While dogs in some parts of the country relish frolicking in newly fallen snow, others prefer relaxing on the fireplace hearth — or next to the nearest furnace vent — waiting for spring to return. Regardless of your dog’s preferences, the combination of winter’s cold temperatures, dry air, snow and ice can take a toll on your best friend’s skin and feet.
You can reduce and even prevent winter weather-related paw pad injuries by following some basic paw care tips and using products designed to protect paws. Your canine companion will appreciate the PAWdicare!
The dangers of de-icers
The snow- and ice-melting products used on sidewalks, driveways and roads are among the biggest threats to your dog’s paw pads. The primary ingredients of de-icers include sodium chloride (rock salt), magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, calcium salts (calcium carbonate, calcium magnesium acetate and calcium chloride) and urea. Prolonged contact with these products can dry, chap or irritate paw pads and even cause chemical burns.
Ice-melting products aren’t just a threat to feet — if your dog licks his or her paws or gets into a container of de-icer, the ingestion may lead to digestive system upset such as drooling, vomiting or diarrhea. If your dog eats a large amount of a de-icer, poisoning can occur, with signs ranging from bloody vomit and diarrhea to increased heart rate, body temperature and worse.
Pet-safe de-icers are available for use on your own driveway and sidewalk. Sand and non-clumping kitty litter are also options for providing traction on icy walks and drives and reducing irritation to your pup’s paws.
To prevent your dog from ingesting de-icer and to reduce irritation to his or her paw pads, wipe off their paws with a warm, damp washcloth or towel immediately after coming in from the cold. Be sure to wait for your dog’s paws to dry before letting him or her go outside again.
Snowballs are fun and icicles are pretty…
…unless those snowballs and icicles have formed between your dog’s toes and paw pads. A common cause of sore paws, the snow that collects between the toes and paw pads of dogs with furry feet can cause pain and irritation. You can help your dog by removing snowballs periodically during your walk — before they become icy — and by keeping the hair between pads short and neatly trimmed during the winter.
Good grooming for healthy winter paws
Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed is important all year round to avoid poor footing on hard-surface floors and to reduce the risk of a torn nail. Long nails also force the paw to spread out, making it more likely for snow and ice to build up between the paw pads during winter months.
If your dog has long hair around his or her paws and feathering on their lower legs, trim the hair around the paws so it’s even with the pads. This can help keep snow and ice balls from forming between toes and pads.
Protecting paw pads during winter weather
Several products are available to help protect your dog’s paw pads during snowy, wintry weather.
Musher’s Secret is a popular protective paw wax that was originally developed for sled dogs. Natural and nontoxic, the wax is applied to paw pads before a walk to create a semipermeable barrier between your dog’s paw and salty sidewalks. It wears away after extended exercise and will need to be reapplied before each walk.
Bag Balm, a moisture-rich salve available at nearly every pharmacy and some pet stores, can be applied to your dog’s paw pads to help keep them from drying and cracking. It can be applied in a thin layer every day or every other day, including before and after wintry walks.
More than just a fashion statement
The best protection for your dog’s paw pads — if he or she will wear them — are waterproof dog booties. Dog boots are made by a wide variety of manufacturers, come in several different styles and colors, and can be found online and in pet stores. Booties help protect paws by keeping them dry, limiting exposure to de-icers, providing added traction, and preventing injuries from sharp ice- or snow-covered objects.
Dogs tend to not like wearing boots at first, so you’ll want to get your dog accustomed to wearing them. You can start by having your dog wear them for short periods of time in the house. Treats and plenty of praise can help, especially if your dog is food-motivated. Gradually increase the length of time your dog wears the booties as he or she gets used to them.