August 18, 2022 | General
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.1 They can also help with temperature control — to an extent.
“Dogs have some sensitivity to hot and cold but they build up a tolerance much quicker than we do,” Dr. Greg Hammer, DVM former president of the AVMA in Dover, Delaware, told the AKC. “If you have an inside dog and you never walk that dog on hot streets, they are going to blister or ulcerate their feet. 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.”2
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 86 degrees F, the asphalt temperature will be significantly hotter — 135 degrees F.
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.3 According to Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC’s chief veterinary officer:
“Pavement, like asphalt or artificial grass, can become incredibly hot and cause discomfort, blisters, and burn a dog’s paw pads … To find out if the ground is too hot for your dog to walk on, place your hand comfortably on the pavement 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 a paw
|Holding the paw abnormally
|Vocalizing when putting weight on the paw
|Pads are darker in color than usual
|Other visible damage to the pads
|Reluctance to walk or stand
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.
Walking with your dog on pavement when temperatures are cool is one of the best ways to 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 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.
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,” Klein said.
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
|Increased pulse and heartbeat
|Vomiting, bloody diarrhea
|Bright or dark red tongue, gums
|Elevated body temperature