There are many fun things to do with dogs outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Getting out to play keeps the two of you connected, even when times are tough. Maintaining life quality and joyful fun is an important support for dog cancer treatments.
Sunshine, Fresh Air: The Joys of Life
Time outside is crucial for dogs because it provides many benefits for their physical and mental wellbeing. Most of us know that a daily walk is good for our dogs, but there are many other fun things to do with dogs out in the sunshine and fresh air.
Sun exposure itself has positive impacts on mood and energy but should be used in moderation. Negative impacts of excessive sun exposure can include burns and an increased risk of cancer.
Still, being outside and having fun is one of the “joys of life” of being a dog.
Why Dogs Enjoy Being Outside
Spending time outside provides dogs with physical and mental stimulation that is hard to match in an indoor setting.
One important aspect of going outside is the opportunity to exercise and move around freely.
The intensity of the exercise your dog needs depends on factors like their breed, age and size. A border collie will likely need more time running around while a Maltese may be satisfied with the exercise that they get as they move around sniffing their favorite spots.
Dogs tend to hold anxiety and tension in their bodies and physical exertion is an excellent way for them to release that pressure.1
Obesity in dogs is an increasing problem as it is in humans, so getting outside and moving more is a great way to get exercise and work off some of that extra weight.2,3
Spending time outside allows dogs to interact socially with you and with other dogs. Dogs are an incredibly social species, and they have a strong innate need for companionship.
When dogs do not get enough social enrichment, they can become stressed and exhibit repetitive abnormal behaviors like pacing and circling.4
Studies show that dogs will not exercise enough when alone, regardless of the space available. They often need a human being or other playful dogs to stimulate play behavior.5
Social interactions can involve active play but can also include lying in the grass, basking in the sun, and enjoying having their favorite humans by their side.
Dogs thrive when they can have varied experiences, so lying outside with them is a different situation than lying down and petting them at home.6,7
New and different sensory stimulation in a dog’s environment helps to keep their brains active and prevent boredom.1
Compared to the indoor space where very little changes, spending time outside stimulates all of your dog’s senses. This includes watching the squirrel he saw running up the tree, the birds he heard chirping, the scent of another dog he smells, and the feeling of different surfaces under his feet.
Dogs have incredibly sensitive noses, so it is very important to allow dogs time to sniff and investigate their surroundings while outside.
Even when you are taking your dog for a short bathroom walk around the block, allowing him to sniff around will provide him stimulation, especially if he spends most of his time indoors.1,2,5,6,8
Why Is Having Fun Outdoors Good for Dogs?
Many of us know that sunlight exposure is important for people because we can use the sun’s rays to help make vitamin D. Dogs do not make vitamin D from sunlight like we do, but there are aspects of sun exposure that can provide them with other wonderful health benefits.9
Sunshine Increases Beta Endorphins
Spending time in the sun is a pleasurable experience because it feels warm and can help us feel calm and focused.
We experience these feelings because exposure to ultraviolet rays can stimulate the skin to release beta endorphins.
Beta endorphins are natural opioids that can create feelings of wellbeing, relaxation and even pain relief.10
We don’t have studies showing the same effect on dogs, but anyone who lives with a dog and sees them bound out the door into the sunshine, or snooze in a sunbeam, knows dogs like the sun, too.
Exposure to bright light decreases the production of melatonin from the pineal gland through stimulation of photoreceptors in the eyes.
Melatonin is a hormone responsible for controlling the body’s circadian rhythm that affects the sleep-wake cycle and is associated with sleepiness.
Reduction in melatonin caused by light exposure can delay the sleep cycle and can reduce insomnia and anxiety.12,13
In people receiving chemotherapy, sunlight exposure can reduce fatigue and normalize their sleep-wake cycle.14
Dogs receiving chemotherapy can experience similar side effects as people including lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea.15
Your dog may not be especially motivated to go on walks while undergoing chemotherapy, but spending some time lounging in the sunlight may improve their mood and help them feel better.
Improves Heart Health
Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can have a beneficial effect on heart health.
Exposure to UVB rays in people can result in a decreased blood pressure that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart related death.
The mechanisms for this benefit are complex, but involve the release of nitric oxide, carbon monoxide, substance P and calcitonin, all of which have vasodilating effects when the body is exposed to sunlight.10
Studies have not been performed on dogs to look for a similar response, but their bodies release these chemicals as well.16
When to Keep Your Dog Inside
The main concerns for dogs who spend a lot of time in the sun include heat stress, heat stroke, and the risk of sunburn and cancer.
Dogs come in many shapes, sizes and coat lengths so there is a wide range of temperatures and humidities that dogs can safely handle.
