When the weather is chilly and a fresh layer of snow decorates the world outside, it can be tough to resist taking your dog for a brisk walk. While exercise throughout winter is critical for your dog’s health and happiness, there are a few more outdoor dangers pet owners need to be aware of.
One of the biggest risks of walking your dog outdoors in the winter season is paw injuries—specially, chemical burns related to salt. We humans love these seemingly-harmless rock salts or deicers because they prevent us from slipping on ice on our driveways and sidewalks. However, these substances are scattered just about everywhere and can cause our dogs harm.
What’s wrong with salt?
Salt and deicing products contain chemicals that help ice melt quickly. Unfortunately, these chemicals can wreak havoc on the skin—and your dog is in constant contact with them during your daily winter walks.
Your dog may develop chemical burns on its paw pads if it stays in contact with salt and ice for too long, which can lead to damage to the paws, severe pain and limping. In the mildest of situations, contact with rock salt might cause skin irritation and slight pain. In the most severe cases, chemical burns can leave the paws blistering or with open wounds that could later be infected.
Things can get even worse if your dog is already experiencing paw problems due to the cold and dry winter air. Many dog’s paws become cracked and dry mid-winter, and walking on salt can cause excruciating pain—it is literally rubbing salt in your dog’s wounds!
Another concern with rock salt is making sure your dog doesn’t get any salt stuck between its toes. This can be very uncomfortable for your dog at first and may even lead to severe pain if the chemicals in the salt cause burns.
Finally, rock salt poses a threat internally, as well. Lots of dogs lick their paws after coming in contact with the salt, either because they like the taste or to soothe painful paw pads. However, ingestion of the chemicals in deicers can be toxic. Allowing your dog to lick its paws after it comes into contact with salt can cause health problems like gastrointestinal upset and even seizures.
Ways to avoid salt on winter walks
Although it seems like salt is everywhere during winter, there are many ways you can help your dog avoid coming into contact with salt and deicers to protect its paws.
- Stay off the sidewalk: While you may be able to walk on the sidewalk unscathed, encourage your dog to stay off of it and walk on the grass or snow, instead. Hopefully, you can minimize contact by just doing this.
- Paw protection: Get your pup some doggy socks or booties that will protect its feet all winter long. Make sure they are sized properly so your dog feels comfortable and can walk properly. It may also need some time to get used to the booties, so let it walk around the house in them before heading outside.
- Bring a towel on walks: Sometimes, avoidance can only go so far, and your dog ends up running through patches of salt. Having a towel on-hand during your walk allows you to wipe off your dog’s feet immediately.
- Wipe paws down at home: After returning from a winter walk, always soak your dog’s feet in warm water and wipe them off with a wash cloth to remove any traces of salt or deicing chemicals. This can protect your dog from licking residue off its paws later and getting sick. It also lets you check between the toes for salt remnants.
- Use pet-safe deicing products: One of the places your dog walks the most is around your house, so make sure you’re using safe deicing products on your property. Kitty litter and sand are effective and easily obtained alternatives, but some companies also sell pet-safe products.
Helping painful paws heal
If your dog appears to be in pain following a walk, it probably came into contact with some ice and salt and is suffering from skin irritation. Try bathing your pet or soaking its paws in warm water to remove any residue and calm the painful, inflamed skin as much as possible.
After a soak, apply some natural paw pad cream that will help heal cracked or damaged paws and soothe pain. This should be applied daily until the paws heal.
If you notice your dog has open sores or blisters from chemical burns on its paws, make an appointment with your veterinarian. The burns should be examined and treated by a professional to ensure fast healing and to mitigate infections.