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How to Protect Your Pup's Paws in Winter

 

a puppy using winter booties as protection from the cold

While outdoor dogs aren't picky about where they're taken, those who get to play in the snow appear to be having the time of their lives. Cold temperatures and snowy landscapes, on the other hand, present unique challenges for your canine companion, and it's prudent to take a few precautions before and during your winter trips together.

We spoke with Dr. Bill Rosolowsky, a retired veterinarian who worked in the industry for 33 years and now works part-time at the REI Co-op in Lynnwood, Washington. Included in this article are Dr. Rosolowsky's recommendations for winter outings with adequate paw care.

Start By Determining Your Dog's Overall Health

Avoid tunnel vision while caring for your paws. Because the paws are linked to the rest of the dog, the first thing to check is whether your dog is in good enough health to go on a winter adventure.

Obtain a veterinary examination: At the very least, consult with your veterinarian for advice based on your dog's medical history. Heart disease, hypothyroidism, and diabetes can all impair a dog's ability to regulate its body temperature and energy levels in cold weather. If your dog has been prescribed medication to help manage the pain associated with arthritis, make sure they get it before you leave.

Prevention is preferable to treatment. This time-honored medical adage applies here as well. When dogs become ill or injured, they make poor patients because they don't understand why certain therapies are required to help them heal.

Is Your Dog Prepared for Winter?

In general, "arctic" breeds such as huskies, Samoyeds, and malamutes do well in the winter because of their thick fur and undercoat, large fat deposits beneath their paw pads, and robust circulatory systems. Other breeds exhibit similar qualities, albeit to a lesser extent.

If your dog is out in the snow and its outer coat collects only snow and not ice, it is likely that it is well adapted to winter. If you notice a significant amount of ice forming, it is a sign that you should take extra precautions to keep your dog warm.

How to Care for Your Dog's Paws During the Winter

You should pay special attention to your paws because ice and cold are particularly difficult for them.

Inspect your dog's paw pads: Just as you would before a summer hike, thoroughly inspect the paw pads to ensure there are no ailments that your planned adventure could aggravate.

Your dog's nails should be trimmed as follows: It's always a good idea to keep your dog's nails neatly cut. In the winter, a damaged nail can bleed, which is an unwelcome complication (or summer). Long nails can also splay toes wider apart when your dog walks, exposing vulnerable areas between toes to snow and ice accumulation.

Consider winter booties for your dog: Booties are the most obvious method of paw protection for many dog owners. There are also fleece-lined dog winter boots available. And it is true that booties are an excellent solution for winter paw protection—if you buy a pair that fits properly and spend time accustoming your dog to wearing them. Furthermore, after approximately 15 minutes of outside wear, it is critical to evaluate and correct the fit.

Use dog paw wax: Sled-dog owners will tell you that keeping snow off their dogs' paws is one of the best ways to prevent ice balls from forming. When the snow starts to accumulate, the dog's body heat can cause it to thaw and then refreeze into clumps of ice. Rubbing "musher's wax" on your dog's paws helps keep snow from adhering to its paws in the first place. Furthermore, these paw waxes are designed to be harmless if licked off by a dog.

Should you shave the hair on your feet? Because ice buildup is less of an issue if your dog breed is well-adapted to snow and cold, paw hair trimming is unnecessary. Waxing is still recommended. If your dog is prone to ice accumulation on its fur, trimming the paw hair and then waxing is recommended, as snow accumulation on the stubble can result in ice accumulation near the skin.

How to Maintain Your Dog's Body Temperature

Because a dog's physiology prioritizes core warmth over extremity warmth, maintaining a healthy overall temperature will also benefit the paws. Surprisingly, the same precautions you take to keep warm during winter activities will also benefit your dog. Dr. Rosolowsky's advice is as follows:

Dress your dog in weather-appropriate attire:

Your dog's fur and undercoat serve as a protective base layer. If the weather is cold enough, consider adding an upper layer of a sweater or dog jacket, especially if the breed is not arctic.

Feed your dog a high-calorie diet:

Dogs metabolize food to stay warm, which means they need more calories and carbohydrates during the winter. However, any new food should be thoroughly tested at home to ensure that your dog tolerates it properly.

Give your dog some extra water:

Cold air is arid air, and a dog's panting expels moisture with each breath. As a result, make sure to bring plenty of water for your canine companion on your winter adventures together. Lukewarm water is also preferable because it does not require your dog to expend calories in order to warm up.

During breaks, keep your dog moving and out of the wind by doing the following:

A moving dog is usually warmer because activity generates heat. When you do take a break, look for a spot that is protected from breezes to avoid becoming concerned about windchill. Having an insulated seat pad can also help.

Watch for Hypothermia Symptoms in Dogs

Listlessness, curling up, unwillingness to move, and shivering are all signs that your dog is suffering from the cold. When you see this, it's time to call it quits and go somewhere warmer. Because small dogs are more vulnerable to the effects of the cold, if your dog is small enough, you should transport them back to warmth.

What Happens to a Dog's Paws When They're Covered in Snow, Ice, and Salt?

Cold weather brings with it a slew of potential paw hazards, including the following:

  • Cold temperatures and dry air can cause paw pads to become dry, chapped, and cracked. De-icers also have the potential to cause irritation or chemical burns, particularly salt burns on dog paws. This can be very distressing for your dog, and they may develop sores or infections as a result, especially if they lick or chew their paws in response.
  • Stepping on salt crystals, boulders, or other sharp objects lying beneath the snow can be excruciatingly painful and even result in cuts.
  • Frostbite: Dogs' feet and toes, like humans, can get frostbite if they are exposed to temperatures below freezing.
  • Toxic antifreeze, ice-melting compounds, and de-icing salt on a pet's paws can spell disaster. If your dog licks these things off their feet, it may cause an upset stomach. In the worst-case scenario, they could be poisoned to death.
  • Slippery ice can cause injury or trauma. Pets suffering from diseases such as arthritis may struggle even more to maintain their balance on slick surfaces.
  • While hypothermia is a "whole-body" issue rather than a paw problem, it's important to remember that cold temperatures can have serious health consequences for puppies.

You think it's cold outside, and your dog probably does, too.

Certain breeds, such as Huskies and Malamutes, are far colder and more snow-tolerant than short-haired species like Chihuahuas and Whippets. Even pups that are winter-adapted can be harmed by chemical or salt exposure.

As a result, whether or not your dog enjoys the cold and snow, the majority of dogs can benefit from protective clothing and measures during severe weather.