Why Do Dogs Like To Sunbathe?
[Full Guide]

By kropek2021. • Updated June 29, 2021

How often do we come across the sight of dogs relishing the sun and rolling around the ground in ecstasy? During the onset of summer, it is a common sight for me to see my aunt’s German Shepherd pups lying happily in the sunlight in front of their car porch. I was of the assumption that the dogs just felt good in the soothing warmth. After a set of discussions with her, I realized that there are numerous reasons why dogs sunbathe.

We all love the warmth of the sun on our bodies, don’t we? Be it our backyard or the beach. An abundance of Vitamin D and getting a tan are good reasons why many of us indulge in the act of sunbathing. Sunglasses on, sunscreen lotion on, and a nice sizeable cushiony towel, and we are good to go. 

It is a proven fact that dogs like to lay in the sun just as much as we do. During the summer, our dog Laila loves to lay and stretch herself to her heart’s content in front of our front door, where there is abundant sunlight. She reaches out for any sun rays she can find across our garden and front yard.

This act of seeking sunlight and yearning for abundant warmth on their bodies have specific reasons behind it. Let’s discuss more on those in the upcoming sections.

Reasons behind Sunbathing by Dogs

Role of Vitamin D

Apart from its criticality for the dog’s bone strength, Vitamin D plays the role of a “Prohormone.” They need it to receive calcium. So the act of sunbathing is directly linked to the production of Vitamin D in dogs too.

There is also Vitamin D’s association with nerve control, muscle growth, and bone generation in dogs. The fatty tissues and dog liver is the storage area for this vitamin. An optimal quantity of it is necessary for calcium and phosphorous generation.

A point to understand is that Vitamin D absorption in dogs is not as efficient as that for humans. Due to the presence of fur on their bodies, the vitamins are not directly transferred into the body. As this essential nutrient remains on their fur, they would have to lick it for orally ingesting it into their bodies.

Apart from receiving it through sunlight, dogs also get their dose of Vitamin D via their diet. Generally, dogs need less Vitamin D in comparison to humans. Most of their nutritional requirements can be met through a well-balanced diet. If you would like to ensure that your dog gets ample Vitamin D through their daily diet, make sure to include the following items in their menu:

  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Organ meats (e.g., Liver)
  • Other dairy products safe for dogs

Apart from this list, another good practice is to check for cholecalciferol’s availability in the set of ingredients while you purchase dog foods. This bio-chemical is a category of Vitamin D that is easily absorbed and utilized by the dog’s body.

Improves Immunity

Recent studies conducted in Veterinary Science show that Vitamin D levels in dogs and cats are linked to their body immunity. Lower Vitamin D presence increases the chance of a dog getting several types of cancer, heart and gastrointestinal diseases.

So let’s encourage our dogs to step out onto the lawn and get their precious quota of immunity boosters via sunlight.

Relief from Stress, Anxiety, and Joint Pains

A good sunbath goes a long way in creating a sense of relaxation in dogs. Vets and dog trainers recommend this activity for the stress-release of dogs facing anxiety and excessive fear-related issues.

Looking from the perspective of aged dogs, they often tend to suffer from rheumatic diseases. Sunlight acts as a natural remedy to joint pains and associated illnesses.

Sunbathing for Happiness

Medical science claims that exposure to sun rays is directly linked to the production of serotonin in dogs. This hormone, also known as the “Happiness Hormone,” is useful in controlling mood fluctuations and works as a neurotransmitter to stabilize their moods.

I have often noticed my Laila (German Shepherd) showcasing signs of excitement, energy, and overall happy vibes after a good session of sunbathing. So the evidence does speak for itself as far as the goodness of sunbathing is concerned.

Proper Sleep Patterns and Brain Activity

Sunbathing has a positive impact on the generation of melatonin hormone in dogs. This hormone is responsible for sound sleep cycles in them. Therefore, regular sunlight reception guarantees the dogs get their daily quota of quality sleep consistently.

The dog’s circadian rhythm or the internal clock is improved on exposure to sunlight. This body process is directly associated with brainwave generation, cell regeneration, and many other critical biochemical processes in dogs.

Disturbances in the circadian rhythms can affect their immunity and cognitive activity. Thus, sunbathing is an essential activity for dog health, both physical and mental.

