Winter Paw Essentials for the Adventurous Dog
In this post, we’ll chat about protecting our dog’s feet from the formidable winter woes.
There are few things cuter than a doggo excited to play in the snow. My Sadie Lynne and Ziggy Marie (a Rhodesian Ridge Mix and Border Collie mix respectively) absolutely LOVED playing in the white powdery fluff when we lived in Colorado. They would bound through the snow drifts like kids in one of those giant, inflatable bouncy house things. Well…Sadie actually did the bounding. Ziggy more or less plowed through it like a furry tank. But regardless, they just couldn’t get enough of it. We spent many a winter day enjoying the wide open spaces of the Rocky Mountains and to this day those memories bring a giant smile to my face.
Playing outside with dogs isn’t that different than playing with young children; you have to be the responsible parent that knows what precautions to take to prevent any issues and when it’s time to come inside for a break even when they don’t want to.
There are things we can do, however, to extend their outside play time and still keep them safe.
Some very serious issues and injuries (some life threatening) can arise for our pups in cold weather conditions . But, with a little forethought, knowledge, and preparation, they can easily be prevented.
Paw pad protection
Cold, snowy environments can be pretty harsh on our dog’s feet. And yes, they can suffer from frostbite just like you or I could. First, make sure that you trim away any excess hair in between their toes and pads. As cute as those fuzzies are, they end up becoming the perfect clingon apparati for irritants such as salt and ice melt products as well as mini-snowballs. Not only is that uncomfortable and difficult to walk with, it poses a very real threat for possible frostbite, chemical burns, or even small cuts to delicate pads that aren’t accustomed to winter environments.
After you trim the hair between their toes, consider protecting the pads of their feet with an all natural, protective wax product like Musher’s Secret, or in some cases, doggy boots.
In urban environments, salt and chemical products are often used to melt snow on sidewalks and roads. That’s great for tires and the bottom of our shoes but pretty terrible for our dog’s paws. Applying a wax based product to the bottom of their feet and in between their toes is a great alternative to the ever popular dog boot if your pooch just can’t stand wearing shoes
Musher’s Secret was developed in Canada for use with sledding dogs to protect from the rough and varied terrain in snow and icy conditions. It keeps the snow (and whatever is ON the snow (such as salt or Ice Melt) from sticking to your buddy’s paws. It’s made of 100% natural, breathable, not-toxic ingredients that can even be used for hot spots and dry, cracked areas of skin. It’s completely safe for your dog, cat, iguana, chicken, and horse. Not kidding. Check their website if you think I’m making it up. (But, seriously if you take your chicken or iguana for walks, send pics.)
Frequency of application will depend on your dog’s activity level and terrain you guys are trekking through. In snow and icy conditions, 2-3 applications per week should suffice but always watch for signs that your dog might be uncomfortable on the walk and make sure snowballs and debris haven’t accumulated in between their pads.. If they keep picking up their paws and act like they don’t want to go anymore, if they slow down, or if they keep sitting or laying down they might be trying to tell you that their feet are bothering them and they need your help. The wax should eliminate the snow accumulation factor but always check periodically especially if you’re out and about for extended periods of time. If you walk in areas where there might be salt or any chemicals designed to melt ice, be sure to at least rinse your dogs paws once home to prevent any possible irritation and to keep your pup from ingesting any of it should they lick their feet.
Dogs’ paws are pretty tough but they aren’t immune to the damaging and potentially dangerous aspects of snow and harsh terrain such as frostbite and cuts so taking proper precautions to keep your buddy safe and pain free should be your priority.
There are several advantages to using a protective wax product.
ease of application
thin, breathable barrier that still allows your dog to fully feel the ground
safe and non-toxic
protects agains cold and hot surfaces
moisturizes their paw pads
If using a product like Musher’s Secret is new to your pup, give it a try with a walk around the block before you go heading for the backcountry.
There’s a lot to be discussed about boots. The right fit, when to wear them, when not to wear them, how long to keep them on, etc.
Some dogs simply won't tolerate wearing boots and others take a bit of coercing to get used to them. Each dog will have their own opinion and it’s up to us as pet parents to know when boots are necessary and when they’re not.
Proper fit is extremely important because you don’t want them to restrict blood flow or be uncomfortably tight and of course you don’t want them to fall off either. Ruff Wear has a pretty decent fit guide for their boots and boot liners. Their Polar Trex Booties are designed to protect our pup’s pads from the wet, cold, and harsh characteristics of snowy adventures but they’re not the only dog boot option out there.
There are several dog boot companies to choose from so you might find a different brand that works better for your doggo’s taste in footwear and terrain. The most important things to consider for winter dog boots regardless of brand are:
Fit (snug but not too tight)
Our dog’s feet are highly vascularized which means they’ve got plenty of blood supply to those toes. This is why a cut on the pad or cutting a nail too short can bleed quite a bit. But, that blood flow also provides warmth to their paws. Severe cold exposure however, can really compromise their ability to maintain that warmth not only in their feet but their entire body.
If your dog suffers from diabetes or a heart condition, they’re even more susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia.
Obviously some breeds are a bit more adept at tackling trails and ski runs than others but even the toughest of the bunch, like avalanche search and rescue dogs and the Iditarod dogs, wear boots when necessary.
Our dogs aren’t immune to cold weather injuries. Frostbite or cracked and painful paws is a real danger and precaution and prevention are key to making sure our furry adventure buddies stay safe and happy on the trails with us or even in our urban environments where things like salt and ice-melt are used to manage our sidewalks and streets. Somethings as simple as trimming the hair in between their pads, using something like Musher’s Secret, and dog boots can make all the difference for an epic adventure this winter with your pup.