Just like most humans, dogs enjoy bathing in the warmth of the sun on a summer’s day. You might have even noticed your canine companion following that one sunny spot that moves around your living room, dragging their bed with them as they go.
But why do dogs like to lay in the sun and sunbathe? After all, their panting faces can often make it seem as though they are uncomfortable while they soak up the heat. We decided to find out some of the reasons why dogs enjoy basking in the sun. Keep reading to find out more!
Why do dogs sunbathe?
The most apparent reason why dogs sunbathe is simply that it feels good. They aren’t that different from us in that respect really. Think about how you react when you wake up to a beautifully sunny day. You’d most likely head straight outdoors to soak up those rays!
And, just like us, exposure to sunshine can help a dog feel relaxed and improve their mood.
There is some science behind this, too. Exposure to sunlight boosts serotonin levels. This is the ‘happiness hormone’ and, the more serotonin your dog has, the happier they will feel in themselves and the more comfortable they will be in their surroundings.
Higher serotonin levels also alleviate the symptoms of canine depression and stimulates the immune system.
Sunlight also boosts melatonin levels, otherwise known as the ‘sleeping hormone’. While most dogs have no issues falling asleep, healthy melatonin levels ensure that they get a good quality of sleep. And, the better their sleep quality is, the healthier they will be!
This increase of melatonin can often cause a dog to fall asleep in the sun though, so it’s important to make sure that you keep a close eye on them while they sunbathe and don’t let them sleep in direct sunlight for too long.
Exposure to sunlight can also reduce the amount of pain a dog with joint problems might be suffering from. Think of it a bit like putting a heated pad on your own aching joints. The heat therapy helps take some of the pain away.
Another reason why dogs like to sunbathe is that the warmth of the sun on their skin and fur helps regulate their body temperature. So, if they’re feeling cold, the radiant heat warms them up. It also helps them feel better when they’re under the weather.
For these reasons, a dog will seek out a sunny spot at any time of year. The occasional spell of sunshine that shines through your windows during the winter will soon be commandeered by your dog.
Your dog may also enjoy laying in the sun because that’s what you’re doing and they are simply following the example of their pack leader. This is especially true for dogs that suffer from separation anxiety, as they’ll rarely leave your side.
Sunbathing with your dog can also help to strengthen your bond with them. This is because they will rely on you to keep an eye out for any potential dangers that are headed their way while they enjoy the sunshine.
Dogs & Vitamin D
Exposure to sunlight also helps promote Vitamin D. Depending on their diet, this is a nutrient that may be lacking from their diet, and laying in the sunshine will help boost their Vitamin D levels.
In turn, they will be able to absorb calcium and phosphorus into their cells more efficiently.
This means that your dog’s bones will be strengthened, keeping them fit and healthy. It also prevents them from suffering any injuries as they boisterously play with their dog-friends, and means they’ll heal faster if they do get injured.
It’s also essential for a puppy to get lots of Vitamin D as it will help their bones grow and form correctly. This is why you might find your puppy happily snoozing in the sunshine.
But that’s not all! The Vitamin D that dogs get from laying in the sun gives them loads of other health benefits. These include:
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Reduced risk of developing skin or coat problems
- Reduced risk of joint inflammation
- Reduced risk of bowel problems
- Reduced risk of developing depression
- Reduced risk of dental issues
- Reduced risk of kidney disease
- Reduced risk of developing certain cancers
With all of this in mind, it’s easy to see why dogs enjoy sunbathing. It doesn’t only make them feel good, but it can actually improve their health and defend them against certain diseases.
Do dogs absorb Vitamin D in the same way as humans?
While both humans and dogs can get a much-needed boost of Vitamin D from sunbathing, the way dogs absorb it is slightly different.
When we are outdoors enjoying the sunshine, the oil on our skin reacts to the UV rays in the sunlight and it breaks down the chemical bonds.
As a result, Vitamin D is created, and this is absorbed into the body. It then immediately enters the bloodstream.
While dogs are capable of absorbing Vitamin D through sunlight, the process is a little more difficult.
The reason for this is that they are covered in a layer of fur and, the thicker their coat is, the more difficult they’ll find it to absorb Vitamin D through their skin. As a result, the Vitamin D remains on their fur.
But a dog won’t let this go to waste. Instead, they’ll orally ingest it by licking themselves while they sunbathe. You might never have noticed them doing this before, but if you do now, you’ll know exactly what they are doing!
It is important to note, however, that exposure to sunlight isn’t enough on its own to provide your dog with all of the Vitamin D they need.
You also need to make sure that their food has a good amount of Vitamin D in it. Some of the best food-based sources for Vitamin D include salmon, eggs, and fish oils. You can also give them a Vitamin D supplement.
Can dogs have too much Vitamin D?
While Vitamin D is essential for a dog’s growth and development, too much Vitamin D can have an adverse effect on their health.
In fact, Vitamin D toxicity can be really dangerous for some dogs and can result in an urgent trip to the veterinarian.
The biggest danger associated with too much Vitamin D in dogs is a rapid rise in calcium and phosphorus levels.
