Summer heat and your dog: Safety first!

Summer heat and your dog: Safety first! - Vetster

Serious hazards can be easily overlooked

Pick up the leash and ask, “Want to go for a walk?” and you can count on receiving an enthusiastic response from your furry buddy. Our dogs’ enthusiasm for and dedication to accompanying us on outdoor excursions is truly admirable. Simply put, they love to hit the road. The last thing anyone wants is for your dog to have to literally walk through fire to be able to join you on a quick trip around the block on a summer day.

Summer is here and as temperatures rise, so do the number of hazards for our pets. As pet parents, we're usually wearing shoes so it's easy to forget that asphalt and pavement can quickly reach dangerous temperatures. Hot pavement can seriously injure the paw pads of our canine companions. Keep this in mind as the mercury rises in order to avoid unintentionally causing a painful burn on your pets’ feet.

How do paws get burned by pavement?

Viral videos of eggs frying on sidewalks abound. You can even participate in a YouTube challenge and compete with others attempting to master this culinary technique. But what does this mean for your dog when you want to go for a walk on a hot, sunny day? While you may have memories of a sizzling experience touching the hot surface of fresh black asphalt on a scorching day, you may be surprised to learn the weather doesn’t have to be extreme in order to burn your dog’s feet. At least one study has shown that on a relatively mild, sunny day with temps around 77℉ (25℃), the pavement can easily reach temperatures twice that during peak sunlight hours. As your dog’s feet continue to be in contact with the hot pavement over the course of your walk, they will start to literally cook, just like a fried egg. Burns happen more quickly as the air temperature goes up, so before you know it, your dog’s feet are burning even though it may still feel comfortable outside to you.

Studies on pavement burns in humans have shown that more than 88% of burns occur when the air temperature is over 95℉ (35℃). Most veterinarians recommend using extreme caution once the outside temperature reaches 85℉ (29℃). If temperatures where you live routinely get this high, make sure to pay attention to the thermometer before heading out. If your dog is more of an outdoors-only type, be sure he has cool places to lie down in the shade away from heat-capturing pavement, especially when the temperature is at or approaching this guideline.

Additionally, due to your dog’s delightful enthusiasm, you cannot count on your dog to let you know his feet are burning. When we humans touch something that’s burning hot, we pull away reflexively. Unfortunately, our dogs are not wired this way. Your furry friend may be so thoroughly excited about taking a walk that he doesn’t notice the problem until it’s too late. He also might just be so committed to the walk that he’ll carry on even though it hurts.

If you notice your dog is starting to show signs of discomfort in her paws, you’ll have to act fast to keep the burn from getting worse. Can you find a cool, grassy route home? Can you carry her the whole way? Do you have a water bottle with you that you can use to cool her feet? If not, is there a fountain or other water source nearby? These questions show how important it is to plan, prepare, and be aware so you can avoid serious burns on your pup’s footpads and the subsequent weeks of painful healing.

Choose when and where to walk wisely

The risk of burned paws goes up along with the temperature, which typically rises during the day and peaks around 3pm in most areas. Schedule your walks for early in the morning or late at night if you can. Keep in mind that the pavement retains heat even after the air temperature has started to drop, so mornings are usually better than evenings in really hot regions. Take a pro tip from creatures who live in the desert and venture out in the dark if you can. Plan your route so you can stay in shady areas and try to avoid paved surfaces entirely. Not everyone has the option to go to a dirt path in the shade along a creek, but do your best to minimize the need to cross hot pavement with your dog as much as possible.

Check the pavement with your hand

If pavement is unavoidable while you are out together, check it before forcing your dog to walk across it. Remember, you cannot count on her to refuse to go or even act like it hurts. Hold the back of your hand firmly against the surface of the pavement and slowly count to seven. Can you do it? Was it uncomfortable? If it’s too hot for you to leave the back of your hand in contact with the pavement for seven seconds, it’s too hot to force your dog to walk on it. Keep in mind that burns can happen in a matter of seconds, so you should always remember to check even when going out briefly for a quick pee break. Also don’t forget to check the pavement in parking lots if you brought your dog out on the town with you! Parking lots are highly exposed to the sun and it’s easy to forget to check the pavement in these locations when it’s not part of your regular routine.

