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How To Protect a Dog’s Paws in the Winter

Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Published on
Friday 16 October 2020
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
how to protect a dogs paws in the winter
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There’s no need to leave your dog out in the cold when it comes to protecting their paws during winter. Playing with your pup in the snow and taking winter walks are just a few reasons why winter is fun for your dog, but these activities put them at risk of injuries, burns, and broken nails. Here, we discuss how to protect a dog’s paws in the winter, so that you and your furry friend can enjoy the season together without worry.

Protecting dogs’ paws in the winter can be as easy as wiping and checking your dog’s feet after walks, or as advanced as using only pet-safe de-icers. The best approach depends on where you live, your dog’s breed, and the products you have access to.

How Does Winter Affect Your Dog’s Paws?

While your pet’s pads are more resilient than our own feet, they are not immune to irritants, toxins, and harmful elements that come with winter. Your dog’s paws are exposed to freezing temperatures, ice, chemical de-icers, and salts like calcium chloride. These irritants can cause drying, cracking, chemical burns, and frostbite to your pup’s paws. Without treatment, this irritation can wear through your dog’s pads, leading to infections and severe pain, which often require medication and surgery.

How to Protect Your Dog’s Paws in Cold Weather

You want the best for your dog, so it’s reasonable to wonder how to protect a dog’s paws in the winter. Read on to find out the best ways to prevent injury to your pooch!

Use Gentler De-Icers

As temperatures plummet, many home and business owners use salt to protect their two-legged patrons from slips and falls. Unfortunately, this salt puts our furry friends’ feet at risk. Not only this, but some dogs inadvertently eat salt when they clean their paws. This can cause stomach irritation if your dog consumes too much of the salt. Not good!

Traditional salts for melting ice include calcium chloride and magnesium chloride. These ice melters are exothermic, which means that they produce heat as they dissolve. Because they produce heat, as well as having hygroscopic qualities, traditional salts can dry out your dog’s paws. Pet-friendly de-icers are made with calcium magnesium acetate, potassium chloride, or urea. These options are less toxic to pets, but are more expensive and work slower than traditional de-icers. Instead of using de-icers, some owners opt to use traction aids instead. Effective traction aids include sand, gravel, wood chips, and volcanic minerals, all of which are safe for your pooch unless they consume large quantities.

Paw Wax or Balm

Keeping your pup’s paws moisturized can help to prevent cracking, drying, and peeling of the pads. Paw wax creates a protective barrier between your pup’s pads and irritants that might harm their paws. Wax is easy to apply and readily available. Similarly, moisturizing creams and salves work wonders for managing cracked and dry dog paws. Not only does it help to protect the pads, but it also soothes any existing skin irritation or scratches that might already be present!

Dog Boots

Dog boots can help to protect your pooch’s paws from injuries from the cold. Toy and small breeds, which struggle to retain heat the most, are the most likely to benefit from boots. The catch? Not all dogs will wear them willingly. However, with some patience and persistence on your part, you might just be able to give them an extra layer of protection from harm. Be sure to reward your pup for cooperating with their fancy new boots every step of the way! With that being said, most dogs refuse to wear boots because they are unnatural and can be uncomfortable. So, when choosing your dog’s new boots, make sure that they are made with a comfortable material, and that they are large enough for your pup’s feet. Never punish your dog for refusing to wear dog boots.

Clean your Dog’s Paws

After romping in the snow, your dog’s pads will have taken the brunt of their adventures. Be sure to check and clean each of your dog’s paw pads after walking outdoors in the cold, especially in areas where salt is often sprinkled on the sidewalks.

If you have bathed your dog before, you will find it simple to clean your pup’s paws. After thoroughly checking their paws for debris, splinters, and irritation, it’s time to bring out a warm, damp washcloth. Using your washcloth, gently wipe the paws, making sure to massage the pads and between the toes. This will help to melt any snow, ice, or ice balls that are stuck between your dog’s toes, which can cause irritation or even injuries if pulled out by hand. If you prefer to wash your dog’s feet with a mild dog shampoo, be sure to dry them thoroughly to prevent any infections and unpleasant smells.

Trim Nails

Does your dog need their nails cut? Whilst playing in the ice and snow your dog is at risk of injury if their nails are too long. This is because their nails can crack, tear, split, or even pull away completely as your playful pooch romps through crusty snow or steps on hard ice. As well as this, elongated nails may catch on dog boots, if you use a pair to protect your dog’s feet. In order to prevent these painful nail injuries, it’s important to keep up to date with your pooch’s paw care.

