By Tracie Korol
Next time you take a trip to a big box store in the middle of the day, park on the far end of the parking lot. Slip off your flip-flops and walk to the store. Chances are you won’t get too far before you slip your sandals right back on, or dance quickly over to a grassy area.
Because asphalt is black it absorbs rather than reflects the heat from the sun. In fact, a study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine noted that 35 seconds of exposure, from 10 am to 5 pm, to hot asphalt pavement could result in second-degree burns to the exposed area. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that on sunny summer days, the temperature of pavement can easily reach 300 degrees. For a dog forced to barefoot it over such a surface, the result can be painfully burned paw pads.
Or, take off your shoes and hop up into the back of your pick-up in the middle of the day. Chances are you won’t spend too much time up there, either. We prudently do not allow our toddlers to play on the metal slide at midday for fear of searing their little fannies, but we load our dogs into the bed of a pick-up to go for a ride. Can you even imagine how painful it is to stand on what is essentially a hot frying pan?
Notice, next time you attend one of the local festivals, how uncomfortable the attending dogs are as they wait patiently beside their humans. These dogs, while you may think are having a great time on an outing, are standing barefoot on hot pavement, sometimes for long periods of time. While a dog’s paws are the toughest part of his skin, they still need protection from heat, just like yours do.
A day at the beach is not much fun for your dog, either, especially if he is not inclined to get wet. Hot sand can scald paws. Even heading down the metal boat ramp for a family day at sea can fry Fido’s feet in minutes.
Unlike obvious wounds such as lacerations, foot infections (fungal, bacterial or foreign bodies—like stickers and thorns), burned pads may not be readily apparent to the eye. That’s why pup parents need to be on the lookout for blisters or redness on the pads. Also, suspect a burn if you notice missing parts of the pads or they seem dark in color. Your dog may try to compensate for the pain of a paw pad burn by limping, refusing to walk, or licking and chewing at his bottoms of his feet.
If you suspect your dog has a pad burn it is important to keep the area cool and clean. As soon as you notice the problem (limping along on the road, lifting paws in rotation, excessive licking), flush with cool water or a cool compress if available. Sacrifice your cup of beer at the festival, if necessary. Get your dog to a grassy area or if possible, carry him.
At first chance, examine your dog for signs of deeper burns, blisters and possibility of infection. Washing the feet with a gentle cleanser and keeping them clean is important. Bandaging can be difficult to do and to maintain (monitor and change often), but licking must be kept to a minimum, easier said than done. Some dogs will tolerate a sock for a few minutes but most dogs I know would rather chew off the sock and eat it. Lick deterrents (bitter sprays) may help reduce the damage caused by licking but many of my dog friends view the spray as a condiment.
Best advice is to be mindful of hot surfaces — asphalt and metal (i.e. boat dock, car or truck surfaces). Put yourself in his place just for a few minutes; how would your bare feet feel? Walk your dog on the cool, shady side of the street or in the grass. Schedule exercise for early or late in the day or after a good rain. And while it may look silly and your human friends may razz you, lay down a wet towel for your Best Friend to stand on when grassy areas are not available. Your Best Friend deserves to be treated as a best friend.