Hypothermia (being too cold) or hyperthermia (being too hot) can occur when dogs are taken into environments outside of their tolerable range.
Thick coated breeds, like Huskies, may be able to tolerate temperatures as low as 32°F.
On the other hand, thin or short coated breeds, like Chihuahuas, may only be able to tolerate temperatures as low as 59°F – 68°F.17
Body fat plays a role in a dog’s ability to tolerate low temperatures. Dogs with more body fat may be able to tolerate lower temperatures than a thinner dog.
When you take your dog outside in cold weather, you should monitor them closely for signs that they are getting too cold such as shivering. If you notice them shivering, you should take them inside right away to warm up and avoid hypothermia.
Most dogs can tolerate temperatures up to 80-85°F.
The ability of a dog to tolerate temperatures above 85°F is limited by coat length, relative humidity, upper respiratory tract limitations and heart or lung disease.
Increased coat length and high humidity can reduce a dog’s ability to regulate its temperature.
Brachycephalic breeds like pugs, bulldogs and boxers, have a reduced ability to expel heat through panting due to their head and throat anatomies.17
When it is warm outside, you should monitor your dog for signs of heat stress like excessive panting, drooling or lethargy.
If you notice those signs, you should bring your dog inside to a cooler area and provide them with water.
If you notice signs like vomiting, dizziness or a change in the color of your dog’s gums, then you should contact your veterinarian right away because they may be experiencing heat-stroke.17
Excessive exposure to sunlight can cause your dog to develop sunburn.
It is a common misconception that dogs cannot get sunburned due to the presence of fur.
Dogs most often get sunburned on areas with light colored fur and sparsely covered areas but can get burned even on areas with dark fur or a full coat with excessive sun exposure.
In most dogs, the ear tips, nose, and belly are the most prone to burning.
Dogs with very thin coats, like boxers, or no coats, like the Chinese crested, are more likely to get sunburned due to reduced fur coverage.
For these dogs, applying a high-factor, water-resistant sunscreen and keeping them in the shade may be appropriate to protect their skin. Make sure they don’t lick it off, however, because sunscreen is not safe for dogs to ingest.
The risk of your dog getting sunburned is highest between 11am to 2pm, especially when shadows are shorter than the objects casting them. You should try to keep your dog in the shade during that time.
Sun exposure can cause or worsen skin lesions related to autoimmune diseases like lupus and pemphigus. You should contact your veterinarian if your dog has an autoimmune disease to make sure your dog can safely handle sun exposure.
If you notice your dog has developed pink and sensitive skin after sun exposure, you should take them out of the sun right away and apply a cold compress to the area.
If you notice additional symptoms such as blistering, flaking and curling of the ear margins, then you should contact your veterinarian so they can assess the degree of skin damage.18,19
Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight can cause some suppression of the immune system.
You should make sure to keep your dog out of the sun if they are recovering from an infection due to bacteria, viruses or fungi because it will take longer for them to clear the infection.21
Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight can trigger the development of certain forms of cancer. In dogs, the two sun-related cancers are skin (cutaneous) squamous cell carcinoma and skin hemangiosarcoma.
If your dog has developed these forms of cancer, sun exposure should be kept to a minimum or avoided completely.19-21
How to Help Your Dog Enjoy Her Time Outside
It is important for your dog to get time outside every day for his physical and mental wellbeing. There are many different ways that you can maximize the benefits your dog gets from their time outside.
You can help your dog get the most of his time by providing a variety of fun things to do outside.
The ideal activities for your dog will depend on what he enjoys doing the most.
All dogs can participate in the suggested activities, but some breeds may be more adapted to some than others. If you don’t know what kind of outdoor activities your dog might enjoy, go ahead and try some. Your dog won’t mind the variety!
For high-energy dogs who need work off excess energy, providing them with sports or activities where they can run and jump will be most effective. Activities like fetch, flyball, frisbee, agility and dock diving are some excellent options to try with your dog.2,6
Digger breeds like Terriers and Dachshunds were designed to hunt vermin and badgers and often have an instinct for digging.
You can provide enrichment at home by providing a sandbox for them to dig in or you can have them participate in activities such as Earthdog tests and barn hunts that time their ability to find rats (safely caged) through various obstacles.
Scent hounds such as Bloodhounds and Bassett hounds are stimulated through their sense of smell, activities such as scent work and tracking can help provide enrichment for their minds and bodies.
Even if you don’t want to participate in formal tracking events, your dog will be just as happy trying to find his favorite treat you have hidden in your favorite walking places!