It’s important to keep your pup’s nails trimmed to the appropriate length all year-round. But how short should the nails be? As a rough guide, you can trim the nail so that it is even with the bottom of the paw pad. If you can hear your dog’s nails against the floor when they walk, their nails are probably too long for them. If you are not confident trimming your pet’s nails by yourself, consider booking an appointment with an experienced dog groomer or a vet for a professional nail trimming session.

Regular Grooming

If your dog has hair growing between their toes, ice balls, snow, and salt can hang on to these tufts. This can cause discomfort to your beloved pooch, as well as irritation and abrasions. Not only this, but a build-up of hair between the toes makes walking difficult for your dog. So how do you prevent this uncomfortable situation from arising?

To trim your dog’s paw hair, your most important tool is small clippers. Many groomers advise against using traditional scissors, as they increase the risk of cutting your dog’s pads. While it’s still possible to injure your dog’s paws using clippers, the risk is less severe. To begin trimming the hair, hold your dog’s paw firmly with one hand, and hold your clippers or scissors in the other. You will need to gently spread the toes so that you can access the hair in between. You can stop clipping the hair when it is level with your dog’s pads.

Look Out for the Temperature

Even though your pooch has a warm fur coat all year-round, there are limitations to the temperatures they can tolerate. Your dog’s breed, age, and health status are major factors in what temperatures your furry friend can tolerate. For example, different breeds have different tolerances. Your German Shepherd, Akita, or St. Bernard has a thick coat to help to protect them from the harsh elements. Small or short-haired dogs, on the other hand, will often find themselves shivering whilst outside in the cold. Any physical conditions that your dog struggles with, such as arthritis and hip dysplasia, are aggravated by cold.

As a general rule, most healthy, medium dogs can walk for 30 minutes in temperatures above 20 degrees F. Smaller dogs should go on shorter winter adventures, and only if the temperature is between 20 and 32 degrees F. No matter your dog’s breed, the best approach is to know your dog! Pay attention to the signals they give you whilst you’re out on an adventure. If your dog is shivering, standing with a hunched posture, or showing signs of frostbite, be sure to get them inside quickly.

protect a dog in the winter
There are certain temperatures dogs cannot handle.

How to Treat a Dog’s Injured Paws in Winter?

As a doting owner, you always do your best to protect your dog from harm. However, no matter how many precautions you take, accidents can still happen to your beloved pooch. If your dog’s paws are injured, don’t panic. If you are at all in doubt about your ability to provide first aid for your dog’s wounds, always go straight to a vet for professional care. You must also seek veterinary care for a wound that does not stop bleeding, has an infection, is deep, or causes severe discomfort to your pet. Getting help fast gives your pooch a better prognosis, and ensures that they feel better much faster too.

Soothing Burns

Even the hardiest of hounds can suffer from chemical burns, especially from traditional de-icers. If your dog’s paws are burned, they will show signs of discomfort such as holding up their paw, limping, vocalizing when walking, licking the paw, and being reluctant to walk. The burns may also be visible to the naked eye, and in severe cases, a black paw pad will turn red. You may also notice blisters on the pads.

Treatment of the paw burn depends on the extent of the damage. The moment you notice your dog’s burns, be sure to run their paws under cool water or to apply a cold compress. If your dog’s burns are severe, it’s best to take them straight to your nearest vet. Many times, your vet will need to bandage your dog’s paw and begin antibiotic treatment. Paw burns become infected quickly, so it’s important to prevent infection before it can set in. In addition to antibiotics, some dogs benefit from wearing soft booties or socks to prevent further injury to the paws.

Look After the Wound

The first step in treating your dog’s wound is to clean it thoroughly. Check for debris and foreign objects like glass, and if possible, use tweezers to gently remove it, and disinfect the wound with mild antibacterial soap or Betadine. If the debris is deep within the paw, leave it alone. Deeper foreign bodies must be removed by a qualified veterinarian, who can sedate your pup if necessary.

