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Protecting Your Dog’s Paws During Winter – The Dangers of Snow, Ice, and Salt

Dog sitting in the snow

Just because the cold winds of winter start to blow doesn’t mean Fido’s daily walks need to come to an end. Continuing to take your dog for a stroll each day is an excellent habit to get into with health benefits for you both to enjoy. However, winter walking brings with it some unique challenges, including possible injuries to sensitive paw pads and delicate skin. It is important for dog owners to be aware of the potential hazards their dogs may face and what they can do to provide the protection they need. What can you do to protect your dog’s paws from snow, ice, and salt in winter?

The Most Common Winter Elements that Can Hurt Your Dog’s Paws

Cold, wet weathers poses problems for dogs and their owners who enjoy going out for a stroll in the winter months. There are three common elements which can put a damper on winter walking: snow, ice, and salt. Taking the time to consider preventative measures to protect your dog’s paws will help ensure you are able to enjoy daily walks in the great outdoors no matter what Mother Nature sends your way this winter.

Here are the effects snow, ice, and salt can have on your dog’s paws:

1Snow

Snow affects the delicate skin on a dog’s paw pads more than we might think. On extremely chilly days, repeated pressing of paws against the damp cold of a snowy sidewalk can lead to frostbite if proper precautions are not taken. But frostbite is not the only concern dogs and their owners face when it comes to walking in snow. If you happen to take your best canine pal through deep sections of snow, ice crystals can get between paw pads and cause small lacerations. These tiny cuts can produce a lot of blood and are extremely painful for your dog.

Snow that is quite deep also requires your dog to exert more pressure in order to gain a proper foothold. This can also mean snow becomes trapped between folds of skin, causing the area to become wet. If not properly dried, this environment becomes a hospitable host for yeast to develop, a common condition which spreads quickly and most often evidenced by a persistent itchiness and biting at the feet.

2Ice

One of the biggest problems ice poses for dogs is its slipperiness. Maintaining proper balance on ice can be extremely difficult, particularly if it is hidden beneath a layer of snow. Slipping on icy patches of road or sidewalks can lead to painful tears on paw pads or even broken bones.

Small crystals of ice can also hide in between folds of skin or “toes,” leading to the formation of ice balls. The main problem with ice balls is they can often trap chemical agents such as de-icers or salt against the skin, causing painful burns.

3Salt

The most common solution to keep snow and ice at bay is the use of de-icing salts. While they are extremely effective at keeping ice from accumulating and providing traction to prevent slipping, they are also tremendously caustic and will burn skin on contact. This is particularly painful if the salts become trapped between pads on the paws.

Salt also can absorb into the skin when it is stepped on, leaving behind damage that is sore to the touch and painful to walk on. However, dogs love the taste of salt and will often lick their paws if salt remnants are found there. Road salt is not intended to be eaten and is extremely toxic to dogs if ingested in sufficient quantities. 

What Can I Do to Protect My Dog’s Paws on Winter Walks?

Though snow, ice, and salt can all prove to be problematic for dogs in the winter, there are some precautions you can put in place to ensure your dog’s feet are well protected against the elements.

Here are our top tips for winter walking protection:

  • Refrain from walking on roads or sidewalks.

Since sidewalks and roads are the surfaces most commonly treated with road salt and other de-icing agents, they are best avoided. Choose instead to walk in wooded areas or on grass to provide protection against caustic chemicals which could harm your dog’s feet.

  • Make use of a moisturizing protectant.

There are many different products on the market today that are specifically designed to provide protection against such winter elements as snow, ice, and salt. One of the most popular ones is produced by Dermoscent and is called Bio Balm. This product is often sold at veterinary clinics with no prescription necessary. Simply apply to your dog’s paws prior to your walk, and the balm will form a waterproof barrier against common caustic agents such as road salt.

Many high quality pet retailers carry paw protectant alternatives to Dermoscent. If you prefer to avoid the use of topical ointments, dog boots are also an excellent means to keep delicate skin from being harmed by common winter elements. 

  • Wash your dog’s paws after a walk.

Whether you use a paw protectant or not, it is always a good idea to wash your dog’s feet after a walk. Dogs are drawn to lick salt from their paws since they enjoy its briny taste. This can lead to your dog becoming ill or experiencing a more serious case of toxicity which could be fatal. To ensure all traces of salt, ice crystals, or de-icing materials are removed, thoroughly wash your dog’s paws in warm, soapy water after his walk. Be sure to also carefully dry them to prevent the growth of yeast on the skin. 

  • Trim hair between paw pads regularly.

Ice balls form by attaching themselves to hair found between each pad on your dog’s paws. You can prevent this from happening by regularly trimming that hair to keep it as short as possible. 

  • Keep your dog well hydrated.

Using a moisturizer to help keep skin healthy is an excellent idea. Coconut oil provides excellent moisturizing benefits and is a natural alternative that is safe for your dog to eat should he decide it is tasty enough to lick off his paws.

But a vital part of keeping both skin and coat healthy is ensuring regular access to lots of clean drinking water as well. The more water your dog enjoys throughout the day, the healthier his skin will be, meaning it is less likely to crack and bleed when exposed to typical winter weather conditions.

Are you worried about what snow, ice, and salt could do to the paws of your best canine pal? Follow our top tips to keep Fido’s skin injury free all winter long.

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