Winter is right around the corner, and for many dog owners, that means, so are ice and snow. Dogs have an amazing ability to withstand very low temperature in their feet. But that doesn’t mean that continuously walking on ice, snow and road salt won’t have an effect on their paws.
In preparation for the colder months, you should be aware of the hazards winter weather may pose to your pup’s paws and how you can help treat and prevent these problems.
Potential paw problems
Dogs don’t usually have a problem with feeling cold when walking on ice and snow. Experts say this is because a dog’s paws have intricate heat transfer systems that circulate blood and warm it within the feet. The paw pads are also made of a thick layer of fat, which also helps to insulate them from the cold.
However, the cold isn’t the only thing you need to worry about when it comes to your pup’s paws. Here are some of the most common winter-related paw issues.
- Dryness and cracking: Winter is notorious for sucking the moisture out of the air, leaving skin and hair dry and brittle. The same thing can happen to your dog, especially if it’s out in the cold often. Dry winter air, combined with walking on ice and snow, can severely dry out your pup’s paw pads. If it gets bad enough, dry paws can lead to cracking, which can make it very painful for your pooch to walk.
- Chemical burns: Most cities sprinkle coarse salt on the roads and sidewalks to prevent ice buildup. Unfortunately, while our shoes protect us from these painful crystals, our dogs don’t have that luxury. Salt and other chemical de-icing agents can severely irritate you dog’s paws and even cause chemical burns. These chemicals can also make your dog very sick if they ingest some.
- Frostbite: Despite having an anti-freezing internal mechanism, dogs can still get frostbite or suffer hypothermia if they are left outside for long enough. Standing on the wet ground while the temperatures are too low can be painful for your dog, at best, or fatal, at worst.
Preventing winter-related paw issues
Fortunately for pet owners living in snowy locations, preventing cold-weather-related paw pad injuries is easy. There are numerous products and techniques you can use to keep your pup’s paws fresh and healthy.
- Paw balm: Many pet stores sell variations of a paw balm or cream to apply to your pup’s paws before and after walks. These products are designed to keep your dog’s paws hydrated and soft, so they don’t get dry and crack. Some creams are even helpful in healing already cracked paw pads, too.
- Dog booties: Some dogs hate wearing booties, but others can get used to them if given time. If your dog’s feet are particularly sensitive to cold conditions, buying booties will protect its feet and keep them warm and dry all winter long.
- Warm towel: When you return home from a walk, dampen a towel with warm water and use it to wipe off your dog’s feet. The warmth of the towel can help warm up your pet while simultaneously removing the salt or other chemicals your pet may have picked up along the way. (And, a bonus for you is that your house will stay cleaner without dirty paws!)
- Walk smart: While it’s very important to continue to exercise your pooch throughout the winter months, you should be careful about when you choose to walk and for how long. Keep walks short and stick to areas that have limited ice and snow and either no ice or pet-safe de-icers on the ground.
Treating irritated or injured paws
If your dog starts to limp or whine while on a winter walk, check its paws to see if they are beginning to look dry, cracked or irritated. If so, take your pooch home and prepare to do some paw care.
- Rinse them in warm water: First, run a shallow bath of warm water and put your pooch in. Carefully rinse or wash each paw in the water to remove any salt, then pat dry gently.
- Apply a topical cream: Apply a topical cream designed to heal skin problems to the irritated paws. Repeat this step as necessary until the skin heals.
Your dog may need some extra attention if it has irritated or cracked paws, as walking will be quite difficult. When the paws do heal, and your dog is ready to go back outside, be careful and use the appropriate paw creams since the skin will already be dry.