Winter is here, and most of us know the basics of protecting ourselves from the elements. We dress warmly, wear gloves and boots to protect our hands and feet, and use various skin products to prevent chapped lips, dry skin, and wind burn.
What about our pets? While cats rarely choose to spend time out in the cold, dogs need their walks and their playtime. Fortunately, nature has prepared them with layers of fur and tough leathery pads on their paws. However, their paws are still vulnerable to drying, cracking, frostbite, and chemical burns from contact with road salts and manmade de-icing agents.
Here we’ll discuss tips for protecting your pooch’s paws from wintertime hazards:
Paw care begins before you take your dog out in the cold. Several brands of paw balm are available in stores and online or if you prefer, you can make your own by following the simple instructions from the American Kennel Club.
Before applying a balm to your dog’s paws, prep the paw area by carefully trimming away longer hairs that may gather ice pellets, which can be painful. An electric beard trimmer with a plastic guard over the blades works well. Also be sure your dog’s nails are trimmed: Longer nails force the pad to splay outward in ice, making the pad more vulnerable. Apply a thin even layer of balm to the pads before your walk. After your walk, rinse the pads gently in warm water to remove any toxic ice melt, and re-apply the balm to prevent chapping or cracking. If your animal seems to favor a paw during a walk, check for ice pellets lodged between the pads.
Dog booties are another option—if your pet tolerates them. To acclimate your dog to wearing booties, start by placing the booties on your pet indoors for short periods during the day. The Velcro straps should be secure enough to hold the boot on but loose enough to allow circulation and mobility. Since dogs are unaccustomed to footwear, be prepared for some trial and error. As with any behavior you’re trying to encourage, praise and reward your pooch when he/she is willing to keep the boots on.
Cautions: De-icing Agents
Chemical de-icers offer an efficient way to quickly remove hazardous ice from walkways, but they are a hazard to pets. Not only are the granules an irritant that can cause chemical burns after prolonged exposure, they are toxic if ingested, so it is important to minimize your pet’s contact with them. While on your walk, try to avoid patches of fresh undissolved de-icers (sometimes these are blue in color and can be easily identified on sight). Also, don’t let your dog drink from pools of snowmelt that may be contaminated with de-icing agents. This is of special concern in more urban areas where various de-icers are used more heavily and in greater variety.
Immediately upon returning home, wash your dog’s pads in warm water to remove any residue. Some pet owners will even leave a rag in a bowl of warm water on the front step or in the mudroom and wash the paws there before the dog enters the house. This will prevent your pet from licking any toxic residue from their paws.
With these tips in mind, we hope you and your pets have a safe and happy winter.