Does Your Dog Need Shoes?

I know it sounds frivolous to some people but sometimes dogs truly do need shoes.  While their paws can build up a tolerance over time to varied surfaces and become a little tougher just as our feet can, the pads of a dog’s paws are essentially as sensitive as the soles of our feet, and can be as susceptible to injury from hot, cold, icy, or rough surfaces.  And a dog will never build up a “tolerance” to chemicals such as antifreeze.


Asphalt essentially bakes in the sun. It soaks up the heat all day then holds onto it for hours after the sun goes down. The same is true for pavement, wood, metal, and concrete. So when the air temperature is a balmy 77 degrees, on a sunny day asphalt has been measured at 125 degrees, and skin destruction can start in as little as 60 seconds. If the air temp is 87, asphalt can get up to 143 degrees. One study has shown that 1 minute of contact at 140 degrees can cause burns, permanent damage, and scarring. That’s 60 seconds on a surface that’s too hot, and your dog could have very serious burns on its feet. That’s truly a sobering thought.  And imagine how easy it could be to stop on the street and exchange pleasantries with a neighbor in that amount of time.

Left to its own devices, a dog wouldn’t just stand or stroll on a super hot surface, but if you are taking him for a walk round the neighborhood on a leash, that’s another matter. How do you get a handle on how hot that asphalt or pavement is? One test is that if you can’t hold the back of your hand on the ground for more than 7 or 8 seconds, then it’s too hot. But frankly it’s not always easy for some of us to do that, so sometime I simply take my shoe off and test the temperature with my own foot – if it’s too hot for me, it’s too hot for my dog.

So if you think all is well to take Fido out for a barefoot stroll at dusk when it’s cooled down to a comfortable 77 degrees, please check that sidewalk or street before you set out.


In the winter, shoes protect from more than surface temperature. Dogs’ paws have adapted to withstand cold surfaces to some degree (no pun intended).  Tissue and fat are freeze-resistant, and the veins in a dog’s paws run parallel to the arteries, so warm blood from the heart is circulated next to the veins, warming the blood which then goes back to the heart. Pretty cool system, huh? (Again, no pun intended.)

But in the cold weather there are other concerns for little paws besides simply temperature. It can be difficult for any of us to gain traction on icy surfaces, be it street, sidewalk, or steps. Slipping and sliding around on ice could cause things like muscle strain or aggravate arthritis. Pads can get dry and cracked. Ice balls can form from water or snow between the pads and toes, and can be uncomfortable and potentially lead to ice burns.

De-icers, such as salt and grit for roads, pose a danger, as do antifreeze and other de-icers for cars. Antifreeze is toxic and deadly to animals but tastes sweet enough for a dog to lick it off its paw. Salt and grit contain chemicals that can cause burns with prolonged contact, as well as simply being uncomfortable to walk on.


Dogs in shoes in snow in Alaska
Photo by Frank Kovalchek via flickr


I know, I know, “stuff on the ground” isn’t very specific or technical sounding. This “stuff” would be things like rocks, pebbles, pieces of glass, beer bottle caps, soda can tabs, burs, sticky gum, greasy taco wrappers, even spit (yes, gross, gross, GROSS!), used tissues (more gross), and general litter and trash. Some pretty nasty stuff if you ask me.

To shoe or not to shoe … that is the question. Whether or not your dog needs shoes depends on many factors. Size, overall health, breed, thickness of fur, terrain, how much time they spend outdoors, the current weather, all come into play here. Just don’t assume that any dog is fine at any time in any weather simply because they are dogs. A 10-year-old Chihuahua who has spent her life indoors is worlds away from a 5-year-old Saint Bernard who has spent many a winter day frolicking in the snow.

So keep these things in mind, use common sense, and perhaps err on the side of caution.

And maybe fashion.

Because black goes with everything and cute is always in style.

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