Scent work:24 https://www.akc.org/sports/akc-scent-work/
Herding breeds like border collies and Australian shepherds have an instinct to herd other animals (and sometimes people), herding trials may provide an ideal outlet for their skills while also fostering obedience.
Sighthounds like greyhounds were bred to spot and chase game. They receive stimulation especially from visual cues.
Activities like Lure Coursing may be an ideal way to work out that energy and engage their minds at the same time.
Lure Coursing:27 https://www.akc.org/sports/coursing/lure-coursing/
Water-loving breeds like the Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, and poodle are drawn to the water and will try to jump into every body of water that they find.
If you have a water-loving dog, sports and activities in the water are great ways to keep their minds and bodies healthy.
You can try activities like dock diving, water search and rescue, water retrieval and more.
When doing water sports, it is important to make sure your dog is an experienced swimmer, and if not, you can use a life jacket to make sure he stays safe.
Dock diving:28 https://northamericadivingdogs.com/
Search and rescue:29 https://www.akc.org/sports/title-recognition-program/search-and-rescue/
Helpful page about activities for water-lovers:30 https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/dogs-that-like-water/
The following websites from the American Kennel Club can help you determine what the best activity may be for your dog and where to find events in that sport:
Getting Started in Dog Sports and Events:31 https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/sports/get-started-in-dog-sports-and-events/
Sports and Events:32 https://www.akc.org/sports/
Safety Issues When Having Fun Outside
Sun and outdoor exposure can come with risks, so it is important to make sure your dog spends time outside safely.
Heat stroke is a concern when your dog spends time outdoors during times of high humidity or when the temperature is above 80°F. The following precautions will help keep them safe and cool in warmer weather:33
- Some dogs should be kept inside your air-conditioned home except for short bathroom breaks when it gets warm. This includes dogs that are not able to tolerate hot weather, have difficulty regulating their temperature or have heart and lung disease. This may include overweight and senior dogs as well as brachycephalic breeds.
- The midday heat can get overwhelming even for young healthy dogs, so you should take your dog out on longer walks in the morning or around dusk when the temperature has lowered.
- When you walk your dog on hot days, don’t forget to bring some water with you so you can help your dog rehydrate if they seem to be sluggish or panting excessively.
- Make sure to give your dog plenty of rest in the shade if you see signs they are feeling tired and then head home when their breathing and respiration have slowed.
Signs of sunburn in dogs are similar to those in people and can include redness, hair loss, skin sensitivity and crusting.
If your dog continues to get excessive sun exposure, skin cancer or other sun-related diseases such as solar dermatitis, actinic keratosis, and actinic dermatitis may develop.
There are a variety of ways that you can help reduce your dog’s risk of developing sun-related diseases.34
- The sun is at its strongest between 11am and 2pm, so you can adjust your walking and playtimes around this time block to avoid the risk of sunburn.
- Sunscreens are effective in dogs at protecting them from the harmful effects of UVA and UVB radiation from the sun. When selecting a sunscreen for your dog, you should choose one that is fragrance-free, water-resistant and non-staining with a high SPF rating.
- You should avoid sunscreens that have an ingestion warning as these products often contain ingredients that may be toxic for your dog if ingested. You should apply sunscreen to your dog’s sparsely haired areas and on their noses particularly. While out in the sun, apply the sunscreen liberally and regularly to make sure your dog gets adequate protection.
- There is a veterinary sunblock available called FiltaClear that uses titanium dioxide and has a bittering agent so dogs are less likely to lick it off.18
- UV protective clothing may be a good option for some pets, especially if they are sparsely haired, have sensitive skin or do not tolerate having sunscreen applied.
Dogs can get exposed to internal and external parasites when they spend time outside.
You should speak to your dog’s veterinarian about starting them on heartworm, flea and tick prevention year-round.
Preventatives are important medications that help your dog stay safe and can prevent them from developing diseases like heartworm disease, Lyme disease and flea allergy dermatitis and many others.
The following link is a great resource about parasite control from the American Animal Hospital Association:35 https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/life-stage-canine-2019/parasite-control/
The Bottom Line on Having Fun Outside with Your Dog
We veterinarians say: Get out there and have fun with your dog!