This can lead to calcification and hardening body tissue, particularly around the kidneys, heart, and in your dog’s arteries. If this isn’t treated swiftly, renal failure may occur.
If your dog is displaying any of the symptoms below, there is a chance that they might be suffering from Vitamin D toxicity:
- Frequent vomiting over a 24-hour period
- Frequent diarrhea over a 24-hour period
- Sudden signs of depression
- Unexplained bleeding from any orifice
- Sudden, unexplained limping
- An erratic heart rate
- Extreme lethargy
- Muscle weakness
If you’re concerned about any of these symptoms, consult your veterinarian immediately. It might be nothing to worry about, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
It’s important to note that it’s quite rare for a dog to have too much Vitamin D in their body. However, it’s best to avoid giving your dog a Vitamin D supplement if they have been lounging in the sun for most of the day.
Is it okay for a dog to sunbathe in hot weather?
Short of closing your back door, it’s going to be virtually impossible to stop your dog from heading out into the sunshine on a warm day.
For the most part, it’s absolutely fine to let your dog sunbathe during hot weather. They are sensible and know their limits.
However, there are some precautions that you can put in place if you’re super concerned about sun exposure.
A dog bed with a built-in shade is a great way of offering them shelter while still allowing them to enjoy the warmth of the day.
You could also invest in an outdoor kennel to give them a safe space to cool off between sunbathing sessions.
You might be wondering why you’d take such precautions, especially if sunbathing is actually good for dogs. Well, just like humans, exposure to too much sunlight can be damaging for dogs.
To begin with, dogs with black coats stand a much higher risk of overheating than lighter-colored dogs. This is because the color of their coat absorbs heat rather than reflecting it.
The hotter they get, the more chance they stand of suffering from sunstroke or dehydration.
This doesn’t mean that dogs with lighter-colored coats are invincible though, especially if they are short-haired. Dogs with coats like this are at a higher risk of developing sunburn, especially around the ears, nose, and belly.
To stop this from happening, it’s a good idea to give your dog a coating of specially-formulated dog sunblock before they head outdoors for the day.
And, just as we have to, it’s also important to make sure that you keep applying it throughout the day.
Don’t be tempted to use a sunblock that is designed for humans, though. Some of these contain ingredients that, although absolutely fine for human skin, can be toxic to dogs.
Protective clothing is another precaution you can take in order to protect lighter, short-haired dogs from sunburn.
It shouldn’t, however, be made from a thick fabric as this can lead to overheating. Instead, go for a light, loose-fitting fabric. This will allow for airflow while keeping their skin protected.
Some protective dog clothing is even made from fabric that has a UPF factor, protecting the sun’s rays from penetrating through it.
You should also make sure that there is always lots of water available for your dog to drink from while they are sunbathing.
Unlike humans, dogs can’t sweat, so they are unable to cool themselves down in this way. Instead, they rely on water to bring their temperature down.
A cooling dog mat is another great way of keeping your dog cool while they sunbathe. This will give them a place to cool off while still allowing them to enjoy the warmth of the sun beaming down on them.
If it’s a particularly scorching day, it’s also a good idea to limit the amount of sunshine that your dog is being exposed to. Try keeping them inside between 12 pm and 3 pm, as these are typically the hottest hours of the day.
Dogs & Skin Cancer
While relatively uncommon, there is a risk of some breeds of dogs developing skin cancer if they are exposed to too much sunshine or if they aren’t offered any form of protection while they sunbathe.
Skin cancer isn’t always obvious in dogs either and it can be very hard to spot, especially if they have a thicker coat. However, there are some early warning signs that could indicate that your dog has skin cancer. These include:
- Raised, wart-like blemishes on the skin
- Inflamed sores
- Lumps on your dog’s lips, pads, mouth, or feet
Keeping an eye out for these and spotting them early could potentially help save their life.
Again, prevention is the best cure here. Offer your dog a shadier place to cool off when they need to, give them a good coating of dog sunblock, and keep them inside during the hottest part of the day.
Grooming During the Summer Months
If you have a breed of dog that requires regular grooming, you’ll need to think carefully about their grooming needs during the summer months.
A dog with a long, thick coat (such as husky) will need to be groomed to make sure their fur doesn’t cause them to overheat.
If you have a breed of dog that needs certain parts of their body shaved close to the skin (such as a poodle), it’s best to refrain from grooming over the summer.
The reason for this is that the lack of fur in these areas could be at risk of getting sunburnt.
If you’re in any doubt, it’s best to consult a professional dog groomer who will be able to help your dog maintain their coat over the summer months in the best way possible for their breed.
As you can see, there are lots of reasons why dogs like to lay in the sun and sunbathe. It gives them a boost of Vitamin D, makes them feel happy, and can even protect them from developing certain diseases.
They also love to hang out in the sunshine with their humans as a way of strengthening their bond.
It is important, however, that you take certain precautions if you’ve got a sun-worshipping dog. Make sure they have plenty of water available and a place to cool off when they need to.
You should also limit the amount of sunlight they are exposed to, especially during the hottest months of the year.
Do all of this and you’ll be providing your canine companion with everything they need to enjoy basking in the sun safely.