Fun in the Sun!

By Sharon Billings, CVT
Associate Veterinary Information Specialist

Dog TravelingWell, the temperature is finally on the rise here in Minnesota and as we thaw out after the cold and snowy winter, we eagerly head outdoors to enjoy the warmth and sunshine.  Whether you’re planning a neighborhood walk, a nature trail hike, or a swim at the beach your dog wants to come along, right?  Before you and your buddy head out for some fun in the great outdoors, why not check out a few frequently-asked questions and get the “411” for keeping our four legged family member safe, comfortable, and happy in the warm weather.

Can I spray some of my mosquito repellant on my dog?

Keeping mosquitoes off your dog is a great idea but DEET, an insecticide commonly used in mosquito repellants labeled for use on humans, can be quite harmful if groomed and ingested by your dog.  Dogs and cats are very sensitive to DEET so it’s best to keep it away from them.

Before you a use a natural bug repellant — whether you purchased it or made it from a recipe you saw on the internet — please know that “natural” does not necessarily mean “safe”.  Some ingredients in these recipes, depending on the dose, can cause toxicity in your dog.  A couple examples are tea tree oil and garlic.  For more information on toxicity with these ingredients see our website:

In addition to mosquitoes, you’ll also want to take precautions against fleas and ticks which, like mosquitoes, are not only a nuisance but carry a variety of nasty diseases you’ll want to avoid.  Your dog’s veterinarian can advise you on the best products to use to protect your dog against bugs.

Can my dog get sunburned?  Should I use sunscreen on her?

Dogs are susceptible to sunburn and skin cancers, just as humans are.  In many cases, a dog’s coat and skin pigment provide sufficient sun protection.  But sunscreen may be helpful in protecting delicate skin — such as the ears or nose — from the sun, especially if your dog has a pink or light-colored nose or short, thin hair.  Be sure to consult with your dog’s veterinarian for recommendations.  While some sunscreen ingredients may be relatively harmless with a small grooming ingestion, there is a risk of stomach upset.  Additionally, some sunscreen ingredients could be harmful if ingested.  If you do use a sunscreen, follow your veterinarian’s advice carefully and remove the sunscreen after your outing.  A lightweight light-colored shirt may also be helpful in keeping the sun’s rays off your dog’s back.  For example, use a “retired” white T-shirt and cut off the sleeves if they’re too long.  After slipping the shirt over your dog’s head and front legs, gather up the excess fabric at the dog’s waist and tie it in a knot so your dog can move easily without tripping on the excess fabric.

Can my dog cool off by swimming in the local lake or in the ocean?

Many – but not all — dogs enjoy swimming!  It’s great exercise and a low-impact workout (easier on aging joints).  A floatation device, i.e., a doggie life vest, is recommended when your dog goes swimming.

Lakes and ponds can be a good option since there are no tides or undercurrents to worry about.  Your municipality may have regulations regarding dogs’ use of public beaches or lakes.  Be aware that ponds in public parks may be treated with chemicals to control algae and/or contain “runoff” of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers from adjacent lawn areas.  Water in lakes that allow motorized boats may contain high concentrations of motor oil.  Be mindful of blue-green algae which can be very toxic to dogs.  For more on this topic, visit our website at:

For ocean swimming, beware of tides and undercurrents.  Dogs may swim out too far, in pursuit of a thrown ball, and then be too tired to swim back to shore.  A life vest is a must for this activity!  Other potential dangers are jelly fish and sea lice.  Ocean water, of course, contains salt and large ingestions of salt can be harmful to your dog.  More information on salt toxicity can be found on our website:

Whether your favorite swimming spot is in a pond, lake, or ocean, be prepared to bathe your dog after swimming to remove any residues from the skin and coat.   Cleaning and thoroughly drying ears is also a good idea to help prevent ear infection from any bacteria that gets in those ears during the swim.

Finally, bear in mind that although some dog breeds are known as natural-born swimmers, not all dogs enjoy swimming and some dogs such as barrel-chested breeds may not stay afloat very easily.  Some dogs might greatly prefer to skip the swim entirely but might really enjoy wading in a kiddie pool in the backyard.

How about a boat ride?

That sounds like fun!  Your dog should wear a life vest and you should have a plan that enables you to retrieve a dog who jumps out of the boat.    I know a Labrador retriever who was taken for his first boat ride but was definitely not having fun — when the family reached the middle of the lake, the dog jumped overboard while the panicked family watched in horror!  Luckily, he was a strong swimmer and made it all the way to shore and his family eventually docked the boat, caught up with him, and all were happily reunited.

Can walking on hot pavement  cause injury to my dog’s paw pads?

Yes!  And it doesn’t have to be hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk!  If the pavement feels hot on your bare feet then it’s too hot for your dog’s feet.  Dark-colored asphalt absorbs a tremendous amount of heat from the sun; walking on such a surface can cause painful injury to your dog’s paw pads.  But fortunately, there are several options for paw protection including wax-based balms and a variety of socks and boots!  Plan your outings for the early morning or late evening when the sun’s rays are less intense, and consider a walking path that offers some shade from trees and buildings if possible.

Anything else I should know?

Three things:

  • Water! Always bring water from home.  Drinking water will help your dog remain well hydrated and water from home is a much better option than pond, lake, or ocean water.  Check out your local pet supply store or website for portable drinking bowls or water bottles with attached flip-down bowls.
  • Take special care if your dog is very young, very old, or has any illnesses as these pups are more vulnerable and may be at higher risk for heat stroke.
  • And of course, never leave your dog in a parked vehicle. The temperature can climb very quickly inside the vehicle, even if windows are partially opened.

We’re hoping you and your dog have a fun – and safe – adventure in the great outdoors!