Your next step is to apply pressure to the wound with a clean towel for a few minutes. If the bleeding does not stop within 10 minutes, seek emergency veterinary care. Once it stops, contain the wound by applying a gauze pad and bandage. It is important to cover the toes as you wrap the bandage to prevent them from swelling. However, always check that the bandage is not too tight for your dog. You must be able to insert two of your fingers between the bandage and your dog’s leg. In order to prevent infection, be sure to change the bandage every day. If your dog’s condition does not improve within a few days, it’s time to get veterinary assistance.

Recovering from the Injury

Once you and your pet leave your vet’s consulting room, it’s up to you to monitor your dog’s recovery. Be sure to follow the guidelines that your veterinarian sets out for you. This might include regular bandage changes, administration of antibiotics, restricting your dog’s activity levels, and keeping the wound clean with special medications. If you notice anything amiss with your dog, or your dog does not improve in the time frame that your vet set out, make sure to book a follow-up appointment for further treatment.

If in doubt about your dog’s health, it’s always worth calling your emergency vet. So that they can decide if your pet needs urgent care. Your dog is likely to need urgent care if they have difficulty breathing, are unconscious, are vomiting profusely, or show swelling around the face or head. These symptoms may indicate an infection in your dog’s paw, which can lead to sepsis if untreated.

Protecting a Dog’s Paws in Winter – FAQs

Have any more questions about how to protect a dog’s paws in the winter? Feel free to refer to our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details. if in doubt about your pet’s health, always ask your vet for advice.

What can I put on my dog’s dry paws?

If your dog has dry paws, there are many treatment options available to you, but what is the best option for your pampered pooch? Dog paw balms are specially formulated to be safe for your pampered pooch! There are plenty of paw balms on the market made with lots of moisturizing, soothing, and healing ingredients, such as natural oils and butter. However, as with any product made for dogs, paw balms aren’t a hit for all dogs. Some dogs dislike the smell of paw balms, and not all balms are soft enough to soak into the pads before your dog licks them off.

As well as dog-specific salves and lotions, there are plenty of supermarket staples that can help your pup. Raw virgin coconut oil acts as a topical moisturizer, and only a small amount is needed to help your dog’s dry paws. Olive oil is not only helpful in your dog’s diet but can also help to moisturize dry paws. Make sure to rub in the oil thoroughly. You won’t be surprised to know that shea butter is another staple for dry dog paws. Not only is it safe for dogs in small amounts, but helps to soothe dry paws by softening and moisturizing them.

How can I stop my dog from licking his paws?

Much to the dismay of many concerned owners, dogs instinctively want to lick their wounds. Although dog saliva has some antibacterial properties, its effects are very slight, and allowing your dog to lick their paw injuries will only worsen the wounds. Your vet may suggest fitting your dog with an Elizabethan collar, also known as a cone, on your persistent pup in order to stop them from licking. This cone fits over your dog’s neck and extends outwards to stop your dog’s tongue from reaching their skin. Unfortunately, the cone is not always effective, and some dogs can still reach their paws. Not good!

If your dog continues to lick their injured paws, your vet may suggest fitting your dog with booties or a sock to prevent licking.
Physical measures may not be enough to stop your dog’s paw licking habit. Be sure to offer distractions to your dog when they begin licking their wounds. For instance, give them an interactive toy containing food to occupy their attention.

Is it okay to put Vaseline on a dog’s paws?

Vaseline can be applied to your dog’s paws in small amounts, but exercise caution. This product acts as a laxative when consumed in excess. As well as this, it can also be easily licked off of the paws and ingested, meaning that your dog is at risk of diarrhea and vomiting if you use the product regularly. If your dog’s pads are dry due to cold conditions, consider more pet-safe alternatives to Vaseline. Your vet will be able to point you in the right direction when buying products for your dog’s paws!

Can you put coconut oil on dogs’ paws?

Extra virgin coconut oil can be used on a dog’s paws. Not only is this oil safe for dogs, but it is naturally antibacterial too! Coconut oil offers relief for dry, itchy paws and helps to heal minor cuts and sores. Just be sure to rub coconut oil in thoroughly, so that your dog isn’t tempted to lick it all off before it can offer any benefits to their pads.

Have we effectively covered how to protect a dog’s paws in the winter? Let’s recap. Applying paw wax or balm, trimming your dog’s nails, fitting your dog with boots, and regularly cleaning your dog’s paws are just a few ways to protect your pooch from the elements. With that being said, enjoy your winter adventures together with your furry friend!

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