One of the things humans enjoy most when it’s warm out is enjoying water sports. But what happens when you think you don’t need your flip flops and you step on the hot sand or hot concrete as you’re getting out of the pool? OW, OW, OW, right? You dash on your tiptoes and run to your chair or you hop back in the water and ask someone to bring you your flippies. Guess who else can be severely hurt by stepping on hot surfaces. Your adorable pupper’s paws.
Obviously, some surfaces hold heat better than others. In an experiment at Frostburg State University, six surfaces, not including sand, were tested at 10 AM and 2 PM on two consecutive days:
Not surprisingly, grass is the coolest surface. What is surprising is that Astroturf (artificial grass), which is replacing natural grass in many parks and yards, is hotter than asphalt and concrete, which are the most typical places dogs are walked.
My in-laws replaced the grass in their backyard with Astroturf about five years ago. Here in Colorado, it’s hard to grow anything. Additionally, the cost for water usage is on a sliding scale, i.e. the more water you use, the more you pay. It seemed perfectly reasonable to swap out natural grass for artificial until summer came. The Astroturf was so hot their Doxies refused to go potty. The workaround was they had to turn on the irrigation system for five minutes to cool down the grass before the girls went outside. Not only is that inconvenient, but they used more water than if they were just watering the lawn to keep it alive. Guess who pulled out half of the Astroturf and put in sod last summer?
In hot weather, it’s recommended to walk your dog before 8 AM or after 8 PM, but those times don’t work for everyone. So how do you know if the walking surface is too hot for your dog? We know from the study above that walking them on the grass is the safest solution, but for people like me, a concrete sidewalk is where I walk my dog. To make sure the surface isn’t too hot for your dog, you should lay the back of your hand on the surface for 5-10 seconds. If you can’t hold it there the entire time, it is too hot! For those of you who’ve had infants and warmed up baby formula, it’s the same principle as testing a few drops of formula on your wrist to ensure it won’t burn baby’s mouth.
Another potentially treacherous surface you may not have considered is the bed of a pickup truck. Whether it’s bare metal or a spray in liner, it’s generally not protected from the sun and if you and your dog hop up there to sit on the tailgate—OUCH! The list of surfaces that retain heat that your dog may encounter are endless, but here are a few more: decks, docks, rocks, outside stairs, etc.
Even if you’ve tested the surface and it seems fine if your dog starts limping, avoids walking, or starts licking or chewing their feet, get them to a cooler surface quickly. Other signs of burned paws are paw pads that are darker than usual, blisters, and redness. If this happens, we recommend you take your best friend to the vet for treatment IMMEDIATELY. The vet may prescribe antibiotics, pain medications, and bandage their feet to let the pads heal.
A secondary effect of burned paws or being on hot surfaces is your dog can overheat quickly. We have another blog post on heat injuries (do we?), but in short, if you see your dog exhibiting the following behaviors during outside activity or after you get home, it’s a health emergency: panting heavily, drinking water excessively, vomiting, loss of consciousness, or a seizure.
So how can you and your pooch enjoy the walks in the beautiful weather and be safe at the same time? One solution is to walk as early or as late in the day as possible. However, in places like Arizona, during certain months, there may not be a safe time to walk your dog. We’ve all seen the videos of putting dogs on treadmills, so if you have one, you can give it a shot. The last suggestion is buying booties to protect their feet. Just like winter booties keep a dog’s feet warm, there are booties or dog paw wax to protect them from the heat as well—if you can get your buddy to let you put them on. Not all dogs like those items on their feet, and it’s good to start that habit when they are young to get them used to it. If you have any other solutions, please post them on one of our social media pages or email them to email@example.com …we’d love to hear them!
We hope you and your dog have a safe and enjoyable summer!