I love taking my pit bulls places to show off their good behavior. Lots of times, strangers ask, “can I pet your dog?” followed by “what kind of dog is this?” After receiving permission, they lose themselves in the gentle nature and soft, velvet ears of a real-life stuffed animal. That’s when I answer their second question to enhance the image of the breed: the dog that insists on trading your scratches for kisses is a pit bull. But taking my dog out in public means parking lots and pavement (and sometimes sand), and while I’m comfortable in my shoes or flip-flops, it is easy to forget that my pup is putting the skin of his paw-pads directly against the scolding hot surface of wherever we are. It begs the question: Just how sensitive are your dog’s paws? The answer…
As hardy and tough as our dogs are in many ways, their paws are sensitive by design. Their feet interpret stimulus from the ground, with each individual bone and nerve giving their brains feedback on their footing. It is what informs their agile movement and activates the remainder of the muscle chains to cut, quick-start or turn on a dime. Their paws are where the rubber meets the road, but the “road” that paws are meant for are not asphalt or concrete. Dogs evolved from wolves that mostly traversed grasslands or plains. Even in the warmest temperatures, these surfaces don’t retain heat like a parking lot. Many things have changed with the evolutionary process, but sensitive paws remain because it is necessary to survive.
NAVIGATING SUMMER VACATION WITH SENSITIVE PAWS
So sensitivity in dog paws is unavoidable and in fact necessary (and good in healthy dogs!). That means all we can do is be aware of where we are asking our dogs to go with us. Your dog will likely walk on hot surfaces without complaint, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t in pain or discomfort; he could be going through hell. You might even notice him limping or licking his paws later, which is him attempting to perform first aid on first or second-degree burns. This doesn’t have to mean leaving your dog at home in the summer. Afterall, life is all about spending as much time with your dog as possible. So what is there to do?
CARRYING YOUR DOG TO AVOID HOT SURFACES
While traveling, after parking your car, be sure to test the surface of the parking lot before letting your dog walk on it. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t hold the palm of your bare hand to a parking lot surface for longer than 5 seconds without it feeling like a hot frying pan, it is too hot for your dog’s paws. At the beach, if you can walk on the sand in bare feet with no pain, its ok for your dog,too. If not, it is best to pick-up and carry your dog to the nearest grass, shaded area, or wet sand. You might get some strange looks for this, but that is better than scalding the skin on your dog’s paws. Something tells me that if you’re reading this, you don’t really care what other people think of you anyway.
PROTECTING THE PAWS
For times when you just can’t avoid hot surfaces, there are plenty of booties or shoe-like wraps available to protect your dog’s paws. These are especially good on the beach because even if the sand is cool, sand and sharp seashell shards (say that ten times fast) can still get caught in between the pads and irritate them. It also makes for a cleaner car and house because all you have to do is take them off when you’re done. However, it is important to remember that paws are a huge part of how dogs cool themselves off. So suffocating the paws should only be for a moment, or else you risk overheating your dog.
BUILDING UP THE PAWS
Similar to getting tan after repeated exposure to the sun, it is possible to develop protective calluses on your dog’s paws by slowly introducing the paws to warm (not hot) surfaces over time. Also similar to a tan, getting sunburn is not the preferred way to do that. If your dog only ever walks in the grass, the early morning is a good time to start leash-walking him to encourage the skin on the paws to thicken a bit. The surface of concrete or asphalt in the shade will be warm and rough, but not so hot as to burn the skin. Doing this doesn’t make your dog’s paws immune to summer-scorched, sun-soaked blacktops, but it will make your dog more comfortable on warm surfaces over time.
FIRST AID FOR BURNT PAWS
Despite your efforts to avoid hot surfaces, sometimes your dog has their own agenda. If you find yourself reacting to your dog walking on a surface that is way too hot, there are a couple things you can do. It might seem obvious, but the first thing is avoiding hot surfaces in the future. Beside that, it is important to cool off the paw pads as quickly as possible. Soak the paws in cool (not cold) water. Stand them in the bathtub, a pool, wet sand, whatever works. Water cools skin way faster than air.
Although you can try to apply salve, your dog will probably lick it off right away (then you have a stomach issue on your hands, too). Most salves are strong-scented, which means assaulting for our pets with stronger noses than us. Even non-scented salves or ointments are probably just doing to end up as paw prints on your floor. For those reasons, just letting your dog lick his paws is to be encouraged, because it massages the skin and encourages bloodflow to repair the tissue they damaged on the hot surface. Other than that, it’s a waiting game until he feels better.
Overall, like most of our advice, protecting your dog’s paws from damage involves spending time with them and putting yourself in their paws. If its too hot for your bare feet, its too hot for theirs!