curious, enthusiastic, and impulsive, so their presence makes any walk much more exciting. But whether you are on a daytrip or staycation you not only need to remember to pack the all-important water bottles, treats, frisbees and ball launchers but also sunscreen – not just for ourselves but also for our besties!
If it is not sunny when you set off, then it is easy to assume that you do not need sunscreen. But both you and your dog can still get sunburned even when it is cloudy, and the skies are grey. According to Dr Hussain of the British Association of Dermatologists this is because whether it is sunny or overcast it is the ultraviolet (UV) index that puts you at risk of burning, and if the UV index is three or higher, you need to be protecting your skin. So, instead of checking the weather, or sussing out how hot it is, you really need to be getting in the habit of looking at the UV index. After all, this is only going to get worse, largely because of climate change including ozone depletion, global warming, and air pollution. Also, lifestyle habits have changed following the recent pandemic making people and dogs susceptible as they are exposing themselves to more UV light while out walking.
Whenever our skin is exposed to harmful UV rays, we are at risk of sunburn, which not only damages the appearance of our skin with wrinkles, and brown spots but also puts us at greater risk of skin cancer. And just like us, our besties are also prone to damage caused by the sun. Sunburn is not just painful for dogs; it also worsens some conditions such as autoimmune disorders and dermatitis and can even cause skin cancer. As with humans, some dogs are more at risk of sunburn than others e.g., hairless breeds and those with white coats or light-pigmented noses all need sun protection if they are spending longer outdoors, particularly in the summer months.
Luckily, a little forward thinking can prevent both you and your dog from catching too many UV rays. As the saying goes ‘only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’ so if the index is high your first line of defence should always be staying in the shade, particularly between 11 am and 3pm. Heat and humidity can wreak havoc on both us and our dogs, especially if we are overweight and/or unacclimatised. All dogs, but especially puppies, and the elderly, are at risk of heat stroke so we need to protect them from overheating by keeping them out of direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day and ensuring they always have access to fresh cool drinking water. Ideally, outdoor activities such as walking should be done in the early morning or late afternoon and evening. Also, Vet Dr Jerry Klein recommends that they should always be supervised when outside as whilst most are sensible and seek shade others just love to lie out on their backs all day and feel the sun’s warmth on their tummy!
However, never make the mistake of thinking you are completely safe in the shade. UV rays from the sun can reflect off sand, water or paths and still cause damage to our skin.
“Never make the mistake of sharing your sunscreen with your dog”
As with any breed of dog some Westies like to swim, and others not so much. But if you and your bestie are aquatic, make sure you don your SPF as sunburn can still occur while swimming.
We should all have a bit of sun to maintain our levels of vitamin D and our besties are no different. Dogs have a chemical on their skin that converts to Vitamin D in the sunlight but the furrier they are the less it is absorbed. Thus, it tends to be ingested when they lick themselves – all that grooming is not just conceit! However, rest assured they still get the majority of vitamin D through their diet.
Many westies sport a slick summer haircut, so they are less insulated, and whilst this is helpful at keeping them cool it does make them more susceptible to sunburn. Both we and our besties should consider wearing protective clothing. So, instead of slathering them with sunscreen, maybe invest in a sun suit with built in UV protection, saving you the worry of them licking all their sunscreen off. You can even buy hats and goggles to protect you both while out in the sun (and channel your inner biggles!).
Type of sunscreen
Never make the mistake of sharing your sunscreen with your dog, they should have an unscented dog specific formula, free from zinc oxide and para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) as they will often lick their skin and these ingredients are toxic if ingested.
But whether canine or human, if the UV index is high and you are planning on being outdoors all day you need a waterproof sunscreen with a minimum 4-star UVA rating and an SPF of 30 or higher to protect any exposed bits from burning!
You should apply sunscreen to yourself and your bestie about 30 minutes before you go out and reapply regularly, especially after swimming. Seek advice about the best products available and always follow the manufacturer’s application instructions. Remember that although sunscreen is important, just like shade it cannot be relied on 100%. It must be stressed that the best way to protect yourselves from the sun is to stay indoors (except to answer calls of nature!) from between 11am and 3pm.
Because westies are white, the tips of their ears are prone to sunburn, so they need daily applications of sunscreen. We also need to protect our ears, but it is our lips that are of most concern. Whilst the incidence of lip cancer is fairly low in the UK it definitely exists, and sunlight is a major cause. The delicate skin on your lips can also quickly become chapped, blistered, and ultimately develop sores, black spots and wrinkles following exposure to UV rays. Most problems occur on the lower lip because it is not protected so well from the sun by the nose as the upper lip. Luckily, there are many SPF lip balms and doggie sunscreens out there that provide protection without harming the delicate skin in these areas. Ideally look for products with ingredients that are natural and organic. They are safer to use and will moisturise these sensitive areas too, healing chapped lips and protecting delicate ears whilst protecting them from further harm.
“Because westies are white, the tips of their ears are prone to sunburn, so they need daily applications of sunscreen”
Sell by date
Sunscreen goes out of date, usually within twelve months, and once past its use-by date it will be ineffective at protecting against harmful UV rays. Therefore, always check the label before use.
What if your dog gets sunburnt?
If you have any concerns, about sun damage for either you or your bestie you should always seek the advice of your vet or medical professional. In the event that either of you overdo it in the sun use cold compresses to cool the skin, stay in the shade until your skin has settled down and if you must venture out use a specific sunscreen to protect your sunburnt skin.
And finally, just like us, our Westies can get tired, stressed, and lonely from time to time, particularly now things are returning to normal, and they are sometimes left alone. Taking them away, if only for a day, allows them to explore different locations and take a break from their everyday lives. Provided you stay safe in the sun it really is an experience that cannot be topped!