Walking your dog is an inevitable and often enjoyable part of pet ownership regardless of the weather. While necessary, many dog owners do not understand the risks associated with walking their furriest friends.
Still, scorching sidewalks in summer and freezing roads in the winter can and will burn the pads of their feet, which can be painful, uncomfortable, and may cause permanent damage if left untreated.
Several products exist to treat paw burns, but the best measure pet owners can take to ensure healthy paws is prevention. Understanding when and where it’s safe to walk your dog is key to keeping them safe, as is treating an injury should it occur. Ensuring exposure to rough terrain early in life and recognizing when treatment is needed are the best ways to keep your canine companion comfortable.
Preventing Paw Burns in the Summer Heat
While many dog owners love to bring their pups everywhere with them, especially in warm weather, it’s essential to understand when pavement, sidewalks, and concrete may be harmful to their feet.
A good rule of thumb is to press your own hands against the pavement. If it’s too hot to leave them comfortably on the surface for more than seven seconds, it is too hot for your dog.
Walking your dog during the early morning or evening is recommended to prevent pad burns in hot weather. If you have to walk your pup during the day, ensuring they remain in shaded areas or on the grass is an acceptable alternative. If this is not an option, or if these areas are not available, equipping your dog with booties can keep their sensitive pads safe from potentially painful burns.
Incremental exposure to rough surfaces from an early age can build make your pup’s pads tougher over time. Frequent hikes, walks on asphalt, and ensuring that they’re running on more than just grass, will create a calloused pad that is more capable of withstanding tougher terrain. An older dog who is not exposed to harsh surfaces may be more vulnerable to pad burns, tears, and tenderness.
Identifying Paw Burns
Some dog pads are more sensitive than others, particularly if they haven’t been exposed to rough terrain or have spent most of their time on grass or other soft surfaces. Recognizing when their pads suffer damage due to heat is crucial to treatment and recovery. Paw burns are an uncomfortable nuisance and can prevent your dog from engaging in normal behaviors like walking, running, and playing.
The first signs of burned pads may be behavioral, so take note if your dog is limping, whimpering, or refusing to walk. You may also notice they lick and chew their feet more than usual. Examining their pads may reveal increased redness or other changes to pad color, blisters, or bleeding. Should you discover any of these signs, you may need to provide first aid treatment immediately.
Severe burns may be immediately noticeable, as your pet will cry out in pain or alert you to their distress. Previously unnoticed redness can turn into blisters that rupture.
In these cases, the top protective layer of the pad may have separated from the paw. Burns that are visible to the naked eye or cause extreme discomfort should be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian.
Treating Paw Burns
You can usually treat paw burns at home. However, you should consult your veterinarian or local animal hospital for extreme or chronic cases or if your dog suffers from allergies to medications. Severe pad burns can result in tissue damage and should be treated professionally. All pet owners should familiarize themselves with basic dog first aid, including paw injury treatments, to maintain optimum health.
You can treat mild paw burns caused by hot surfaces by soaking their feet in room temperature water. Running their feet under tepid water for a few minutes can also provide temporary relief. You should apply antibiotic ointments that contain sulfodene, such as Neosporin, to the burned pad before bandaging to prevent infection. Ensure you are not wrapping the bandage too tightly so as not to exacerbate the injury.
Chemical burns require different treatments. Run the injured pad under lukewarm water to flush the wound and use a mild soap on the infected area, rinsing thoroughly. Be sure to wear protective gloves, as chemicals that can damage the pads can also pose a potential risk to human skin. If the burn is severe, or if you believe your dog may have ingested the harmful chemical, contact your veterinarian.
Paw Pad Hygiene
Most dog owners can take care of essential grooming needs such as bathing, brushing, washing, nail trims, and tooth care, but many forget their tender paw pads. Checking your furry friend’s paws regularly for swelling or discoloration can ensure continued comfort and health, as injuries or foreign objects can cause distress. Items like pebbles, burrs, bits of glass, foxtails, or slivers can cause lasting damage and prevent from comfortably walking.
Bacteria build-up on paws can accumulate over time and cause injury and infection. While most bacteria are harmless, one of the most common issues is the result of yeast build-up, causing what is known as Fritos feet, identifiable by the smell of corn chips emanating from their paws. Yeast infections in the paws are generally innocuous, but rinsing them thoroughly after walks and grooming can prevent this problem.
To thoroughly inspect the pads of your dog’s paws, you should carefully press the center of their feet to spread the toes. If there is any tenderness, your dog will express this through whimpering or pulling away. Any sign of distress during this process is an indication that you should bring your pup to your veterinarian for a professional examination.
Paw Pads in the Winter
While hot surfaces are a concern for paw burns, the winter months can also pose a problem for your dog’s pads. Snow, ice, and salt are all hazards you should look out for when walking your dog, and each poses a potential risk for paw hygiene. Exposure to extreme cold can cause paw pads to crack or dry out, much like chapped lips, and should be treated with paw balm.
Ice melt is a particular danger to pets, as none are completely safe for ingestion. To prevent your pup from licking their feet and ingesting the toxins, make it a habit to frequently clear the paws of ice build-up during walks and thoroughly wash them afterward. Products such as paw balms, soaps, and boots can help prevent these issues before they arise by keeping the ice melt from the pads’ skin.
The best way to ensure your pet’s safety and comfort is to educate yourself on the potential hazards and most effective treatments of painful paw pad burns. General first-aid training can provide comfort when walking them in extreme temperatures is unavoidable. Still, it is always best to take preventative measures to avoid painful burns in the first place.
Walking your dog in the morning or evening, applying soothing balms, rinsing their feet, and regularly examining their pads are the most effective ways to maintain paw pad hygiene. If severe burns do occur, immediately consult your veterinarian for further treatment.