If you think it’s cold outside — your dog probably does, too.
Certain breeds, like Huskies and Malamutes, tolerate cold and snow much better than short-haired breeds, like Chihuahuas and Whippets. But even winter-adapted pups can still be at risk due to chemical or salt exposure.
So, whether your dog enjoys the cold and snow or not, most dogs can benefit from special gear and precautions in inclement weather.
SEE ALSO: Holiday Safety Tips for Pet Parents
What Happens to Dog Paws in Snow, Ice, and Salt?
Cold weather brings a few potential paw hazards, including:
- Dryness, chapping, and cracking: Cold temperatures and dry air can dry out paw pads. Additionally, de-icers can cause irritation or chemical burns, including salt burns on dog paws. This can be painful, and your pup may develop sores or infections, especially if they lick or chew their paws in response.
- Paw injuries: Stepping on salt crystals, rocks, or other sharp objects hidden under the snow can be painful and can even result in cuts.
- Frostbite: Just like humans, dogs’ feet and toes can develop frostbite if they get too cold.
- Poisonings: Toxic antifreeze, ice-melting agents, and de-icing salt on a pet’s paws could spell trouble. If your dog licks these substances off their feet, they could get an upset stomach. Or worse, they could suffer from a serious poisoning.
- Slips and falls: Slippery ice can result in trauma or injuries. Pets who have conditions like arthritis may have extra difficulty keeping their footing on slippery surfaces.
- Hypothermia: While this is more of a “whole body” issue rather than a paw issue, it’s important to remember that cold weather can have serious health consequences for pups.
Fortunately, a few sensible precautions can help you avoid any mishaps, and prevent wintertime health concerns.
How to Protect Your Dog’s Paws in Snow and Wintery Weather
When the temperature drops and sidewalks get slippery, here are ways can protect your pup’s precious paws:
- Keeps paw pads moisturized.
Slather your pup’s pads in dog paw wax or paw balm, such as Musher’s Secret, Bag Balm, or a beeswax based moisturizer, before hitting the streets for a winter walk (Tip: if you don’t have paw balm, petroleum jelly will do in a pinch). The moisturizing balm acts as a barrier to help keep out ice and harmful chemicals.
You can also use paw balm to soothe and moisturize your dog’s paw pads after walks. Just make sure to clean away any ice, salt, or chemicals first.
- Keep your pup hydrated.
Your pet’s skin and paw pads need to stay hydrated and this can be tougher in the dry, cold winter months. Make sure your pooch has plenty of water available and bring some water on longer walks, too (don’t rely on snow to quench their thirst).
A humidifier can also help (Plus, it’ll do the dog owner’s skin some good, too!). Following these simple tips will help keep your pet hydrated, and their skin irritation- and itch-free.
- Wash your dog’s paws after walks.
Dip your pup’s paws into a shallow bowl of warm water (make sure it’s not hot!), then towel dry. This will remove ice, salt, chemicals, and any other buildup their paws may have been exposed to. Bonus: it’ll keep your floors nice and clean too!
- Avoid deicing agents.
This means steering clear of very slushy or salty areas while on your walks. Commonly used ice deicers, like calcium chloride and sodium chloride, can harm paws.
If you’re responsible for deicing outside your home, make sure to use pet-safe ice melters, and encourage your neighbors to do the same.
- Keep walks as short as possible in harsh winter weather.
Unless your pup loves running around in the cold and snow and you’re prepared for a long walk, it’s best to limit your pup’s time outdoors.
This is especially true for senior dogs, puppies, dog breeds with shorter fur, and pets with arthritis or other health conditions.
- Keep your pup’s paws well-groomed.
Trimming your dog’s nails will help with stable footing. And, for breeds with long fur between their toes, trimming this fur will aid with paw cleaning and make it less likely for ice balls to form between the toes.
- Purchase dog boots or booties.
This footgear can do an excellent job protecting your dog’s paws from salt, chemicals, ice, and other winter hazards. Plus, many are non-slip in icy conditions and keep your pup’s toes nice and dry.
It’s important to get the right size. Measure your dog’s paw as advised by the manufacturer, then put on the boots so they’re tight enough to stay in place but not so tight as to interfere with circulation.
It may take a little time for your pup to get used to the dog booties. Start with just a few minutes, and offer treats for keeping the boots on.
- Monitor your dog’s paws.
Take the time on paw care: Check the pads and between the toes for redness, cracks, wounds, discoloration, or any other signs of concern. Also, take notice if your pup seems to be licking their paws a lot. Report any concerns to your veterinarian.
- Keep your pet’s whole body warm.
Keep your dog indoors as much as possible in cold weather, and consider a sweater or coat during walks to help retain body heat. If your dog’s core temperature is warm enough, they’re more likely to maintain healthy circulation to their paws — not to mention, less likely to suffer cold-weather health problems like hypothermia.
These paw protection safety measures may warrant some extra time before and after your walks, but it’s well worth the effort to safeguard your furry friend’s paws and toes.
Following these paw care tips can keep your pup comfortable all winter long, and allow you and your buddy to safely enjoy the wonder of the season together.