The first few snowfalls of winter are always exciting. Children bundle up, drag the sleds out of storage, and play outside as long as their parents allow. The family pet usually heads out there with them, rolling and snuffling in the snow, chasing the children as they run from flying snowballs. When the children come in with chapped lips and faces, we can readily see it and treat it. What you may not be aware of, unless your pet holds up a paw for you, is that the pads of your pet’s feet take a major beating in the cold weather. We need to be aware of the dangers that snow and cold weather present to our pets’ paws, and make pet paw care a top priority.
Winter is hard on everyone’s skin. Your pet is no different, except that your pet’s skin is completely exposed. Bitter cold can cause chapping and cracking of paw pads, especially if your pet is outdoors much of the time. Rock salt and chemical de-icers are very irritating to pads as well. Exposure to salt and de-icers, which are commonly used on sidewalks or paths that your pet may frequently walk on, will cause sore pads, infection, or blistering. Not only are the chemicals harmful to paws, but they can be toxic when ingested, causing diarrhea and vomiting.
To combat the effects of salt and chemicals, wash the paws with warm water after outdoor play time or walks. You can either use a washcloth, or dip the entire paw into a bowl of warm water. This will wash away any residue so that your pet cannot lick the salt off later and become sick. Pay attention to the space between the toes as well, because small grains of salt can become trapped in there, causing irritation. Once clean, apply Vaseline (other paw care products will work, but Vaseline is quite inexpensive and readily available) to the foot pads. This will help to prevent chapping, cracking, and soreness. Make sure to apply the Vaseline again before any outdoor time or walks.
As a rule, brush or remove any snow or ice that builds up on your pet. Trim any long hair from the legs that touches the ground. Also, trim any hair from between the dog’s toes; ice loves to collect on this hair. Trim the hair so that it does not hang below the foot pad. Be sure to keep the nails trimmed, because long nails actually cause the toes to separate, allowing ice and salt to become trapped between them. Ouch!
If your pet really seems to hate the snow and cold, or if you would like an easier way to protect their paws, consider booties. Though it may take a while for your pet to adjust to wearing the booties, they provide a protective barrier at all times. Neoprene boots seem to be the most effective, as they are quite sturdy, and even offer some support for the dog’s legs.
Taking preventive paw care measures in the winter months can save your pet a lot of pain and trouble. Be aware of the dangers that snow removal products and cold weather may present to your pet, and protect him.