NotABully.org is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.
The short answer to the question “Do dogs look at the sun?” is yes, they do look at the sun. They have no problem seeing the sun, and by evidence of my chihuahua sunbathing in the sunshine as I am typing, they can definitely experience the warmth of the sunshine. Most humans know from experience exposure to sunlight can cause temporary or even permanent damage to our eyes, and dogs can experience the same consequences from looking at the sun.
So if dogs can damage their eyes from sunlight, do they know not to look at the sun?
Dogs can see and will look at the sun. However, even if they are not comprehending that the sun can cause eye damage, dogs will generally avoid looking at the bright sun. Just like humans, the glaring sunlight can hurt and damage their eyes, especially dogs with sensitive eyes or other preexisting conditions.
Dogs’ eyes see things differently than humans because of the anatomy of their eyes, but their corneas are as vulnerable to the sun as ours are. They can experience pain and even damage their corneas, and will learn to avoid looking at the sun if it causes discomfort.
However, even if a dog learns to not look directly a the sun, some dogs are extra sensitive or prone to eye diseases. If your dog shows symptoms of sensitivity, you might have to be proactive and protect their eyes from the sun.
A Dog’s Eyes
Dogs’ senses often help them experience the world differently than we do as humans. One of the most well-known examples is their sense of smell, which is theorized to be over 10,000 times stronger than the average human’s. This is probably why dogs can detect a scent weeks later and why scent work is such a rewarding game for dogs.
Much like their noses, dogs’ eyes are different than humans. The biggest difference is the tapetum lucidum, which reflects light through the retina and allows dogs to see better at night. They also have better peripheral vision because their eyes are more spread out on their heads.
However, dog eyes and human eyes also share a lot of the same anatomy, including the pupil, retinas, sclera, iris, and lens. While the differences in dog eye anatomy allow them to see color differently and have better night and peripheral vision than humans, they have no problem looking at and seeing the sun.
Since our eyes and dogs’ eyes have similarities in anatomy, it is not surprising that they can be damaged in similar ways. Dogs and people both have corneas and conjunctivas, which can be easily injured if not protected. The conjunctivas, which is part of the eyelid, can turn red or swollen from allergies or an eye infection. The dog’s corneas, like human corneas, can be easily scratched, or easily damaged by the sun’s harmful rays.
Sensitivity To The Sun
Certain dogs are more sensitive to the harmful rays of the sun than others. White dogs, short-hair dogs, and hairless dogs are usually the most sensitive, as their light-colored fur or thin fur makes it easier to get sunburned and they have an increased risk of skin cancer. The short-haired and light-colored dogs in this video would probably get sunburned easily if they were sun-bathing in direct sunlight outside rather than through a glass door.
Since dogs with coats like this also tend to have light-colored or thin hair around their eyes, they are more likely to damage their eyes if they look at the sun. Light-colored-eyed dogs, particularly dogs with blue eyes like huskies, should also have their eyes protected from the sun. Since blue eyes have less melanin in them, these eyes tend to be more sensitive to the sun’s rays.
How can you tell if your dog’s eyes are extra sensitive to sunlight? If outside on a bright day, look for signs like:
- Watering eyes
- Red eyes
- Rubbing their eyes
A dog whose eyes are seriously bothered by the bright sun might even not recognize certain things as they have been blinded by the sun’s glare. Have you ever accidentally looked directly at the sun and then had to blink rapidly to clear the bright spots out of your vision? Dogs can experience this as well!
Sun Damage To Your Dog’s Eyes
Dog eyes are sensitive to sun rays just like ours and looking at the sun can damage the corneas. A major cause of cataracts in human eyes is sun damage, but according to Dr. Jessica Meekins, that is not such a big concern with dogs. However, looking at the sun and exposure to ultra-violet light can cause rare eye cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, as well as general sun burning.
However, the biggest concern of UV light, besides temporary discomfort, is chronic superficial keratitis, more commonly known as pannus.
