Everybody enjoys playing in the snow. Young, old, human, canine! But while we have shoes and gloves to protect us from the cold, our dogs have nothing. So, do dogs paws get cold in the snow? If so, how cold is too cold and what can we do to protect their paws?
In this article, we will explore potential risks and warning signs of snowy dog paws getting too cold (e.g. hypothermia, frostbites), what to do when it happens and how we can prevent it from happening in the first place.
Do Dogs Paws Get Cold in the Snow?
Though the skin on dogs pads is a lot tougher than the skin on our feet, they can still get cold. In fact, exposure of more than 15 minutes to temperatures around or below freezing (32°F) can pose real risks to our dogs’ unprotected paws.
The cold can be just as dehydrating as the heat. Walking in the snow can cause dry skin, cracking, itching, and soreness in your dog’s paw pads. Whilst this is more irritating than dangerous, it could cause your dog to scratch the itches with his teeth and accidentally cut them, leaving their feet open to infection.
Symptoms of a paw infection are limping, swelling, discharge, and a bad smell. If you think your dog’s foot has an infection, take them to their vet for a proper examination and prescription of antibiotics or anti-fungal treatment.
Frostbite also occurs in extremely cold conditions when the blood vessels in the skin get constricted. This is a natural mechanism within the body. It tries to protect and preserve a safe internal temperature by locking the cold out. Frostbite tends to affect sensitive areas such as the paws and ears. Dogs with heart disease and diabetes are at risk.
All breeds are susceptible to frostbite in the right conditions. However, cold weather dogs such as Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes are naturally less susceptive. Symptoms of frostbite include discoloration, pain, swelling, and cold and/or brittleness of the affected area, blisters, and patches of dead or blackened skin. The symptoms may not appear right away.
If you suspect your dog has frostbite, try to keep them warm (not hot) with blankets and water until you can see a vet. Do not attempt to massage or use a hairdryer on the affected area. though. As this will hurt and could make things worse. Veterinary examination and treatment should be sought immediately, or the affected area could ‘die’ and require amputation. Treatment includes pain medication and antibiotics, and in severe cases amputation.
Can Dogs Paws Freeze in the Snow?
Dogs’ paws can’t actually freeze because they have a unique circulatory system that keeps them from doing so. Dogs have veins that run parallel to the arteries within their paws, keeping the warm blood flowing between them and their hearts. (And we all know how warm dogs’ hearts are!) This ensures that warmth always goes to the area that’s experiencing the coolest temperatures first – the feet!
This is called a countercurrent heat exchange system and is found in arctic animals such as penguins and seals. Dogs are the only domesticated animal with such a system, likely meaning that they inherited it from their arctic canine ancestors.
How Do I Protect my Dog's Paws From the Cold?
Whilst dog paws can’t freeze, they can still get frostbite. But we don’t want to stop our dogs from playing in the snow – it’s one of the highlights of their year! So how can we protect them?
Dog boots provide the ultimate protection from the cold snow. They’re inexpensive sock-like boots with velcro straps that help to keep them in place. They can be found at pet stores and online and come with a variety of soles that supply different levels of traction for different environments. Some even come with fleece lining for extra cold temperatures.
They’re also ridiculously cute looking. That said, some dogs feel awkward and embarrassed when they try them on for the first time. So it’s a good idea to get your dog used to wearing them by putting them on for short periods of time indoors before sporting them out on a walk.
Paw Balm and Oils
To treat and prevent dry, cracked paws, and the soreness and itching that comes with it, use paw balm for dogs. These balms and oils are available at pet stores and online and don’t break the bank. They work by moisturizing the pads of the paws, just like hand creams for humans. Just apply a thin layer of balm or oil before and/or after a walk in the cold. Using a balm with natural ingredients is best in case they lick some off.
Alternatively, you could use vaseline on your dog’s paws. We’ve all got some in the bathroom, and it works just the same when moisturizing dogs’ skin as it does our own. It also helps to seal the skin, making it an ideal pre-walk protective treatment. However, it can have a laxative effect on dogs when eaten. So, don’t use it post-walk when your dog could lick it off.
Keeping their feet clean and tidy will also help. Regular grooming during winter such as nail trimming and haircuts will help keep to your dog’s feet clean when playing outside or going on walks. It minimizes the amount of debris that will get stuck in your dog’s feet.
Always inspect and clean your dog’s feet after they’ve been out in the cold weather – especially in public areas. Check for and gently remove any ice, snow, or debris in between their pads. Then, wash them with warm water to remove dirt and melt any ice that you can’t get out by hand. Ice that is stuck will obviously melt eventually but could cause your dog to slip and hurt themselves in the meantime.
Washing your dog’s feet will also remove any harmful deicing chemicals that are often mixed in with the snow in public places. These are very dehydrating and harmful and could cause your dog’s feet to dry out or become infected. They are also extremely poisonous and potentially life-threatening if your dog licks even a tiny amount off of his feet.
Signs a dog has ingested deicers include drooling, dehydration, seemingly ‘drunk’ walking, vomiting, and seizing. Dogs that have ingested deicing chemicals need to be taken to the emergency vet hospital for an antidote within 8-12 hours of ingestion or they will face kidney failure.
Dog Paws Getting Cold in the Snow – FAQs
Little snow boots are a great option for dogs who don’t mind having something on their feet.
Alternatively, you could put some protective paw balm on their feet before and/or after walks. Vaseline can also be used on dogs’ paws before walks, and general good hygiene and grooming will prevent excessive debris from sticking to your dog’s feet in the first place.
Frostbite occurs in freezing temperatures, this is anything around or below 32°F. Although, some cold averse breeds may start to feel uncomfortable in anything below 50°F. Cold averse breeds are small and/or thin-haired breeds like Chihuahuas and Greyhounds.
That said, no breed should have prolonged exposure or be made to sleep outside in these temperatures, even those with thick coats.
Conditions you consider to be mildly cold probably won’t bother your dog. However, what’s dangerously and uncomfortably cold to us is dangerous and uncomfortable for them too.
Prolonged exposure to temperatures below 50°F can cause a dog’s body temperature to lower and result in hypothermia. If your dog is shaking and acting weird after being out in the cold or snow, he may have hypothermia and you need to keep him warm and take him to a vet right away for treatment.
Are you worried about your dog’s paws getting cold in the snow this winter? If so, which methods are you going to try first? Let us know in the comments down below!