You might look at your phone to see what the air temperature is before you head out on a walk with your dog, but air temperature is not a good indicator of surface temperature. What seems like a nice comfortable stroll, might actually be agonizing for you dog.
Sidewalks, asphalt, sand and dirt all heat up significantly as the sun pounds down on them. Most especially asphalt, which unfortunately many walking paths are made of.
In the fall, winter and early spring, it can nice to have the ground a little warmer than the air, but in the summer, it can be a recipe for disaster. Time of day makes a difference in ground temperature. Late in the afternoon, the ground is much warmer than first thing in the morning. Also, as we get deeper into summer, the ground holds all of the heat from previous days and never gets a chance to truly cool down, so it stays warm and gets warmer faster.
A Golden Retriever named Olaf was recently brought into Medical Lake Veterinary Hospital in Washington with paw burns so severe, raw muscle was exposed. The dog had been hiking for about a mile before his owner noticed bloody paw prints. The owner said Olaf wasn’t whining or limping so he didn’t realize anything was wrong.
When the ground temperature reaches approximately 125 degrees skin damage occurs. At 140 degrees, permanent damage and scarring can occur. At 150 degrees, there is rapid burns and blistering takes place.
Callused hands and larger dogs might be able to withstand slightly higher temperatures than children, the elderly, and those with sensitive skin, but it doesn’t take a lot to have real damage occur. Your dog may not show signs of pain or discomfort, but that doesn’t mean he is not being hurt by the hot ground surface.
Before heading out on a walk, place the back of your hand firmly against the ground for 7-8 seconds to sense how hot it is, or a more reliable method is to use an infrared thermometer.
It’s always best to go for a walk early in the morning or in the evening. If you need to go mid-day, walk on the sidewalk or the grass, and avoid pavement. You might also consider buying booties for your dog, if he will tolerate them. Or try using a non-toxic paw wax, like Musher’s Secret, which can offer some protection. But even if using paw wax or booties, if you can choose to walk at a cooler time of day, your dog will be most grateful, especially those whose bellies tend to hang a little lower to the ground. Heat rises and in addition to paw burns, your dog can overheat fast.