While pannus is thought to be a hereditary condition, exposure to looking bright sunlight, especially at high altitudes, can make the conditions worse. What starts as a pink mass on the cornea will spread out, darken, and scar the cornea. Besides the lesion spreading on their eye, you might also notice a mucous discharge, swelling, and visual impairment.
Both eyes can be affected and if left untreated, pannus can cause blindness. Luckily, it can be easily treated by a topical medication if diagnosed early, so if you start to notice symptoms, immediately talk to your veterinarian. Dogs who might be more prone to pannus include German Shepherds and Belgian Tervurens, and this condition usually affects dogs reaching their middle-age. Of course, heightened exposure to the bright sun can exasperate the rate they might show symptoms.
Many of these breeds that are genetically more susceptible to pannus are working dogs who might not be happy about being kept inside on a beautiful day when they can be outside enjoying the sunshine. So if you are worried about your athletic German Shepherd looking at the sun and potentially damaging their eyes, there are ways to get outside and protect their eyes!
Do Dogs Know Not to Look At The Sun?
Dogs do generally know not to look at the sun. The bright sunlight can hurt their eyes and cause temporary eye strain quite similar to what humans experience when we look directly at the sun. While dogs might not make the connection that the sun can cause permanent damage to their eyes, they do want to avoid pain.
The ultra-violet light and bright glare can cause a lot of damage to your dog’s eyes, so it is important to encourage your dog to not look a the sun. If your dog’s eyes are especially sensitive to the sun, there is special equipment you can train your dog to wear or ways to manage your dog’s outdoor adventures to keep their eyes healthy and sun-damage-free.
Should Dogs Wear Sunglasses?
If you live somewhere known for its brilliant sunshine, have a dog with sensitive eyes, or a breed predisposed to pannus, you might want to consider training them to wear sunglasses or goggles if you are planning on spending a lot of time outside with your dog. Goggles will not only protect your dog’s eyes from harmful sun rays, but will also protect the vulnerable skin around their eyes from suffering a sunburn. So if you have a dog who is prone to pannus, has sensitive light-colored eyes, white hair, or thin hair around the eyes, goggles or sunglasses made for dogs are a great solution to keeping them safe from the sun.
Eye-wear for dogs does not just protect their eyes from the sun. Dogs with bulgy eyes like Boston Terriers, pugs, and boxers have more surface area on their eyes, making their corneas more susceptible to cuts and abrasions. Working dogs that train or live in areas where they are likely to kick up dirt and sand in their eyes often wear doggy goggles. For example, a dog that loves to dig on the beach is going to benefit from eye protection from potential cornea-scratching flying sand! The husky in this video is wearing goggles to protect their eyes from silt in the water when retrieving their ball, and they also might have blue eyes that need extra protection in case they look at the sun!
Training your dog to wear goggles might sound daunting, but with patience and positive reinforcement, it is possible. Start with a short period of wearing them around the house where your dog is most comfortable. They can wear them while eating meals or treats to condition themselves to enjoy the goggles. As your dog becomes more comfortable wearing them, extend the training with goggles to walks, and eventually your adventures where you think your dog might need protection from looking at the sun.
Other Ways To Protect Your Dog’s Eyes
If you are struggling to teach your dog to wear sunglasses or goggles, there are lots of other ways to manage their experiences outdoors without damaging their eyes from looking at the sun:
- Walk in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is not as strong.
- Explore shady routes rather than be in direct sunlight.
- Keep your dog inside when the sun is at its highest and brightest.
Our dogs can look at the sun, but sometimes their eyes are sensitive and experience sun damage, much like human eyes. Most dogs will learn to avoid looking at the sun and will just spend their time lounging in the sunlight instead, but some dogs might be extra sensitive to the sun if they have the following traits:
- White hair
- Short hair or hairless
- Light-colored eyes
- Breeds per-disposed to pannus
You can enjoy endless adventures with these dogs while still managing their exposure to the sun. You can even outfit your dog with a snazzy pair of doggy sunglasses, so when they do look at the sun, their eyes will be safe!