Essential Warmth During Cold Weather

Dog breeds with less fur like Chihuahuas require more exposure to solar rays during cold weather. Lower temperatures make them more vulnerable to diseases. Adequate sunlight helps them avoid ailments and remain happy and healthy.

These are some of the primary reasons why dogs like to sunbathe. It is clear from this list that the reasons are more resonant than what the naked eye can perceive.

Precautionary Measures to Keep in Mind

So far, we have discussed the crucial benefits a dog can get through regular exposure to sunlight. The critical point to keep in mind is that although sunbathing is good, too much can be more harmful than beneficial. There are cases of sunburns and heart strokes in dogs who indulged in excessive sunbathing. So, it becomes imperative to draw a line for this activity in dogs.

  • Unwanted production of Vitamin D in dogs can lead to misformation of teeth and jaw bone. This issue is especially evident in dogs undergoing their growth phase.
  • Excess exposure to solar rays can affect the working of the nervous system and muscle growth and maintenance.
  • Sunbathing not followed by sufficient water intake increases the chances of dehydration and general weakness in dogs. Ensure adequate availability of water in your garden or front porch to avoid cases of dehydration.
  • If your dog belongs to a breed with less body hair or white-colored fur, ensure to limit the sunbathing time even more. They face the disadvantage of suffering from sunstrokes, skin cancers, and burns compared to the furry ones. (This category of breeds includes Dalmatians, Pitbulls, Whippets, Bull Terriers, etc.) 
  • A dog-safe sunscreen recommended by registered vets is a good option that can help keep sunburns at bay. (Never use human sunscreen lotions on dogs! The presence of chemicals like Zinc Oxide in them can be fatal for your canine buddies.)  
  • Train your dogs to lie in shady areas of your garden. Going to the shady region after sufficient sunbathing is a reasonable precaution against an excessive dose of sun rays.
  • If your dog belongs to a brachycephalic breed, the time spent in the sun by your dog should be minimal. The reason is that these dogs (e.g., Bulldog) have issues around dissipating heat from their bodies. They pant more often. So for them sunbathing could be more of a risk than beneficial activity.
  • Avoid sunlight during peak hours. Sunlight from 10 AM to 4 PM on hot summer days can be too hot to handle for many dog breeds. The early morning sun or the evening sun is a better option.
  • It is always better to consult a vet regarding the ideal duration of sunbathing for your dog. In general, a period of fifteen to twenty minutes at a stretch is a good ballpark figure for most dogs.
  • Even if your dog has insufficient Vitamin D in them, never provide human vitamin supplements to them. This measure will be an overkill response and can make your dog sick. Always go for medical consultation before giving your dog any drugs.

An Alternative to Sunbathing

If you aren’t the biggest fan of giving vitamin supplements to your dog and by some chance, you cannot provide walks for your dog in the sun, or if there are climatic issues in your place, there is an alternative you can try. The option we are suggesting here is artificial UV or full-spectrum lighting. Cold geographies like Alaska or northern parts of the USA will find this alternative particularly useful.

Ultraviolet bulbs, fluorescent lamps, or lightboxes are readily available for purchase via online shopping platforms and retail stores across the country. But please remember that just like in the case of actual sunlight, excessive artificial UV or fluorescent lights are also harmful to your dog. Ensure to get the vet’s opinion and recommendation on this alternative before making a purchase. Excessive exposure to UV bulbs can cause skin burns, irritations, and partial loss of vision. This problem is not something you aspire for your dog. So never back out from taking necessary precautionary measures.

Artificial lighting like LEDs can affect melatonin hormone production by as high as eighty percent. So choosing the right kind of alternative lighting is critical. 

Conclusion

Despite the presence of alternatives and proper diet management techniques, direct exposure to sunlight in the right quantity can be super beneficial for our canine pals. Sun rays and their role in generating Vitamin D in dogs are critical aspects of their health and wellbeing.

We now know some of the significant drivers behind dogs preferring to lay gleefully in the summer sun and why they lick themselves afterward. It is still crucial to know your dog’s sunlight requirements through medical consultations and ensure that your dog does not overdo it. 

Taking precautionary measures is equally important as letting your dogs get their dose of wellbeing via sunbathing.

We also discussed artificial alternatives to sunbathing. Although they can serve the purpose, we recommend using artificial lighting only as a last resort due to their side effects. Adequate hydration is of equal significance for your furry buddies. In case of skin irritations, sunburns or strokes, please take the help of vets or registered dog trainers at the earliest.