Even though I am a dog how loves to play (it does seem like I can for all day sometimes), there are those days, or just moments of days, where I could relax in the sun. Whether outside on the deck or the floor in front of the big window, sunbathing is something we dogs have in common with our human counterparts. We love the sheer enjoyment of it and its health benefits.
The Benefits of The Sun
Sure, basking in the sun feels great and can be extremely relaxing for dogs and humans. Did you ever notice that sunlight has a direct impact on how our humans are feeling? More often than not, a bright sunny day will have them in a much better mood than if it was cloudy and dreary. It works the same for dogs. Whether we notice it or not, the sun’s rays can benefit us physiologically by helping to regulate our body temperature, and in turn, help us sleep well. Our body temperature is a factor in us getting good sleep, and good sleep is the key in staying healthy.
One of the biggest impacts that sunlight has is its ability to help produce Vitamin D. Most of our humans know this, and it’s a big reason why they enjoy spending time in the sun. Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium, which keeps bones and teeth healthy and strong. That is the one benefit that most people are aware of, but it has been discovered that Vitamin D can also help reduce the risk of muscle and joint pain, diabetes, and even some cancers. Add to that the fact that it plays a role in reducing depression, and it’s pretty obvious why humans love spending time in the sun. Believe it or not, we dogs are the same. We receive the same benefits of Vitamin D as humans do. And here I was chilling out in the sun because it felt nice.
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While we do accrue many of the same benefits, how we take in our Vitamin D is somewhat different. Bear with me for a minute here while I get a little scientific. It’s a common misconception that the sun alone provides Vitamin D. Humans have naturally occurring oils on their skin that produce Vitamin D. The sun’s role in this process is breaking down those oils. When the skin is exposed to direct sunlight, the UV rays react to the oils on the skin and, in turn, produce Vitamin D. That Vitamin D is then absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream where it can provide all the benefits I mentioned above, and then some.
Now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with dogs. Well, it might surprise you to know that dogs can produce Vitamin D in the same way. The biggest difference is how we absorb it. Thanks to our lovely coat of fur, it is much more difficult for us to absorb it through our skin. Because our coat blocks much of the absorption, obtaining Vitamin D through our skin is very inefficient.
At this point, you may be thinking if we as dogs don’t absorb Vitamin D through our skin well, then why would laying in the sun benefit us the way it does for our humans. Just because our skin doesn’t absorb it well, it doesn’t mean we can’t take it in. I mentioned that our coat is the reason we don’t absorb it well. Our coat doesn’t stop us from producing Vitamin D but prevents it from direct contact with our skin. Instead, it stays in our fur, which is where our efficient grooming comes into play. That’s right, it’s not just to maintain our handsome appearance. The Vitamin D that is left sitting on our fur can be taken in orally and is a much more efficient way to do so.
While the benefits of absorbing Vitamin D are numerous, that is not the only reason dogs enjoy laying in the sun. Did you know that sunbathing is a natural way for us to relax? It’s not uncommon for dogs to suffer from anxiety and high-stress levels, and sunbathing is a highly effective way for us to reduce anxiety. The sun gives our bodies a boost of serotonin, a hormone that we naturally produce that relieves anxiety and keeps us happy.
Another hormone that our furry little bodies produce is melatonin. The sun can play a substantial role in helping us regulate it. Melatonin is produced in the dark or low light, not by the sun, but what the sun does is slow or even stop our bodies from producing it. Because it is considered the sleep hormone, if our bodies don’t have enough light to regulate it properly, it could leave us feeling lethargic and less energetic. While for the most part, it is easy for our body to regulate this hormone, a little bit of sun can go a long way.
The sun’s rays can also help us heal. We love to lick our wounds, but sometimes it may not be the best thing for us. Sunlight helps speed up the healing process by producing endorphins that are our bodies natural pain killers. If there is less pain, we are less likely to feel the need to lick our wounds. Sunlight can also play a role in killing the yeast and bacteria that tend to grow in injuries, so we can heal faster by laying in the sun.
Keys to a Dog Properly Managing Sun Intake
Left on our own, we are very good at deciding when and when not to lounge in the sun. We know when we are starting to overheat and know when it’s time to seek refuge from the hot sun. While we are very instinctive when it comes to knowing when we’ve had too much, it is up to our parents to provide areas for us to get relief. We must have a safe place to be able to lay in the sun. My big backyard works perfectly for this, but not every dog is as lucky as I am. We don’t need to have large, luxurious backyards, we just need a safe, enclosed space so that we can be left to our own devices, and we can be in charge of when we get that sun. It can’t just be a space with unlimited amounts of the sun, however, and should have a cool-down spot, or a good-sized shaded area where we can seek refuge. Have you ever wondered why your dog will lay in the sun for a while and then get up and lay on a piece of shaded concrete? You’re right to think that it couldn’t possibly be very comfortable, but it helps to cool us down and regulate our body temperature. Even more important is an endless supply of cool, fresh drinking water not just for hydration but also for regulating our body temperature.
Getting Out in the Sun Does Mean Getting Out
The sunlight inside the house does not have the same effects that direct sunlight does. Why? Because glass and plastic (windows) can filter out ultraviolet rays and prevent us from getting the full spectrum of light we need to benefit from the sun. Sunbathing in front of that big bay window in the living room sure does feel nice, but it does not have nearly the same effect as being outside and taking in all of the light.
So what about my canine friends that might be housebound, whatever the reason maybe? Is it possible for them to get the same benefits as the sun? It is. Fluorescent or incandescent lighting found in most homes has little to no benefit whatsoever. Those lights, however, can be replaced with full-spectrum lighting. Full-spectrum lighting is lighting that can provide the same or similar light spectrums as natural light. The light filtered through glass can now be artificially produced, and it is that light that provides the signals to our body and triggers it to produce hormones that help with alertness, sleepiness, and overall mood. A dog should be exposed to natural sunlight anywhere from 60 to 80 minutes a day to reap the benefits. If this is not always possible, then full-spectrum lighting may be an option to supplement the natural light we are not getting.
Too Much Sun Can Have Negative Effects
Just as it has many benefits for us, the sun can also come with its issues. Overexposure to anything can be an issue, and the sunlight is no exception. Just like people, dogs are susceptible to things like overheating (heat stroke) and sunburns. Dogs with dark fur are susceptible to overheating because their dark coats absorb the heat. On the other hand, dogs with lighter coats are more likely to be at risk for sunburn.
Just as it is important for humans, the UV index can help determine how much time a dog needs to spend in the sun. Regular or prolonged time spent outside with a UV index over seven can not just lead to the previously mentioned issues but can increase the dog’s chances of getting skin cancer.
We as dogs are very similar to our human counterparts in that many of the things that benefit them benefit us as well. Sunlight is no exception. While I simply enjoy laying out in the warm sun because it feels good, I had no idea just how much I benefit from it. When I look at the amount of time I am lucky enough to spend in the sun and compare that to how great I almost always seem to feel, it all makes perfect sense to me now.