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Does My Dog Need Sunlight to Stay Healthy? 4 Vet-Reviewed Benefits

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Vet approved

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lorna Whittemore

BVMS, MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Almost every living thing on earth needs the sun, and your pup is no exception! Yes, your dog needs plenty of sunlight to stay healthy.

But how exactly does sunlight benefit your dog? How much sunlight do they need, and how much is too much? Let’s explore the answers to these questions and more.

Do note that while sunlight is needed in many mammal species to produce Vitamin D, this is not the case for dogs and cats. They lack the enzyme needed to do this and, instead, diet is where they get their vitamin D supplies.

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The 4 Major Benefits of Sunlight for Dogs

Most dogs love lounging in the sun, but there’s more to it than just feeling warm and relaxed. Sunlight exposure helps keep your pup healthy in several ways:

1. Boosts Mood and Enhances Mental Health

Sunlight helps the canine brain produce more of the same neurotransmitters and endorphins that are essential for regulating our emotions and behavior. Endorphins reduce physical and mental stress, while serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters that help regulate communication between cells and promote feelings of happiness.

Long story short, sun therapy is a great way to boost your pup’s mood. That’s why they always look so peaceful and content when relaxing in the sun!

2. Maintains Skin and Coat Health

Female with two dogs focus on the happy Australian Shepherd puppy
Image Credit: Suzanna Bunch, Shutterstock

Sunlight also plays an important role in skin and coat care for your dog. The warmth of the sun helps to stimulate oil production, keeping your dog’s skin naturally moisturized. UV rays also have disinfectant properties, which can help boost your pup’s natural protection against bacteria and other skin conditions.

On top of that, sunlight can also help protect your dog against skin issues like Light Responsive Alopecia, also called Seasonal Flank Alopecia. This condition causes thinning and balding of fur on the back and flanks of certain breeds.

According to scientists, one reason may be a dog’s pineal gland not getting enough exposure to the sun. In fact, they’ve found that dogs in sunnier climates are less likely to suffer from this issue.

So, if you want to keep your dog’s skin and fur looking fabulous, add “play in the sun” to their grooming routine!

3. Promotes a Healthy Sleep Cycle

Just like humans, dogs naturally rely on light cues to help regulate their internal clocks and maintain consistent sleeping patterns. Sunlight tells your dog’s brain that it’s time to be awake, while the absence of light signals it’s time to rest.

Melatonin, the chemical released by the pineal gland when exposed to sunlight, also helps your pup drift off to a deeper, more restful sleep. Without enough sunlight exposure, your pup’s sleep may become inconsistent and even disrupted.

4. Offers Temporary Pain Relief

For dogs with certain medical conditions, such as arthritis or hip dysplasia, direct sunlight can provide some temporary relief from pain and stiffness due to the release of endorphins. Warm sunlight helps muscles relax and in moderation brings down inflammation, which can reduce discomfort. In some cases, it can even temporarily improve mobility in dogs with arthritis.

Combined with the calming effect of the sun’s warmth, regular moderate sunlight exposure can be an addition to medications to help manage your pup’s pain. These are just a few of the many important roles that sunlight plays in your dog’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

However, this doesn’t mean you should let your dog sunbathe for hours and hours a day. The sun’s health benefits for your dog depend on the quality and quantity of exposure.

hokkaido dog smiling with tongue
Image Credit: Happy monkey, Shutterstock

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How Much Sunlight Do Dogs Need Every Day?

Veterinarians generally recommend that dogs spend around  20–40 minutes in direct sunlight three times per day. Still, be mindful of your dog’s breed, coat color, and any other health risks when exposing them to sunlight.

For instance, dogs with white fur and light-colored eyes are more prone to sunburn than their darker-furred counterparts. Some dogs also have sun allergies, so if you notice any red patches or skin irritation after your pup has been out in the sun, consult your vet.

Others may be extra sensitive to the sun, especially if they have skin conditions like mange and alopecia that reduce the amount of hair. In this case, talk to your vet about strategies you can use to safely introduce sunlight into your pup’s daily routine.

Go for Direct and Natural Sunlight

Sunlight streaming through your glass windows may look and feel like the real thing, but it lacks the UV rays that your dog’s body needs to reap its benefits.

To get the most out of their sun exposure, take your pup outdoors for regular walks or simply let them bask in the yard or on your balcony.

Don’t have direct access to the sun? You can mimic natural sunlight indoors by installing full-spectrum light bulbs (incandescent or fluorescent) in strategic spots. For example, place one near their water bowl and another near their bed, and turn them off when it’s time to go to bed.

black dog labrador retriever adult purebred lab in spring summer green park doing dog tricks bow reverence invite to play on the grass in sunshine
Image Credit: Natalia Fedosova, Shutterstock

How to Keep Canines Safe in the Sun

Sunlight is incredibly beneficial for dogs, but too much can be dangerous, too.

Use these precautions to make sure your pup is getting the safe amount:
  • Keep your dog inside during peak hours: The sun’s ultraviolet rays are the strongest between 10 AM and 4 PM, so take your pup out during early morning or late afternoon instead.
  • Don’t leave your pet unattended: It’s important to supervise your pup while they’re out in the sun—especially if you’re in an unfamiliar area. Your dog can quickly succumb to heat stroke or dehydration if left alone in the hot sun for too long.
  • Provide shade and plenty of water: Make sure your pup has access to a shady spot for breaks, as well as plenty of fresh water.
  • Give them sun protection: Yes, dogs can get sunburned! Breeds with light coats, sparse fur, or those with medical conditions may need extra protection, like sunscreens specially made for dogs or UV-protective clothing.

Finally, watch out for signs of distress from too much sun exposure, such as excessive panting, salivating, and lethargy. Move your pup immediately to a cool and shady spot. If the symptoms don’t subside, contact your vet immediately for further advice.

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Sunlight is essential for your dog’s well-being, and a few minutes of sun exposure every day can go a long way in keeping them happy and healthy.

Just remember to be mindful of your pup’s individual needs and always keep an eye out for any signs of distress. With the right balance, you and your pup can enjoy the sun’s many benefits together!

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Featured Image Credit: Jumpstory

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