Winter Paw Care Tips
Winter can be a tough time for your dog's paw pads. Prevent winter weather-related paw pad injuries by following some basic dog paw care tips and the use of products designed for paw protection.
How To Prevent Paw Pad Injuries
One of the biggest threats to healthy paw pads is the salt used to melt ice on driveways, roads and sidewalks. Prolonged contact with deicers can lead to chemical burns on dog paws. If your dog is limping toward the end of a walk, deicing products may be hurting his feet. Whenever possible, get your dog off the salty sidewalk and into the grass or snow for walking.
Another threat from deicers is ingestion. Dogs may lick their paws or your boots and ingest deicing salts. To prevent your dog from ingesting deicing salts, keep a shallow bowl of warm water and a cloth near the entryway to your home so that you can wipe your boots and your dog's paws when coming in from the cold.
Another common cause of sore paws during the cold winter months are the ice balls which form between the pads and toes of hairy-footed dog. To reduce the risk of ice balls, keep inter-pad hair trimmed neatly and short during the winter months. Not only can hairy feet contribute to the development of ice balls on the feet, paw hair can retain a lot of those nasty deicing salts. If your dog has hairy feet, trim them throughout the winter.
Dogs left in the cold for long periods of times are also at risk for frostbite on paws (and other extremities - ears, tail, etc.) and hypothermia. It is not advised that dogs spend hours in the cold. In winter, more frequent short walks are better for your dog than a single long walk. If you suspect your dog has hypothermia or frostbite, get him to a vet right away!
Additionally, just like the dry winter air can dry out human skin, it can contribute to the drying and cracking of dog paws. Bag Balm, a product available at nearly every pharmacy, applied in a thin layer daily or every other day should help keep your dog's paws from cracking and bleeding. Keeping a humidifier in the house should also prevent dry, itchy skin for both you and your pet.
Products For Protecting Dog Paws
There are many products on the market designed to protect dog paw pads during the winter month, from "pet safe" deicing products to protective waxes and dog booties.
Safe Paw is a common pet-friendly deicer, but sand, small stones, and kitty litter (non-clumping) are also options for deicing while protecting your dog's pads from injury and chemical burns.
Musher's Secret is one of the most popular paw waxes. Paw wax is applied to the pads of the feet before a walk; forming a protective barrier between the paw and the salty sidewalk or pavement. Paw wax will wear away after extended exercise, and should be reapplied before each walk.
The best protection for your dog's paws and pads are dog booties. Just as wearing boots in the winter protects your pads, dog booties will prevent injury to your dog's feet. Dog boots can protect your dog's paws from salt, ice balls, and cutting his pads on sharp items that may be hidden under the snow or sharp ice. Proper sizing of dog booties is especially important in ensuring that the booties are comfortable for your dog to wear and maximize paw protection.
Dog booties may look silly, but really are the ultimate protection for your dog. Human snowsuits look silly also, but are they not the best for keeping sledding kids warm? Just as your kid may not want to wear a snowsuit, your dog may not initially like wearing booties. With a little time and patience, you can train your dog to love wearing his dog boots!
Teach your dog to be comfortable having his paws handled by people before even trying to apply the boots. When your dog is comfortable having his paws handled, begin introducing the boots one at a time, and for very short periods of time. Use lots of yummy treats when the dog has the boots on, to teach him that it is nothing to worry about - in fact, boots on his paws make really good stuff happen (initially treats, eventually walks)! Once he's ok with a bootie on each paw individually, put two boots on in random combinations. Then introduce all four boots, and let him practice walking around the house. Once he's comfortable in the house, walk him around the back yard and front yard. At this point, your dog will realize that "these boots are made for walking!" So bundle up, both of you, and get out there in the snow for some safe, wintery exercise.
Photo: JPC Talbot