Dogs are always surprising us by exhibiting very human-like behavior; a fact that makes us wonder if we feel the same emotions in particular situations. A clear example of this is our love for feeling the heat of the sun on our skin. Who doesn’t feel happy when they are in the sun on a beautiful day? Of course, not at extreme temperatures!

Regardless of the season, you will have noticed that as the sun’s rays come through the window, your dog will make their way over to the illuminated space and spend hours on end lying in the sun. Whilst we also love sunbathing for a tan, dogs are much more intelligent than us in this regard, and do so for weight purposes as we will explain below. Keep reading this article and find out why dog’s like the sun.

Benefits of sunbathing for dogs

Yes, dogs sunbathe in order to obtain all of the benefits that sunlight brings them. Do you want to know what these are, and find out a little more about canine behaviour? Here we show the main benefits that dogs get from sunbathing:

The sun, a natural source of vitamin D

Vitamin D is one of the liposoluble vitamins, which are those that dissolve in fats and oils. These are mainly stored in the body’s adipose tissues and, as such, are retained in the body for longer. So, you don’t need to give your dog vitamin D supplements every day, or even foods which have high levels of it, because their body is capable of holding it for a period of time. Besides obtaining it through the aforementioned ways, dogs know that the best way of providing their body with the required amounts of vitamin D is through sunlight. This is undoubtedly the main answer to the question as to why dogs like the sun so much.

Just as vitamin D is fundamental for the correct functioning of human bodies, this is also the case for dogs. In this sense, this liposoluble vitamin promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, which helps the correct development of the dog’s bones and prevents the appearance of diseases related to the dog’s skeletal system, such as osteoporosis. On the other hand, vitamin D plays a key role in the development of the animal’s muscles, boosting the nervous system and stimulating muscle contractions; something which is especially beneficial for stocky dog breeds such as the American Staffordshire terrier. Likewise, this vitamin is also beneficial for the animal’s immune system.

When humans sun bathe, our skin absorbs vitamin D directly. However, in the case of animals, the fur covering their entire body means that it doesn’t reach the dermis, and the oil transformed into vitamin D therefore remains in the dog’s coat. As such, after a long while lying in the sun, dogs lick their paws and the rest of their body in order to absorb it.

It promotes serotonin protection

If you thought that the benefits of sunlight for dogs stopped at the absorption of vitamin D, you would be very wrong. Sunlight also helps to produce higher amounts of serotonin. This chemical substance produced by the body acts as a neurotransmitter which helps to stabilise their mood; therefore, it is arguably one of the most effective natural antidepressants. Thus, by lying in the sun the dog produces more of this substance and feels happier because of it, which therefore improves their mood. Therefore, we can say that another reason why dogs like lying in the sun is because, put simply, it makes them happy.

It improves the dog’s sleep

In addition to all of the above, the exposure to sunlight increases melatonin secretion, the hormone which is responsible for regulating an animal’s sleep cycle. As such, by secreting a greater quantity of this hormone, the dog not only manages to increase the quality of its sleeping hours, but is also able to regulate them and rest peacefully.

It provides warmth in periods of cold weather

You probably already know that dogs sunbathe to keep themselves warm in cold weather. Therefore, besides exposing themselves to sunlight in order to obtain vitamin D and feel better emotionally and physically, they also do it to combat the low temperatures of winter months. In the same way, some dogs are more resistant to the cold than others. The most vulnerable breeds, such as Chihuahuas and other short-haired dogs, need to spend more time lying in the sun.

It alleviates joint pain in old dogs

Old dogs coats are much weaker than those of younger dogs, so these dogs have a greater tendency to feel the cold and notice increased joint pain if they are suffering from rheumatic diseases. In this sense, sunbathing alleviates this feeling and helps them to suffer less.

But, is the sun good for dogs?

After going over the main benefits of sunbathing for dogs, we need to clarify if it is really good for them or no. Although the answer might appear to be an obvious “yes” after reading the above information, the real answer is “yes, without overdoing it”. For dogs that are still growing, excessive sunbathing could lead to the absorption of more vitamin D that is necessary, which could lead to an excess of calcium that could cause the incorrect formation of the jaw, teeth and nervous and musculoskeletal system disorders. This doesn’t mean to say that you shouldn’t let your puppy lie in the sun, but that you should keep a close eye on them to make sure they don’t do it for many hours a day.

On the other hand, white-haired, short-haired or very short-haired dogs may suffer from burns, heat strokes or sunstrokes if they are exposed to the sun for too many hours at a time. The fur of these dogs is not as resistant as that of others, so you should maximise precautions if you want sunlight to become beneficial for them, rather than pose a problem.

Precautions to consider

To stop the sun from harming your dog, you should consider the following precautions:

  • Make sure that they always have cool water available to them.
  • When they are very hot, cool your dog down by wetting their head.
  • You can also find sunscreen for dogs on the market. If you have a hairless dog or one with very short hair, make sure you get hold of one.
  • Make sure they don’t sunbathe for too many hours at a time, or during the hottest times of day.
  • Don’t shave your dog’s fur. Dogs have two types of coat that allow them to adapt to the changes in temperature. Excessively cutting their hair will only make them more vulnerable to ultraviolet rays.
  • If they show symptoms of heat stroke or sun stroke, immediately take them out of the sun and cool them down with a cloth soaked in cold water. If they don’t improve, go to the vet.
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Warning signs for heat strokes in dogs

Before delving into the warning signs that might tell you your dog is suffering from heat stroke, it is important to mark the distinction between this condition and sunstroke. Heatstroke occurs when the dog’s body gets excessively hot for a short period of time, and can happen as a result of doing intensive exercise, hot weather or excessive exposure to the sun’s rays. Sunstroke, however, is much more serious, and usually appears after heat stroke if it is left untreated. You need to pay special attention to both conditions, as not doing so could lead to the animal’s death.

The main symptoms of heatstroke in dogs are the following:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Body temperature above 42 °C
  • Excessive drooling
  • Increased heart rate
  • Bluish skin due to lack of oxygen
  • Discolored tongue owing to dehydration
  • Unsteadiness
  • Muscle tremors
  • Vomiting

If your dog shows any of these symptoms after sunbathing for many hours on end, you should act quickly: take them out of the sun and wet their head and body with cloths soaked in cold water.