Dogs need walks year-round, but walking on icy streets during the winter months can be dangerous in more ways than one. Your dog’s paws are exposed not just to ice and snow, but to road salt, magnesium chloride, and whatever well-intentioned homeowners have put on their walks for the purpose of de-icing. It’s enough to make a pet parent want to buy a canine treadmill and stay inside until May!
Here are my best paw safety tips for those winter walks.
Avoiding Road De-Icing Products
The most obvious and easiest way to keep dogs’ paw pads safe from road salt and other de-icing products is not to walk where the road has been obviously treated. However, it’s not always that easy; on slushy days after a snowstorm, it’s especially hard to avoid these potentially dangerous chemicals.
To avoid chemical burns on your dog’s paws, try to walk away from paved areas if possible, and rinse each paw with lukewarm water after returning home. Use a soft towel to pat the paws dry, and take that opportunity to check between your dog’s toes for ice or salt. This is also a great chance to accustom your dog to regular handling of its paws, which is important for veterinary care and toenail trimming.
Dog booties can be helpful for keeping paws safe in the winter, but the question is, will your dog wear them? Many dogs either don’t fit into booties well, or refuse to walk while wearing them, or pull them off intentionally. I have met few dogs that take well to boots the first, second, or even third time they wear them. Teaching a dog to accept boots takes patience.
If your dog will wear booties, by all means, use them when walking the day after a snowstorm or in extremely cold temperatures. However, be sure to launder dog booties frequently— after each walk, if possible. Otherwise, road chemicals could soak in and cause the same burns that dogs not wearing booties can suffer.
Surprisingly, paw pads suffer frostbite only at about the same rate as other extremities, like ears, tails, and the scrotal area of unaltered male dogs (hey, another reason to neuter!). Frostbite is caused by prolonged exposure to temperatures below freezing, and is most common in breeds that are already especially sensitive to cold, like Italian Greyhounds and Chihuahuas.
Protect your dog against frostbite by limiting exposure to cold temperatures, particularly for short-coated, thin-skinned breeds, and immediately bring your dog indoors if he or she is shivering. Don’t allow your dog to become wet in temperatures below freezing. Check your dog’s extremities after any prolonged exposure to cold, and contact a veterinarian if you notice any discoloration or swelling.