If your dog enjoys being out in the sun -- and what dog doesn't -- you need to make sure that he doesn't get too much of a good thing. Many people don't realize that dogs are susceptible to sunburn, especially in areas where their fur is thinner, such as the tips of their ears and the bridge of their noses. White- or light-coated dogs -- like fair-skinned people -- are especially prone to sunburns. Some dogs without pigmentation on their noses, such as collies and Shetland sheepdogs, are genetically predisposed to a sun hypersensitivity called nasal solar dermatitis (also known as "collie nose"). This causes pink, raw areas to form on their noses and can lead to skin cancer if not treated.
A sunburned dog shows the classic sign of reddened skin that peels and blisters, just as humans do. The result is sore and painful skin. Just as with people, excessive exposure to the sun can cause cancer in dogs. For sunburn pain, mist the affected area with a water bottle; the cool water will soothe some of the discomfort. A cold compress is another way to relieve the pain. If the skin is raw, broken or your dog seems to be in pain, take him to the vet to get his sunburn checked out. He may need to have his hair shaved and a special topical cream, such as silver sulfadiazine, applied.
The best way to treat sunburn in dogs is to prevent it in the first place. Keep your dog out of direct sunlight during the middle of the day in the summer, when it's the hottest. You can also buy a sunscreen specially formulated for dogs that contains titanium oxide. Be careful about where you apply it, though, since he may just lick it off. You can also protect skinless or light-colored areas on your dog's body by putting a t-shirt on him (there are also shirts available that block UV rays). Dogs who are predisposed to "collie nose" can even get their white noses tattooed black to shield them against the sun.
So the next time you're gearing up for a long hike, think about how best to protect your dog from the elements, too. You'll both be a lot happier!