Authored By: Chris Vanderhoof DVM, MPH
Getting out and about during the summer with your dog is a fantastic way to spend time. There are so many great summer activities to engage in and travel is very big this time of year.
But as the balmy days of early summer transition into the sweltering heat of mid and late summer, it’s important to remember the precautions we should all take to keep our dogs safe from the effects of heat.
We hear a lot about the dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which are always looming concerns warranting limited play and activity during the hottest times of the day.
And every year there are heartbreaking stories about dogs left in hot cars, even just for a “quick” errand, to be found in critical states even just 10 minutes later.
While these are real concerns and they get a lot of attention, one thing we don’t think about nearly as much is the heat’s impact on our dog’s feet. After all, dogs have evolved for years to walk in their bare feet, right?
In this article you’ll learn why hot weather can be hard on dogs' feet, what to look for, and what you can do to prevent and address concerns with your pup’s tootsies.
What Does Hot Pavement Do to a Dog’s Feet?
Dogs have evolved for many generations to tramp around very well with their cushy paw pads. But one thing evolution may not have counted on were cement and asphalt. These surfaces, especially black pavement, absorb the sun’s rays and get extremely hot.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, at 86 degrees, asphalt is at 135 degrees. Consider that an egg can fry at 130 degrees in just 5 seconds, and it’s not hard to see why a dog’s pads and skin might be affected.
If a surface is too hot, dog’s feet can develop mild 1st degree burns at the very least, along with drying and cracking. More severe burns and blisters can develop with prolonged exposure. And remember, not just pavement and asphalt get this hot, but that golden sand at the beach does as well.
Burns and blisters are painful, can introduce infection, and can be frustrating to treat properly. Dogs tend to lick and chew sore feet diligently, which can sometimes complicate the original injury.
Hot pavement surfaces can also lead to an increase in a dog’s body temperature, which can contribute to other heat-related injury or illness, like heat stroke.
How Hot is Too Hot?
Dr. Jerry Klein, chief medical officer of the American Kennel Club (AKC) says that if the outdoor temp is 85 degrees or over, that it may be too hot for a dog’s feet. But if you’re not sure, hold your hand (or bare foot) on the pavement. If you can’t keep it on a hot surface for 10 seconds comfortably, it’s too hot for your dog’s feet.
How Can I Protect My Dog’s Feet?
Here are six tips to keep your dog's paws safe from the heat this summer.
1. Avoid activities at the hottest times of the day
As with reducing risk for heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and dehydration, aim to go out for walks, jogs, or playdates early in the morning, or later in the evening, when the sun is not as high in the sky and temperatures are not as hot. Stick to shady areas as much as possible.
2. Opt for walks on grass instead of asphalt, pavement, sand, or other potentially hot surfaces.
If a sidewalk is sweltering, this should be one time when it is okay to walk on the neighbor’s lawn. Grass is always going to be cooler and softer on the feet. If possible, pick out walks, jogs, and playdates on grassy trails and parks, especially in the shade.
3. Paw Booties or Coverings.
There are lots of doggie footwear options out there that can help protect the feet. Choose a product with thicker bottoms or soles that provide some distance from the ground, and make sure they fasten securely. Avoid products that stick to the paw pads, as the adhesive may melt or congeal with hot surfaces. Remember that booties may not feel natural for your dog at first and may require some period of adjustment.
4. Pool Time
If playing in one area, like your backyard, set up a shallow pool your dog can jump in to cool off her feet. It’s best to use one made of a harder plastic with traction designed for dogs.
5. Waxes and Moisturizing Products
There are many products that help to moisturize and protect a dog’s feet from drying and cracking. While these may not block the heat, they can help keep your dog’s pads in better condition.
6. Training Your Dog’s Pads to Toughen Up
You can condition your dog’s pads to be thicker and more reinforced by walking, jogging, or running often on harder surfaces during cooler weather. This can help provide some natural resilience against hot surfaces during the summer, at least for short periods.
What to Do for Heat-Related Paw Injury
If you’re concerned your dog might have scorched his feet while outside, the first thing to do is get him to a cooler surface, even if it’s just an area of cooler, shady grass.
If you can get your pup inside, run her feet under cool (not cold) water, or have her sit in a shallow wading pool or bathtub.
Applying a moisturizing lotion or wax designed for dog’s feet can help prevent further drying and cracking.
With minor burns or injuries, this may be sufficient. The paw pads are resilient and have developed to take some degree of insult. But with more severe injuries, especially signs of blisters or bleeding from the feet, it’s important to see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
These injuries can be very painful and secondary infection can be a risk, which may warrant prescription medications.
When It’s Hot Out, Be Smart
There are lots of fun things to do in hot weather, but just like we need to take precautions to prevent heat-related illness and injury, it’s important for your dog, too. In fact, it may be even more important, as dogs need more time to adjust to hotter temperatures than we do.
To help your dog stay safe and healthy this summer, make sure to stick to cooler times during the day, always have fresh water and a bowl handy wherever you travel, avoid hot surfaces, and above all, don’t take unnecessary risks. If outdoor conditions don’t feel great for you, reconsider another time of day or different activity for you and your pup to enjoy together.
Dr. Chris is considered one of the country’s leading veterinarians. He completed a dual Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree and Masters in Public Health at Virginia Tech, a top veterinary school in the country.