The first snowfall of winter is always exciting. Children bundle up, drag the sleds out of storage, and play outside as long as their parents allow. The family pet usually heads out there with them, rolling and snuffling in the snow, chasing the children as they run from each other’s flying snowballs. When the children come in with chapped lips and faces, we can readily see it and treat it. What you may not be aware of, unless your dog holds up a paw for you, is that the pads of a dog’s feet take a major beating in the cold weather. We need to be aware of the dangers that snow and cold weather present to our pets’ paws, and make dog paw care a top priority.
Dealing with Ice, Snow and Heat
Winter is hard on everyone’s skin. Your dog is no different, except that his skin is completely exposed. Bitter cold can cause chapping and cracking of the dog’s pads, especially if he is outdoors much of the time. Rock salt and chemical de-icers are very irritating to pads as well. Exposure to salt and de-icers, which are commonly used on sidewalks or paths that your dog may frequently walk on, will cause sore pads, infection, or blistering. Not only are the chemicals harmful to paws, but they can be toxic when ingested, causing diarrhea and vomiting.
To combat the effects of salt and chemicals, wash the paws with warm water after outdoor play time or walks. You can either use a washcloth, or dip the entire paw into a bowl of warm water. This will wash away any residue so that your dog cannot lick the salt off later and become sick. Pay attention to the space between the toes as well, because small grains of salt can become trapped in there, causing irritation. Once clean, apply Vaseline (other dog paw care products will work, but Vaseline is quite inexpensive and readily available) to the foot pads. This will help to prevent chapping, cracking, and soreness. Make sure to apply the Vaseline again before any outdoor time or walks.
As a rule, brush or remove any snow or ice that builds up on your dog. Trim any long hair from the legs that touches the ground. Also, trim any hair from between the dog’s toes; ice loves to collect on this hair. Trim the hair so that it does not hang below the foot pad. Be sure to keep the nails trimmed, because long nails actually cause the toes to separate, allowing ice and salt to become trapped between them. Ouch!
If your dog really seems to hate the snow and cold, or if you would like an easier way to protect their paws, consider dog booties. Though it may take a while for your pet to adjust to wearing the booties, they provide a protective barrier at all times. Neoprene boots seem to be the most effective, as they are quite sturdy, and even offer some support for the dog’s legs.
Taking preventive dog paw care measures in the winter months can save your pet a lot of pain and trouble. Be aware of the dangers that snow removal products and cold weather may present to your dog, and protect him!