If you’re out for a longer walk, keep reevaluating the situation. Use the back of your hand on the pavement every few minutes, and examine your dog’s feet to make sure they’re okay. The risk for developing a burn depends on two factors: the surface temperature of the pavement and the length of time your dog’s feet are exposed to the heat. Super hot temperatures can burn in no time, but cooler temperatures can still deliver a nasty burn if your dog is exposed to them over time.

If the pavement doesn’t pass the seven second test, don’t make your dog walk across it. Find an alternative in order to avoid injury.

Carry the right gear

If you’ve checked the pavement and it’s okay to proceed, make sure to carry a few extra items with your usual kit. Doing so will help you proactively manage changing conditions and reduce the risks of burned paws and other types of heat-related illness or injury. Carry plenty of water for you and your canine companion. In addition to helping you both stay hydrated, having extra water on hand can cool hot surfaces, feet, and bodies if needed.

If all of these precautions still aren’t enough to protect your pet from the dangers of hot pavement, you may want to train your dog to wear protective booties. Allow time for your dog to get used to the idea of wearing them, and make sure they’re designed to provide protection from hot surfaces (rather than winter boots, which are not the same).

If you find yourself heading out in the dark more often to escape the heat, look into the variety of reflective and LED vests that are available for you and your dog. These high-visibility products make it easy for cars and traffic to see you. There are also a variety of light-up collars, leashes, and harnesses available that can help you stand out in the early morning hours.

Heat stroke is no joke!

Burned paws aren’t the only hazard of being outdoors in the summer heat. Extreme heat can be dangerous just on its own. Dangerous heat waves are becoming more common, so become familiar with the best practices for keeping your dog safe during a heat wave. Dogs rely on panting to cool themselves down. Much like any other physical activity, your dog has limits and excessive panting can become challenging or even impossible when temperatures are extremely high. Just like us, dogs can develop heat cramps, heat stress, and life-threatening heat stroke if they’re out in hot weather for too long. Brachycephalic dogs and those who are unaccustomed to the heat are at the highest risk of heat stroke in the summer months. Staying inside where it’s cooler during peak hours and heading out to exercise when it’s cooler in the early morning or evening helps your pooch avoid other risks, not just burned feet.

If your dog seems just a little too hot, get him out of the sun and pour some water over him to help him cool down. His panting and reluctance to run and play should improve quickly. More serious signs of heat stroke include:

  • Relentless panting
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness.

If your dog is showing any of these symptoms, cool your dog down with water immediately and seek emergency veterinary care. Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency, so take action quickly. If your dog is showing minor symptoms of being overheated or signs of injured paws like limping, blisters, torn pads, or excessive licking, reach out to a veterinarian on Vetster. We’re available 24/7 to help you assess your pet’s situation and get a better understanding of what needs to be done next.

A quick note about hot cars

Imagine you’ve driven to your local pet superstore with your canine co-pilot. You’ve found a place to park, but when you step out of the car and check the pavement, you can’t stand to leave the back of your hand on it for more than a couple of seconds. What should you do? Put simply: GO HOME. It is critical to avoid the temptation to leave your dog in the car while you shop, even if you think it’s just going to be a quick trip. It only takes a few minutes for the temperature inside a vehicle to become dangerous. You might get distracted or experience some type of unexpected delay. A hot car is life threatening and you should never gamble with your pet’s life for your own convenience.

By adopting these strategies, you and your dog can adapt to the hot temperatures that summer brings. Stay aware and be prepared so you can avoid injuries from hot pavement and heat-associated illnesses. Plan ahead to minimize your exposure to hot temperatures and pavement so you can still get the exercise and fresh air you both need. For more hints on how to stay safe this summer, see these tips for protecting your dog during hot weather.

The Vetster Editorial Team is comprised of seasoned writers and communicators dedicated to elevating stories about Vetster, pets and their owners.

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