By Charlie Powell, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine
PULLMAN, Wash. – Temperatures nearing or surpassing the century mark in the Inland Northwest this week prompts the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine to issue a hot pavement advisory for pets.
“Rarely do dog owners in the Inland Northwest need to be concerned about walking their pets on hot asphalt,” explains Dr. Raelynn Farnsworth, head of the WSU veterinary teaching hospital’s Community Practice Service. “But even in relatively mild temperatures, burns to a pet’s pads can result if forced to walk on the hot surface.”
86 degrees becomes 135 on asphalt
In the absence of any wind and in direct sunlight, asphalt surfaces can reach 125 degrees, when the air temperature is only 77 degrees, according to Dr. James Berens work on thermal contact burns published in 1970 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. At 86 degrees, the asphalt temperature jumps to 135 degrees and at 87 degrees, only one degree more, the asphalt temperature rises to 143 degrees.
Hot enough to fry an egg? We’ve all heard the old adage but what temperature does it take to actually fry an egg in say 5 minutes? The answer is, an egg will fry on a 131 degree surface in only five minutes. And human skin destruction can occur in only 60 seconds on black pavement at a mere 125 degrees.
“One thing pet owners can do is to press the back of their hand against pavement,” explained Farnsworth. “If you can’t hold it there for a full seven seconds it’s too hot for a pet’s paws.”
Burns in 35 seconds
First responders in human medicine can see thermal burns resulting from contact with hot pavement and they are trained to protect patients from the hazard. Work published in 1995 by physicians and first responders in Maricopa County, Ariz., noted that pavement there in the summer months typically was hot enough 9 a.m.-7 p.m. to burn flesh. The study also noted that second-degree burns could result on most days, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., within 35 seconds of pavement contact.
“The good news is, unless incapacitated or restrained in some way so they cannot escape high surface temperatures, most pets pain response will not let them stay on a hot surface,” said Farnsworth. “So the key to not getting a pet’s paws burned is application of good common sense and situational awareness.”
Avoid tethering and truck beds
In addition, pets should never be tethered on hot pavement or in the back of a pickup truck where the metal surface can burn. Let the pet find shade and walk on grassy surfaces; follow their lead.
If it’s not convenient to walk a pet on grass or soil, consider changing the walking time to early morning or late in the evening. And never walk a pet on any surface where hot tar may cling to their paws.
“Pets with pad burns will typically limp or flat out refuse to walk and it takes time after the burn for the lesions to develop,” said Farnsworth. “The top layer of the skin will look like it is blistering and wanting to peel off, or it might already be absent entirely. And pets with burned pads will often lick their paws incessantly which can make the problem worse.”
Farnsworth suggests that pets with suspected burns should always be seen by your family veterinarian as soon as possible. Care will usually involve supportive care including pain medication and cleaning and dressing wounds, plus an Elizabethan collar to suppress any licking.
Charlie Powell, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, public information officer, call or text 509-595-2017, or firstname.lastname@example.org