Summertime means fun in the sun, and many activities and events are dog friendly. Dogs are often welcome at parks, craft fairs, farmer's markets, and sandy beaches to name a few. Unfortunately, the outing you enjoy may give your dog a hot foot and make him miserable.
The skin on a dog's pads is rough and tough compared to the rest of his skin. Pad epidermis is thick and highly keratinized. The underlying dermis contains sweat glands and a layer of fat that cushions the foot. Paw pads are tough but can be easily damaged.
There is a simple test to determine if it is safe to walk your dog on the hot sidewalk, pavement, asphalt, sand, or any other surface. Reach down and place the back of your hand on the walk way. If you cannot hold your hand there for 5 seconds, your dog should not walk there.
Ambient temperatures that seem quite pleasant are no indication of the temperature of the surface underfoot. It may be inviting to take a walk when the air temperature is an enjoyable 77°F. Be aware. The asphalt underfoot is 125°F. That temperature can burn paws and destroy pad skin in 60 seconds.
An air temperature of 86°F still seems rather comfortable, but the asphalt your dog is walking on is 135°F. You can fry an egg on 131°F pavement in 5 minutes! Imagine what that can do to your dog's feet.
There are tell-tale signs that the walk way is so hot it is injuring your dog's feet. A dog that starts limping, refusing to walk or licking and chewing at his feet is telling you that his foot pads are burning. Instantly stop and take a look. The pads may appear darker in color than usual. They may be raw, red, or blistered or part of the pad may be missing.
These changes require immediate veterinary attention, but first get the dog off the hot pavement and onto a grassy area. Carry him if possible. Then apply simple first aid on the way to the veterinarian. Flush the feet with cool water or apply cool compresses if available. Keep his feet cool and clean.
Your veterinarian will examine your pup for signs of deeper burns, blisters and possible infection. He will also prescribe antibiotics and pain medication if needed. With proper veterinary attention, your dog's paws can heal, but it is a long painful process for your pet.
There are precautions you can take to safeguard your dog's feet. Walk him in the morning or evening when it is cool. Still use the back of your hand to check the pavement temperature. Ambient temperature is not a good indication of how hot the pavement is.
It is best to avoid potentially hot surfaces and walk on the grass. If you must walk on hot terrain, you can apply paw wax to your dog's pads to help protect them from the heat. Several brands of paw wax are available. Musher's Secret Pet Paw Protection Wax is one of the most popular. The 100% wax-based cream protects paws from sand and hot pavement in the summer and from ice and salt in the winter.
Another option is to get your pup some doggie shoes or booties that insulate him from hot pavement. They will also keep him comfortable and safe on snow and ice. These are available at many pet stores and online.
Think twice before taking your dog for long walks or to outdoor events this summer. It may be a fun excursion for you, but a miserable time for your dog. It would be especially sad if he ends up with very hot or burned feet.
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With a Ph.D. in Biological sciences from the University of Texas in Austin and a masters in Zoology from Southern Illinois University, Dr. Sue is devoted to the care and massaging of pets. Read her articles here.