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- Garvey M, Croney C. Implementing Environmental Enrichment for Dogs. https://extension.purdue.edu/county/lagrange/_docs/Implementing-Environmental-Enrichment-for-Dogs-1.pdf
- Vitger AD, Stallknecht BM, Nielsen DH, Bjornvad CR. Integration of a physical training program in a weight loss plan for overweight pet dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2016;248(2):174-182. doi:10.2460/javma.248.2.174
- Hargrave C. COVID-19: implications of self-isolation and social distancing for the emotional and behavioural health of dogs. Companion Anim. 2020;25(4):1-8. doi:10.12968/coan.2020.0032
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- Zafalon RVA, Ruberti B, Rentas MF, et al. The Role of Vitamin D in Small Animal Bone Metabolism. Metabolites. 2020;10(12):496. doi:10.3390/metabo10120496
- Holick MF. Biological Effects of Sunlight, Ultraviolet Radiation, Visible Light, Infrared Radiation and Vitamin D for Health. Anticancer Res. 2016;36(3):1345-1356.
- Veleva BI, van Bezooijen RL, Chel VGM, Numans ME, Caljouw MAA. Effect of ultraviolet light on mood, depressive disorders and well-being. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2018;34(5):288-297. doi:10.1111/phpp.12396
- Karami Z, Golmohammadi R, Heidaripahlavian A, Poorolajal J, Heidarimoghadam R. Effect of Daylight on Melatonin and Subjective General Health Factors in Elderly People. Iran J Public Health. 2016;45(5):636-643.
- Haldar C, Ahmad R. Photoimmunomodulation and melatonin. J Photochem Photobiol B. 2010;98(2):107-117. doi:10.1016/j.jphotobiol.2009.11.014
- Liu L, Marler MR, Parker BA, et al. The relationship between fatigue and light exposure during chemotherapy. Support Care Cancer. 2005;13(12):1010-1017. doi:10.1007/s00520-005-0824-5
- Bowles DB, Robson MC, Galloway PE, Walker L. Owner’s perception of carboplatin in conjunction with other palliative treatments for cancer therapy. J Small Anim Pract. 2010;51(2):104-112. doi:10.1111/j.1748-5827.2009.00891.x
- Hoover DB, Shepherd AV, Southerland EM, Armour JA, Ardell JL. Neurochemical diversity of afferent neurons that transduce sensory signals from dog ventricular myocardium. Auton Neurosci. 2008;141(1-2):38-45. doi:10.1016/j.autneu.2008.04.010
- Jordan M. Temperature Requirements for Dogs. https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/va/va-16-w.pdf
- Paterson S. Cutaneous sun damage and skin protection: a focus on FiltaClear. Vet Nurse. 2019;10(2):90-95. doi:10.12968/vetn.2019.10.2.90
- Scarff D. Summer skin care for dogs and cats. Vet Nurs J. 2012;27(7):253-255. doi:10.1111/j.2045-0648.2012.00190.x
- Photosensitization in Dogs – Dog Owners. Merck Veterinary Manual. Accessed December 30, 2022. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/skin-disorders-of-dogs/photosensitization-in-dogs
- Bernard JJ, Gallo RL, Krutmann J. Photoimmunology: how ultraviolet radiation affects the immune system. Nat Rev Immunol. 2019;19(11):688-701. doi:10.1038/s41577-019-0185-9
- Earthdog. American Kennel Club. Accessed December 31, 2022. https://www.akc.org/sports/earthdog/
- Barn Hunt – American Kennel Club. Accessed December 31, 2022. https://www.akc.org/sports/title-recognition-program/barn-hunt/
- AKC Scent Work. American Kennel Club. Accessed December 31, 2022. https://www.akc.org/sports/akc-scent-work/
- Tracking: Events. American Kennel Club. Accessed December 31, 2022. https://www.akc.org/sports/tracking/events/
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- Lure Coursing. American Kennel Club. Accessed December 31, 2022. https://www.akc.org/sports/coursing/lure-coursing/
- NADD | Home. Accessed December 31, 2022. https://northamericadivingdogs.com/
- Search and Rescue. American Kennel Club. Accessed December 31, 2022. https://www.akc.org/sports/title-recognition-program/search-and-rescue/
- Jul 18 KL, Minutes 2018 | 2. 7 Activities to Do With a Dog That Loves Water. American Kennel Club. Accessed December 31, 2022. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/dogs-that-like-water/
- Sep 09 AS, Minute 2021 | 1. Get Started in Dog Sports and Events. American Kennel Club. Accessed December 31, 2022. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/sports/get-started-in-dog-sports-and-events/
- Sports & Events Archive. American Kennel Club. Accessed December 31, 2022. https://www.akc.org/sports/
- How can I prevent heatstroke in my pet? Accessed December 31, 2022. https://www.aaha.org/your-pet/pet-owner-education/ask-aaha/how-can-i-prevent-heatstroke-in-my-pet/
- Sunscreen for Pets. Accessed December 31, 2022. https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=4952515
- Parasite Control. Accessed December 31, 2022. https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/life-stage-canine-2019/parasite-control/
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