I learned recently my dog has unique feet – and so does yours. Dog paws can tolerate cold temperatures better than most animals thanks to a unique circulatory system that draws warmth into their feet, also known as a countercurrent heat exchange system.
In canine paws, veins run parallel to arteries so warm blood from the body flows continually toward the paws. It’s a trait shared with Artic animals including seals, Artic foxes, and wolves. Yet no other domesticated animal shares this trait.
What does this mean?
Dog paws are very cold tolerant. That explains why dogs frolic in the snow with such enthusiasm – or at least mine does – and want to stay out much longer than we can bare – or at least I can bare. Dog paws don’t get cold easily, so there’s no pressing reason to encase their feet while in the snow, at least not for short forays into nature’s frosty floor covering.
However, dog paws can still get damaged in winter weather. For instance, frost bite is possible if they are out long enough (which is one reason some regions are enacting a cold weather limit on dogs outside). Frostbite on any exposed part of the body occurs when the blood vessels in the skin constrict to preserve internal temperatures and block out cold. Symptoms include skin swelling, blisters or patches of blackened dead skin.
The cold also makes paw pads susceptible to drying and cracking. Paw pads need to be tough and rough to the touch, but not painfully so.
However, the biggest threat winter threat to dog paws is salt – no amount of paw blood circulation will protect your dog from the burn of city street salt, spread all over to melt ice and make the road safer.
Only thing is de-icing chemicals are not safe for dogs. Not even close.
Rock salt, sodium chloride, road salt -what ever it’s called – burns dog paws. Plus, it’s sharp and jagged and gets stuck in paws easily. It’s like walking on glass shards. If your dog stops on winter walks, limps, or licks its paws, there’s an issue. Add to the fact the salt can be poisonous if ingested and winter isn’t such a wonderland after all.
How to protect a dog’s feet from winter road salt?
Cover or coat the paws – with something. I tried several different dog booties on my previous dog. Check out our reviewing experience here. Success varied, but the biggest problem was keeping all the dog boots on. At least one was being left behind during each adventure.
For this reason, I have not tried dog booties with my new dog yet. But considering how much she runs in circles and leaps through the snow like a fawn in spring, dog booties will be easily lost. Deep snow bank lost.
Best Dog Paw Protection for Winter: Dog Paw Balm
I’ve had the best luck with dog paw balm, specially formulated wax that comes in a wide tube like a glue stick (note: do NOT use an actual glue stick). Musher’s Secret (affiliate link) is one popular brand – supposedly because dog sled mushers use it on their dogs. I use Canadian-made Invisible Boot containing both soya bean oil and beeswax. (If you want to know even more about Musher’s Wax, check out the details here).
Before each walk, I rub the tube on my dog’s feet, coating my dog’s paw pads with wax. This adds a barrier between her paws and the road salt. In a pinch, you can use petroleum jelly (i.e. Vasoline). Neither are toxic if the dog licks them, but both wear off in less than an hour. Long walks need reapplication.
All walks need paws wiped when we get home both to remove any salt particles that got stuck and to dry the paws to avoid yeasty paws – yet something else my new puppy is susceptible to. (Medicinal shampoo was prescribed to help, but that’s a story for another day). For now, we’re surviving winter one enthusiastic four-footed frolic at a time.
I’m Sherri Telenko, a professional writer for 30 years and travel writer for the last 20. I’m a member of TMAC (Travel Media Association of Canada) and Dog Writers Association of America. I’ve lived with cats, dogs, horses and guinea pigs all my life, and I travel almost weekly with my canine companion, Victoria.
How to Protect Your Dog’s Paws in Winter:
Step 1: Coat the paw pads with Invisible Boots or similar paw pad balm
Step 2: Head outside for a winter walk (not longer than an hour)
Step 3: Return home and wipe off salt, paw balm, debris and moisture from dog paws
Step 4: Repeat several times a day and try and enjoy winter.