How to Care for Your Dog’s Paws in Winter Weather

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Depending on where you live, you may need to consider extra care for your dog’s paws in winter months. For example, winter weather can cause cracked or dry paws. Plus, some dogs are sensitive to the cold, snow and ice on their feet.

For these reasons, I reached out to two veterinarians to get their advice on winter paw care.

Winter paw care

Should your pup wear dog boots?

I wrote a whole post on dog boots last winter, and my opinion is that some dogs need boots and some don’t. It just depends on where you live, your dog’s tolerance to the cold and what activities you’ll be doing.

While dog boots may not be necessary, Dr. Mark Dilworth, a veterinarian and owner of Beaches Animal Hospital in Toronto, recommends boots for some dogs.

For example, if the dog has brittle nails, he said sharp ice or salt may be irritating or harmful. Also, dogs with osteoarthritis could benefit from a good pair of boots to prevent slipping.

Protecting paws from salt

Dog boots may be a good idea in the city if your neighbors use a lot of salt on the sidewalks, Dilworth said.

“Salt is an irritant to a dog’s paws, especially if they already have any type of inflammatory disease.”

He also said active dogs can experience inflammation when running on icy surfaces, which will make them susceptible to the pain caused by salt.

“These active dogs may also experience cracked nails or pad lacerations from running on hard, jagged ice,” he said.

Dog Boots to Protect Dog Paws

What to do about cracked paws

Dry or cracked paws are best treated through rest, according to Dilworth. He said there are also some moisturizers that can provide comfort.

Dog owners can even apply petroleum jelly to the paws, according to Dr. Erin Shults, a veterinarian and CEO of Mazie’s Mission, a nonprofit veterinary hospital that serves animal rescue groups and shelters.

She also recommends a product called paw wax that can be applied before venturing outside as protection to the paws or afterwards for soothing dry paws.

Keeping the fur trimmed to prevent ice buildup

Dilworth mentioned a concern about fluffy dogs with tufts of hair between their toes.

“Ice balls can accumulate and cause discomfort to their skin because the interdigital skin is not as protected as the pads of their paws,” he said.

Shults also brought up this issue and said owners can trim fluffy feet to help prevent the ice-ball accumulation.

If your dog tends to get clumps of ice stuck to her paws, she recommends keeping a bowl of warm water by the door and dipping your pup’s feet in after being outside. This will slowly melt the snow and ice, and then the paws can be wiped with a cloth.

As for a dog’s nails, those should also be well trimmed, Dilworth said. Longer nails are more likely to break if the dog runs on a hard surface like ice.

The risk of frostbite

Perhaps one of the most serious safety concerns in the winter is frostbite.

Frostbite is more common on the tips of a dog’s ears or nose if the dog is left outside without protection, Dilworth said.

While frostbite can occur on any extremities, he said “the vasculature and pads of the foot help prevent frost bite, even with little fur coverage.”

Still, dog owners should obviously use common sense and limit outdoor exposure when necessary.

“In colder conditions, shorter but more frequent walks may be more appropriate,” Dilworth said.

With paw care in general, he said it’s always smart to take a look at your dog’s paws every day.

“If you do see irritation, consider using boots to protect against salt, ice and snow,” he said.

Does your dog wear boots in the cold?

About Lindsay Stordahl

Lindsay Stordahl is a blogger for dogIDs.com. She has a black Lab mix named Ace and two naughty cats named Beamer and Scout. Lindsay owns a pet sitting business called Run That Mutt and also maintains the blog ThatMutt.com. ... Add Lindsay to your Google+ circles at . You can follow Lindsay on Twitter @ThatMutt.

  1. What to do if your dog HATES boots? My dogs need exercise. My Pointer gained 10lbs last winter because I thought I was being compassionate in keeping him from his daily 5k. Not this winter but… we have a problem – he hates boots. I have tried boots on a number of occasions and been very patient at getting my dog to “ease into” the feeling around the house instead of rushing him out the door as he dances around… He won’t have it. If he’s not dancing around in them awkwardly, he’s trying to tear them off. The boots become useless because we never end up getting anywhere he might actually need them. As much as it pains me to see him lifting his paws, it pains me more to see him HATE the boots. Any suggestions?

    • Have you tried an extremely thin pair of boots? That would be my first thought. The less material, the less annoying for the dog.

      What does he do if you just ignore his “protesting” and keep moving forward? I would try picking up the pace on your walk/run and just keep on going. That’s what I do with my dog walking clients. Most dogs will usually forget about the boots after five minutes or so, especially if you run and they try to keep up. Then you could slow down again once he “forgets” about the boots.

      If that doesn’t work, I guess you could try giving him his favorite treats (real chicken, pieces of ham?) only when he’s wearing the boots. Maybe you could help him associate something positive with the boots.

      Just some thoughts. Maybe someone else has some better ideas. Poor guy!

  2. My dog has no undercoat, extremely short, thin fur, and no hair at all on her belly and most of her underside and inner legs. We live where it snows and can stay at below freezing temperatures (highs in the teens) for months, with lots of hard, crusty snow. So she wears a coat on even short potty-break walks. She has boots and has no problem at all with wearing them or getting them on, but they just won’t stay on. She won’t get 10 steps before they’re hanging and flopping off; we’ve lost several and they’re expensive to replace. They have nice grippy soles and two velcro straps to hold them in place but they still twirl and flop and fall off. I’m beside myself because last winter her paws got so cold on a 10 minute walk that I thought I was going to have to take her to the vet. It took a good 20 minutes with warm water then a hair dryer on low to warm them back up, and I was massaging them gently as well. The boots on this site look very similar in style to hers but they’re not the same brand. I’d appreciate any suggestions I could get regarding boots for her. I use Mushers Secret paw ointment and it helps the cracked dry pads but I really want her to be comfortable on winter walks. Staying in is not an option; we can have snow up to 9 months out of the year here. She wants to stay outside longer but I always have to rush her to avoid frostbite. Thanks to anyone who has anything to offer.

    • Hi Christie. I’m sure you’ve tried tightening the boots as much as you can or possibly trying a size smaller. You could try the boots carried through dogIDs and they might fit better just from being a slightly different style.

      I’ve also had success with a brand called Pawz. These are rubber boots that stay on really well when I run with dogs, but they are very thin and designed to be disposed of after some wear and tear. They come in packages of multiple pairs. They are not so much for warmth but to offer a thin protection from ice and hard surfaces. But that thin layer might be just enough to protect her from the cold or maybe you could have these on beneath the other boots.

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