Summer Walks and Your Dog’s Feet

hot pavement

Did you read that article in USA TODAY yesterday about Olaf, a Golden Retriever, whose paw pads were burned after going on a walk on hot pavement? Poor guy. He’s doing fine, but I’ll bet his owner feels just terrible.

I’m not judging. I am actually surprised that the burns were as severe as they were, based on the circumstances. They live in Washington state, and the owner says it was only a mile walk. I wouldn’t think that the pavement would be hot enough in a state as far north as Washington and in the month of June, which isn’t generally an extremely hot month. Regardless, it’s a good lesson for all of us who enjoy walking our dogs in the summer. We need to watch out for dog paws on hot pavement and other hot surfaces during the summer months when walking them.

Asphalt Heat

I did a little research on asphalt pavement and what temperature is too hot to walk a dog. I am surprised by what I have learned. Did you know that if it is only 77° outside, asphalt can reach 137°? And if it’s 87° outside, the pavement can be as hot as 147°! Wow. Asphalt absorbs a lot of heat, naturally. Then it soaks up the heat all day and retains it. It is generally about 40 – 60° hotter than the outside air. So, on those typical hot Richmond summer days topping 90°, the pavement is at least 130 – 150 degrees! They say you can fry an egg on the pavement at 130°… That kind of puts it into perspective, doesn’t it?

From what I am reading, if the asphalt surface is only 120°, it is uncomfortable for a dog. If the surface temp is 140°, it is very painful and can cause damage to paw pads. 150° is the “danger zone”, with burning, blistering and serious, permanent damage. So, if it’s 87° outside, as we have just learned, the asphalt temperature is nearing the danger zone. I have been careful about walking my dog on hot pavement, using the old tried-and-true “touch test” – placement of my hand on the pavement, hold for a few seconds – and if it’s too hot for me, it’s too hot for Rex. But I am sure that I have walked him on 77°, possibly even 87° days, without caution, thinking it was just a “nice day”. So glad I am looking into this and can share it with other dog owners. And I’m also very glad that Rex has not had his paws burned in the past, although he may have been uncomfortable at times.

Asphalt isn’t the only hot surface to avoid in the summer months. I remember the sliding board at the playground I played in as a child… I’m surprised we didn’t blister from contact! I don’t remember what the slide was made of, but it was so hot. Besides asphalt, there are a variety of surfaces used in parks, playgrounds and public areas that can really heat up: artificial grass, concrete, sand, and metal. As dog parents, and even human parents, what should we watch for, and how can we protect our sweet pup’s paws from coming in contact with dangerously hot surfaces?

Artificial grass

In one veterinary study, several common surfaces were tested for temperatures. Among these surfaces were asphalt, artificial grass, and concrete. And guess which one resulted in the hottest surface? Artificial grass! Can you believe it? And I know what you’re thinking – Holiday Barn Pet Resorts uses artificial grass in their play-yards! Yes, we do. Allow me to explain…

There are a lot of different turf manufacturers. Some are indeed very hot, but there are other brands that are about 40% cooler, even cooler than pavement. The key to cooler artificial grass surfaces is in correct installation and keeping the turf sprayed with water during hotter times of the day. At Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, we temperature test the turf areas before each play session by touch. If needed, we spray the turf down with water which quickly cools the surface for about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the time of day.

Many times, artificial turf is improperly installed directly over concrete, rubber, or pavement, resulting in a hotter surface temperature. It’s a quick fix used to beautify many public places. Properly installed turf requires systematic preparation of the ground beneath, installation by an experienced crew, and a superior product overtop.

At Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, we were resolute in finding the very best product for our guests. Not only is it cooler than many turf brands, but it is so much healthier than grass, mulch, gravel, or other possible play surfaces.

Concrete or Cement

Concrete pavement is pretty high up in terms of heat retention. It is most commonly used on pool decks, boardwalks, neighborhood sidewalks, and public seating. Although somewhat cooler than asphalt in full sun, it can still put a hurtin’ on tender paws. Darker (usually older) concrete absorbs and retains more heat than newer, clean “white” concrete. We should limit our dog’s contact with concrete surfaces, just as we would with asphalt. Use the touch test if you’re not sure.

When it comes to concrete and sand, it’s simple science: The lighter surfaces reflect the sun, and the darker surfaces absorb the sun. It’s like the difference between wearing a white shirt or a black shirt on a hot day… You’ll feel much cooler in the white/lighter colored shirt. The black shirt will soak up all the heat.

Sand

I was visiting a dog-friendly beach recently and was surprised at how many people walk their dog through the sand, complaining about how hot it is on their feet, but never considering how the little guy feels at the end of the leash.

If you have ever walked on the beach in the heat of the day, you know that sand can get hot. Really hot. The sand we are accustomed to seeing along the east coast of the United States is mostly dark. In some areas of the country, sand is lighter in color – almost white. Walking in dry, darker sand at Virginia Beach or the Outer Banks can feel like walking on coals. The lighter sand will be much cooler on you and your dog’s feet – no flip flops required.

Dogs love going to the beach, and it’s up to us to protect their paws. Chances are they will be having so much fun playing that they won’t notice the pain until later on when their pads are red and blistering. It’s kind of like when we get a sunburn… we don’t even notice that we’ve had too much sun until that evening when we turn fire-engine red. I would hate for my dog to suffer the pain of sunburn and blistering.

Metal

I’m surprised that so many park and playground equipment is still made of metal. Surely it’s because of its strength and durability, but metal can get incredibly hot. If the outside air is 77°, metal can get up to 248° in direct sun! Most metal playground equipment is now heat-coated to help regulate surface temperatures, but prolonged exposure can still be hot enough to render second-degree burns on tender feet and hands, as well as blistering and pain on paw pads.

The ASTM, the American Society for Testing and Materials, who published the Standard Guide for Heated Surface Conditions that Produce Contact Burn Injuries (yeah, I didn’t know there was such a thing either), recommends that surface temperatures – regardless of the material – remain at or below 140°. The reason for this is that the average person can touch a 140°F surface for up to five seconds without sustaining irreversible burn damage. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t feel pain at lower temperatures. In fact, this same study states that a human will experience severe to maximum pain at temperatures between 120°€ and 140°. I would say this is a good guideline for dogs too.

Paw Pads

Dog paw pads appear to be tough as leather, but maybe they’re not so tough. They are actually a lot like the soles of our feet in that they are covered by the epidermis, the outer layer of skin. A dog’s epidermis is very thick. Underneath the epidermis is fatty tissue. The fatty tissue acts as an insulator, helping the paws stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. But they are certainly not indestructible, and dog paw heat tolerance is not unlimited.

Dogs who are outside a lot – walking and running on different surfaces – tend to toughen up their paw pads over time. Dogs that spend most of their time indoors will have softer, more sensitive pads, and may find a 77° day to be particularly warm on the tootsies. Dogs with tough, calloused pads will probably not even notice at first, but if contact is prolonged, it’s going to get uncomfortable. Despite their condition, when a dog’s pad is injured, it is really painful.

Back to Olaf…

The amazing thing about Olaf, the dog from the USA Today article, is that he didn’t show any signs of pain. He wasn’t whining or limping. That’s so typical. My guess is he was happily bouncing around as dogs do while enjoying his walk. As long as it’s a good time, most dogs will just ignore the pain until it’s too late. The Vet said that Olaf is “one tough cookie”. We hope he’s feeling much better now.

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