We’ve all heard the horror stories. It’s high noon in a sunny place like California. Someone decides to take their dog for a walk, even though it’s hot outside. They walk for a while on hot pavement. The dog seems antsy, but the owner keeps going. When they get back, the dog doesn’t seem himself. The owner checks his paws, only to see that they’ve been burned by the hot asphalt.
Maybe you’ve had some variant of this cautionary tail emailed to you by a co-worker, or a concerned aunt. Maybe you’ve read about it in a frantic Twitter post or a clickbait article.
If you have a dog, though, I guarantee that you’ve heard it. You’ve probably also heard all kinds of rules of thumb for protecting your dog, from avoiding walks between 10am-2pm, standing on the pavement with your own bare feet for 30 seconds, putting the back of your hand on the asphalt, and the like.
So is it true? Is asphalt really hot enough to burn your dog?
Yes, it is.
How do I know? Through technology! A thermal camera is a special device that allows you to photograph heat. Just like how a camera takes in light and makes an image, a thermal camera takes in heat and makes a heat map of a scene, showing the exact temperature of everything in front of it. Thermal cameras yield not only psychedelic images, but very helpful information on anything where heat or cold is important.
Point a thermal camera at a sidewalk and a grassy area on a hot day, and it’s immediately obvious that there’s a huge contrast. Here’s an asphalt surface and a grassy median on a sunny day here in California, seen through a FLIR One Gen 3 thermal camera. Lighter colors are hotter; the asphalt looks like a glowing lake of lava!
How hot is the pavement, really? Luckily thermal cameras can answer that question, too. In this case, the pavement was 150.7 degrees F. That’s scalding hot!
The grassy area, on the other hand, was a much nicer 99.2 degrees--just about body temperature.
So what’s a dog owner to do? The AKC recommends walking your dog on grassy surfaces (your neighbor’s lawn?) on hot days, while Banfield pet hospitals recommend “investing in a pair of booties", which might protect your dog, and will almost certainly make them look adorable.