Before you burst out the door with Fido on a summer day, stop to think — is the street too hot for four-legged feet? We all know the phrase “hot enough to fry an egg,” but pavement can also be hot enough to burn pets’ paws. I’ve seen plenty of burned paw pads (including my own dog’s).
These injuries can be quite severe, blistering the pads so badly that the outer layer sloughs off. Aside from being excruciatingly painful (remember, paws have to be walked on!), the injuries are prone to infection. Luckily, with pain medications and tender loving care, affected feet are back to the beat in no time.
While the weather may feel mild, the ground temperature is often much hotter than the air; sometimes by as much as 50°F! But when it gets down to determining how much heat is in the street, the research we have is limited. Here’s what we know:
- Many articles and graphics that discuss air vs. ground temperature reference data from a Journal of the American Medical Association study entitled “Thermal Contact Burns From Streets and Highways.” The study compares the air and pavement temperatures in Phoenix, AZ in the late 1960s, but we don’t know that these readings hold true today or if they apply to other geographical locations.
- The National Weather Service (Sacramento) published a chart to document their air and ground temperature findings in June 2016. This is helpful data, but it’s specific to the west coast and only mentions temperatures at which human skin is burned.
- In 2011, Marcia Breithaupt published “How Hot is That Sidewalk?” in Professional Pet Sitter. This article reports temperature readings in Florida, and also cites a 1940 study that documented the temperature impact on pets’ paws. Her findings on temperature threshold and the ground temperature conclude that there is a definite need to be careful when walking dogs on hot days.
- Similarly, PetsitUSA published this post in 2011, documenting air and ground temperatures recorded at different times throughout the day.
- In this PetMD article, Dr. Patty Khuly urges pet parents to realize the risk of paw pad burns. “Here’s the thing about dogs: They rarely let us know when things really hurt — in this case, on the hot walk or otherwise,” she says. “When it comes to leash walks in particular, few energetic dogs are willing to let their humans down.”
- A common theme of the articles is “if it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your pet!”
So, what’s a warm weather lover to do? Avoid sidewalks and asphalt altogether? Of course not! That wouldn’t be practical. Just keep in mind that surfaces will be hot, and try to follow these tips:
- Test the surface before you walk. Try placing the back of your hand on the pavement for seven seconds. If it feels too hot to you, it’s probably too hot for Fido!
- Avoid walks in the middle of the day. Surfaces are cooler in the early morning and late evening, so you’ll have a safer stroll with your pup.
- Walk in the grass. If you must walk during the hottest part of the day, steer clear of paved pathways.
- Invest in a good pair of dog booties, like Ultra Paws. These come in handy on hot days, and on icy days, too!
- Consider using a topical product to toughen up paw pads in preparation for hot pavement. Tuf-Foot and Musher’s Secret are popular favorites, and you can start treatments well in advance of the summer season.
Remember, this is unlikely to be a problem that you have to worry about all summer. As your pet walks each day, her pads will toughen naturally. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t monitor her tootsies through the season, but chances are that her risk of burns will decrease as the heat index increases.
Also, keep in mind that every pet is different — what bothers some rolls right off the back of others. You know your pet best, so go with your gut! And share the info with other pet parents to help raise awareness for this hot topic.
Download the “too hot to trot” graphic as a PDF.