During the summer months, keeping a close eye on your dog is essential to prevent hazards related to high heat, such as heat stroke and sunburn. An often-overlooked source of danger as temperatures rise, however, is hot pavement, which can quickly lead to serious burns on your dog’s paw pads.
Paw pads are made up of fat tissue and elastic fibers, along with thick skin that’s likely somewhat calloused, depending on your dog’s activity levels. Puppies’ pads will be less calloused, and therefore more sensitive, than adult dogs’ pads. One of the primary purposes of paw pads is to act as shock absorbers as your dog walks and runs. They can also help with temperature control but only to an certain extent.
Dogs have some sensitivity to hot and cold but they build up a tolerance much quicker than we do. If you have an inside dog and you never walk that dog on hot streets, they are going to blister or ulcerate their feet much quicker than dogs who spend more time outdoors on concrete or pavement regularly. It would be just like if we went without shoes. So over time, usage and exposure helps dogs build up the tolerance needed to walk on hot and cold surfaces.
While dogs do build up some tolerance on their paws to withstand hotter and colder temperatures, along with uneven terrain, pavement temperatures that are too hot can lead to burns and other injuries. If the air temperature registers 86ºF, the asphalt temperature will be significantly hotter, approximately 135ºF.
So as a general rule of thumb, if it’s 85 degrees F outside or higher, it may be too hot for your dog to safely walk outdoors, particularly if the pavement hasn’t had an opportunity to cool down in between the hotter spells. Here in the Moab desert, mornings are a much cooler experience at 85 degrees than when it cools down in the evening to 85 degrees. The pavement, asphalt, slickrock and sandstone hold higher temperatures much longer than the ambient air temperature. So consider morning walks over evening walks for a cooler experience for your dog’s feet.
Our environment and surface temperatures can become incredibly hot and cause discomfort, blisters, and burn a dog’s paw pads … so to find out if the ground is too hot for your dog to walk on, place the back of your hand on the ground for 10 seconds. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws.
Walking with your bare feet is also a simple way to determine if the ground is too hot for your dog. If your feet are burning while walking across your deck, the beach or a sidewalk, your dog’s paws will also be uncomfortable and at risk of injury.
If you’ve been outdoors with your dog in hot weather, burns to their pads may appear as red, ulcerated skin or blisters, which may fill with fluid and rupture after several days. In severe burns, the skin on the pad may fall off, leaving a raw and painful open wound. Other signs that your dog has burned its paw pads include:
› Licking the pads
› Vocalizing when putting pressure on the feet
› Reluctance to walk
› Pads are much darker than normal
If your dog’s paw pads are burned, see your veterinarian right away, as medications may be needed to prevent infection and manage pain, and bandages may be necessary to keep out dirt and protect the pad’s surface (requiring daily disinfecting and changing).
You will need to restrict your dog’s activity while they heal, and surfaces that are hot or uneven should be avoided. With proper rest and wound care, mild burn injuries may heal within seven to 10 days, while more significant burns may take weeks to fully heal.
How to Protect Your Dog’s Paws
Walking with your dog on pavement when temperatures are cool is the best way to help build up a tougher surface on your dog’s pads, which will be better able to withstand warmer temperatures (but not hot ones). Massaging your dog’s pads with coconut oil or paw salves is also useful for keeping them moisturized and less prone to cracking and dryness, which increases the risk of burns from hot pavement.
If you’ll be going for walks outdoors in the summer, do so in the early morning or evening hours when temperatures have cooled, preferably on grass or soil. But be aware that pavement can remain hot even when it’s not the hottest part of the day. If your dog tolerates them, dog shoes or boots can be used to protect paws from the heat, but keep in mind that dogs feel the ground with their paws, so shoes can interfere with their ability to sense their environment and not all dogs are comfortable wearing them. It’s also imperative to ensure a good fit. Babysitting ill-fitted dog boots mean less fun on the walk, so make sure to try boots on and make sure they are appropriate for the terrain.
If the pavement is hot enough to burn your dog’s paws, outdoor temperatures may also be hot enough to cause heat-related health issues. In addition to damaged paws, hot pavement can also increase a dog’s body temperature and contribute to the development of heatstroke. Your dog has a higher average body temperature than you do, and much less ability to cool down, so any time you’re outdoors with your dog in the summer months, keep an eye out not only for their paw health but also for signs of systemic overheating, such as:
› Heavy panting or rapid breathing
› Excessive drooling or thirst
› Increased pulse and heartbeat
› Glazed eyes
› Vomiting, bloody diarrhea
› Bright or dark red tongue, gums
› Elevated body temperature
› Weakness, collapse
› Staggering, stumbling
If you think your dog has suffered heat stroke, seek medical attention immediately. Effects can occur hours after an incident and can be avoided with good planning (going early or late) preparation (boots, plenty of water - 1 gallon per day for every 60 lbs of dog), and regular observation of your dog’s condition.