My dog Roxy loves to lie in the sun. Every morning she heads outside and stretches, and after a little exercise she’ll find a place (usually on a chaise lounge chair) to curl up. After I finish my morning rituals, I call her in and she heads to the dining room, which has a pair of high, small, round windows near the ceiling. These windows cast the most unusual “spotlights” on my carpet, and every morning Roxy resumes her sun bathing on those spots.
Perhaps this Chihuahua senior citizen is looking for warmth to combat the aches and pains that old age can bring, or maybe that little body needs help keeping warm. While both assumptions may contribute to her delight in sunshine, there is another reason that dogs love to sleep in the sun. It may surprise you to learn that the vitamin D consumed from sunshine has a host of positive effects that are not so obvious.
Canine sun-seekers come in all shapes and packages. From tiny, toy group dogs to regal wolfhounds and mastiffs, all dogs need vitamin D. How often have you found your dog napping in the sunlight? Does he or she have a favorite spot? There is a very important reason that dogs sleep in the sun – they need it break down oils in the skin, which convert to vitamin D in the body. Unlike humans, who absorb vitamin D through the skin and deliver it to the blood stream, dogs differ in their consumption. When a dog licks its skin, not only is he or she grooming, but licking delivers the vitamin D from the skin to the dog’s internal organs.
The label “vitamin” is a bit misleading when it comes to the D group. Vitamin D3, which plays an important part in maintaining a healthy heart, muscles, nerves and bones, is more like a hormone. The “vitamin” helps regulate mineral metabolism (such as magnesium and calcium), and it plays a role in the expression of hundreds of genes.
In addition to the health benefits of snoozing in the sun, the radiating warmth really does feel good for dogs, even those with heavy coats. Make sure you provide your dog with an opportunity to lounge in the sun every day (within moderation). Why not place a comfy pillow or a dog bed in the sunny spots to make their naps that much more enjoyable?
While it’s important to provide your dog an opportunity to sunbathe daily, know that dogs do suffer sunburns and can develop skin cancers. Be cautious with dogs with light (pink) pigment in the nose, ears, and paw pads, and be sure to apply sunscreen to tender areas. For more information on how to keep your dog safe in the sun, check out our article on “Sun Safety Tips for Dogs.”