Take Note

There’s One Thing You Should Always Do Before Walking Your Dog In This Heat, Say Experts

And it only takes 10 seconds.

Written by Alexandra Frost
Originally Published: 
A woman walks her dog on a hot summer day.
Glasshouse Images/Getty

As I write this piece, the temperature is soaring to 97 degrees in our midwestern city, and my absolute diva of an Aussiedoodle is napping comfortably on top of an air conditioner vent (can you blame him)? But a few weeks ago, my husband took him on a run, and we learned a lesson about caring for dogs on super hot days the hard way. A couple of hours after running a few miles, which he loves and is used to doing, I noticed him limping. Thinking he had pulled a muscle on his jog, I checked his legs and paws — and he let out a whimper. Turns out, he had burnt his paws on the pavement (*Cue bickering with husband about running on streets versus sidewalks....)

With a bit of research, I realized that this is a common dog parenting mistake. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends keeping a close eye on dogs far beyond paw care, as well: "Know the symptoms of overheating in pets, which include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor or even collapse. Symptoms can also include seizures, bloody diarrhea, and vomit along with an elevated body temperature of over 104 degrees." They also recommend keeping walk times to a minimum on hot days to protect "sensitive paw pads," which I, of course, learned the hard way and felt terrible about.

"As summer temperatures rise, it's important to remember that our dog's paws are very sensitive, making them extra vulnerable to heat-related issues," says Carolyn Chen, dog care expert and founder of Dandylion, who has also created multiple viral pet care TikToks. Pavement, sand, and other surfaces can become scorching hot, potentially causing discomfort and even injury to your four-legged BFF. To keep your dog's paws healthy and happy during the summer, we've compiled essential care suggestions to help you protect their sensitive pads.

Here are some tips and tricks from experts to ensure your dog is protected on the hottest days, but can still get some exercise.

Strategically time your walks.

My husband runs with the dog in the hottest part of the day, after work, when temperatures tend to spike in our town. But, since the incident, we've been looking at changing our schedules, taking him out earlier in the mornings and later in the evenings when it's just cooler and more pleasant. Chen says you can test the pavement to see if it's at an OK temperature by holding your hand to the ground for 10 seconds. "If your hand becomes uncomfortable, it's too hot for your dog's paws," she says.

Learn how hot is too hot.

While it might vary by breed, location, and type of ground you are on, you can take steps to determine what kind of heat your own dog can handle. Dr. Julie Buzby, the entrepreneur behind Dr. Buzby's ToeGrips and practicing veterinarian in Beaufort, South Carolina, explains.

"As with most things in life, the answer is not black and white. As a general rule, when temperatures climb over 80 degrees, the pavement can become hot enough to cause burns. Because asphalt retains heat so well, it can reach temperatures that are nearly double the ambient temperature," she says. But, you should consider if you are working with sunny pavement or shaded pavement. "Similarly, black asphalt poses more of a risk than white pavement because of the way black absorbs heat energy while white reflects it."

Consider the dog’s paw pad type and the exercise intensity.

Check out your dog's paw pads. If they have light-colored pads, they are more prone to burns, Buzby says. On the other hand, dogs with black paw pads aren't as susceptible. "Dogs with soft, supple paw pads seem to be at more risk than those with toughened paw pads, acclimated to an outdoor environment," she says. In addition, if your dog is simply walking or jogging, it's not as risky or intense on their paw pads as playing fetch or racing around and sliding, such as on a concrete pool deck, she says. "The combination of physical abrasion to the paw pads plus high temperatures can spell disaster."

Go shopping — for paw protectors.

If you live in a climate that is consistently smoking hot, and you often have no choice but to walk on dark pavement, it can be time to go shopping for a physical barrier to protect your dog's feet. However, Buzby warns that your dog might not be a big fan. "Many dogs dislike wearing boots, and their humans often dislike the process of getting the boots on and off," she says. If that doesn't work, try to find some grass as an alternative physical barrier where they won't get burnt. Chen also points to some wax protectants you can apply to dogs' feet, but check with your vet first to determine if they are right for your dog.

What should you do if your dog's paws get blisters?

Dogs are "stoic creatures," Buzby explains, and they might not always show visible signs of discomfort during a hot walk. But some will — "If your dog is walking gingerly, limping, or reluctant to walk/play, this could be an indicator that he or she is bothered by the pavement temperature," she says. If you do find yourself with a dog with pad burns, contact your vet. The burns can go deeper than they appear from the outside. "Seeking veterinary care for both pain management and to prevent infection is critical. During the healing process, your dog will likely be on antiinflammatories and antibiotics, as well as topical therapies," Buzby says.

Chen says you can also make regular paw checks a habit after walks, even if you aren't on a hard surface, looking for damage, irritation, redness, blisters, cuts, or foreign objects. If you ever aren't sure what to do, call your vet right away. Your beloved dog walks — and your pup's health — depend on it.

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