Puppy Sunscreen Is A Thing — But Does Your Dog Actually Need It?

Photographed by Molly Cranna.
I’ve been feeling some serious maternal instincts lately — but my parental pangs are for dogs. I coo at every four-legged creature I pass on the street, and last weekend at brunch I got caught red-handed zooming my iPhone across the patio to snap a pic of a stranger's puppy. (I mean, it was a six-week Shar Pei-Beagle mix — I couldn’t help myself.) Luckily, after the owners outed my somewhat invasive behavior, they let me come over, pet the little guy, and get an Instagram shot in a more socially acceptable fashion.
So, with all these urges, why don’t I just get a dog? I’ve thought about it time and time again, and have always come to the same conclusion: I’m just not ready yet. My schedule won’t allow me to be there for it as much as it needs me, and my bank account won’t allow me to pay someone else to be there in my place. Not to mention the vet bills, the food, the toys, and...the sunscreen. What? Dog sunscreen? Yep. While researching for a human sunscreen story, my coworker came across Coola sunscreen for dogs and horses. She is the lucky owner of a furry friend and uses dog hair-conditioning sprays (she is a beauty editor) that contain some UV protection, but had never heard of actual dog sunscreen. Was this really necessary, or just a gimmicky way of tugging on the heartstrings (and wallets) of pet owners? It turns out to be the former. Robert L. Proietto, VMD, MS, the self-described chief belly scratcher (i.e., vet) of ProiettoVets.com, says skin cancer and other sun-caused skin diseases are quite common in pets. He is a firm believer in pet sunscreens, especially in warmer regions. “It is important to have sunscreen for cats and dogs, who will be exposed to the sun in certain climates,” he explains. “White or light-colored dogs and cats, or pets that have a sparse hair coat, should have sunscreen applied generously to these areas — especially on the tips of ears, nose, and belly, as UV light can reflect off the surfaces they walk on.”
When it came to creating his brand’s pet sunscreen, Coola CEO and founder Chris Birchby actually first had horses in mind. “We live in North County San Diego, where there are a lot of equestrian communities,” he says. “In fact, right next to our house are horse trails and many of our neighbors have horses. I started hearing about how often horses get melanomas, particularly ones with light hair. Also, my wife AJ and I have several dogs, including a rescue and two French bulldogs with short, white coats. They love lying outside, but often would burn their little pink stomachs after too much sun. During a conversation with our vet, who informed us how common skin cancer was for dogs, the idea for a pet sunscreen was born.” Coola’s spray formula is only for dogs and horses, because it contains actives such as octyl salicylate that can break down into salicylic acid, which can be toxic to cats. Though pet sunscreen itself — and surely all-natural formulas like Coola's, which launched in June 2014 — are relatively new to the market, Dr. Proietto has been advising people to protect their pets from the sun for years. “The good thing about these new pet-safe sunscreens is that they often do not have toxic substances in them, and if [your pet] accidentally ingests a bottle that was left out, they will only have an upset stomach versus an intoxication,” he explains. “Before pet-safe sunscreens, we used to recommend a high-SPF baby sunblock that does not contain zinc, as this can be toxic.” Beyond applying sunscreen, Dr. Proietto suggests keeping your pooch in the shade during the middle of the day, when the sun is at its peak intensity, and doing your walks in the morning and late afternoon to protect it from harmful rays. So, is this yet another thing to add to the list of responsibilities deterring me from getting a dog? Maybe. But really, writing this story has made me want one even more.

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