What to Know About Burned Dog Paws

gloved hand holding dog paw at the vet

During the summer it is extremely important to be aware of hot surfaces that your dog walks on. Your dog’s foot pads are sensitive to heat and need to be cared for. Here’s what to know about burned dog paws:

What Are Paw Pads?

Paw pads are the skin on the bottom of a dog’s foot. These pads help distribute pressure and assist dogs in walking, jumping, and running. These paw pads also offer a protective barrier between the foot and the ground. Footpads can get wear and tear, especially in harsh weather as well as new or unfamiliar terrain.

What is a Paw Burn?

A paw burn refers to an injury to the paw pad. Similar to burns in humans, paw burns can be superficial or may include damage to the underlying structure of the paw pad in more severe burns.

Heat is the most common cause of paw pad burns. Chemicals as well as friction against rouch surfaces can also cause burned dog paws. Similar to the scale doctors use to categorize burn injuries in humans, paw pad burns are also graded by how severe they are. Paw burns are graded as first, second, third, or fourth-degree burns:

  1. First-Degree Burn: a superficial burn that only affects the outer skin.
  2. Second-Degree Burn: a deeper burn that affects more layers of the skin, but does not extend through all layers.
  3. Third-Degree Burn: burns that are categorized as full-thickness damage; damage reaches through all the layers of the skin.
  4. Fourth-Degree Burn: the most serious type of burn. Fourth-degree burns occur when all the skin is damaged and the burn may have also injured the underlying muscle and/or bone.

What Causes Paw Pad Burns?

There are a few different causes of paw pad burns. In some extreme cases, some dogs may experience burns from a few different causes.

1. Thermal Burns

Thermal burns will occur if the paw pads come into contact with something hot enough to injure the skin. A burn may occur depending on the temperature and the length of contact. This can also affect the severity of the paw burn.

Injuries can occur with only seconds of contact with surfaces at 158 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Less than a minute will cause injuries at these temperatures. However, it’s important to know that 158 degrees Fahrenheit is not a cut-off. If contact with a surface is long enough, temperatures as low as 111 degrees Fahrenheit can cause burns, especially on sensitive dog paws.

Hot surfaces that reach these temperatures can cause a burn of your dog’s paw pads. If you walk your dog on asphalt, be aware that even on a 77-degree Fahrenheit day, the pavement can reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Other surfaces like concrete may not hold heat as much as pavement, but they still get hot and can cause injury.

Make sure you’re aware of those hot surfaces when walking your dog. When walking your dog, try to avoid taking them out during the hottest parts of the day. The morning and the evening are usually a little bit cooler and surfaces aren’t as hot. Avoiding the hottest times of day is an important sun protection tip for your dog, but you still need to check surfaces at any time to make sure it’s safe for your dog.

If you have to go out when it’s hot, try to avoid walking on the pavement. If this isn’t possible and the surface is quite hot, protect your dog’s paws with booties. Protecting your dog’s paws from the sun is an important summer safety tip for dogs to implement in your summer routine.

Thermal burns can also be caused by contact with fire, or recently burned items even if the fire has been extinguished, like burnt grounds from wildfires or a house fire that are still hot or hot coals or ashes from a fireplace, campfire, or grill.

Hot stoves, radiators, electric heating pads, and space heaters can also cause thermal burns. This is one of the reasons why making sure your dog cannot get too close to heaters is one of the winter safety tips for dogs.

2. Chemical Burns

Chemical burns can be a cause of paw pad burns. In these cases, the burn to the paw pads is caused by contact with a caustic chemical. These types of burns can cause similar tissue damage to those caused by thermal burns. Usually, these occur due to a dog stepping in caustic, harsh chemicals. Often, these chemicals are liquid, but not always.

The most common caustic chemicals include bleach, acids, paint thinner, and drain cleaner. Silica gel, gasoline, and liquid cement can also cause chemical burns. In most cases, you don’t have to worry that snow and ice melt mixes will burn your dog’s paws.

In most cases, these may cause minor paw irritation, but should not cause burns. It’s still important to avoid the area unless you’re certain the formula is safe for their pads or make sure they are equipped with rugged dog boots to protect their paws.

3. Friction Burns

When a friction burn occurs on paw pads, it’s the result of repeated, consistent, and rough motion against the skin usually against rough surfaces. This can lead to a similar kind of injury to the paw pad’s skin and underlying tissue as other types of burns.

Friction burns may occur when dogs play intensely on concrete, rough asphalt, rugged terrain, or other rough surfaces and do not have paw protection. Games and activities where they are running at full speed on rough surfaces and then repeatedly stopping short can create abrasions.

In some cases, it can cause enough friction that scrapes their paw pads enough to injure them in a similar way to burns. If their paw pads are already dry or cracked, rough surfaces are more likely to cause further damage.

How Are Burned Dog Paws Diagnosed?

If you notice your dog has any sensitivity to their paw or a refusal to put weight on their foot, they might have a burned dog paw. It might also be why dogs lick their paws and you should get them checked out.

Initial Examination

Vets will examine the affected paw pad to determine the severity and extent of the burn as well as your dog’s whole body to determine if there are any other injuries. This may be a fairly straightforward process if the injury is immediate and the clear cause can be traced to a hot surface, a dangerous chemical, or a friction injury. However, the cause is not always as obvious. Paw pad burns can also develop slowly over a few days without a known cause.

Ruling Out Other Causes

There are a few injuries that can resemble burns including some infections. Some underlying conditions, like autoimmune diseases and some cancers, can cause lesions or injuries similar to the damage caused by burns.

If the paw pad burn cannot be traced to an obvious cause, your veterinarian might want to take a biopsy of the skin. A biopsy is when a tiny sample of skin is taken and the cells are evaluated under a microscope.

Although a common way to diagnose or rule out skin cancer, that is not all they are used for. Biopsies also provide other useful information about the skin and the wound. Seeing what is in and under the skin that could be causing damage helps determine the cause of the wound.

Further Testing

Should your vet see anything else that is suspicious or could be a sign of illness or another injury, they may recommend further testing. This is particularly true if they suspect any potential damage to internal organs.

This is a common next step and is essential if the burns were sustained in a fire. Bloodwork and X-rays can help check for smoke inhalation and other complications common to fire exposure.

This is just an overview of what to know about burned dog paws. If you suspect your dog has a paw injury, be sure to schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. Quick treatment can make a big difference!