A reader emailed this week saying they read a previous column on protecting a pet’s feet from the heat radiating from hot asphalt. They wanted to know if I had seen any other studies regarding concrete surfaces.

I have not seen any such studies per se. That doesn’t mean much though because so many factors figure into whether or not a surface will burn a pet’s feet.

Concrete is usually, but not always, lighter in color than asphalt. Typically, it should be cooler if all things are equal. Concrete colored to match décor will likely alter that.

I’ve seen lots of consumer and professional dog runs built on concrete pads. I have never seen one built on an asphalt pad. Again though, outdoor runs usually are also provided with some form of shade over them or they are placed to avoid direct sunlight.

What about other surfaces? Build a dog run’s floor out of, say, the newer recycled plastic deck materials? Such materials certainly hold heat energy that radiates from our sun, too. Different colors will be hotter to the touch than others.

“To the touch,” is the operative phrase here. For any surface, if one can’t hold the back of their hand on it for more than 5 seconds, it’s too hot for a pet’s feet. Sort of. Pets often are smarter than we give them credit for. They don’t want burned feet any more than you want them to have burned feet.

Growing up part of my life in Las Vegas, where it can easily hit more than 100 degrees, didn’t reveal any epidemic of burned pet feet. We kids ran around barefoot all the time. We just didn’t stand on hot things and neither do pets if given the choice.

Pets run quickly across hot asphalt. If there is a concrete curb nearby, they will choose it. If the curb abuts a lawn, even a xeriscaped desert yard, they typically choose that.

If an animal is tethered so it cannot seek a cooler surface, burns will happen. Similarly, if a person is unconscious lying on hot asphalt as a result of say, a motor vehicle accident, they will burn, too. If the tethered dog has a sleeping pad, maybe no burns result. If the human has on motorcycle leathers, maybe … you get the idea.

As much as I hate to write it, a lot of whether or not a pet can have burned foot pads when the air temperature outside reaches a certain level is answered with, “it depends.”

That answer is part of what makes some people get angry when appropriate science and medicine is communicated to them. Many don’t want “it depends,” and they don’t want to have to think about it or pay attention to anything perhaps beyond their primary concern at the moment. That disconnect then makes it easy to criticize the best science and medicine because those, “elitist eggheads couldn’t give me an answer; what the hell do we pay them for?”

We did give you an answer, just not the answer you wanted which would have been incomplete and inaccurate, not serving you or your pet well.

In science and medicine, especially when it comes to direct, real-world application, there are often very few hard and fast absolute answers that will satisfy many audiences, especially those that are emotionally worked up already.

Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email cpowell@vetmed.wsu.edu.

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