Winter weather doesn't bring a damper on outdoor adventures at our house. Tanner will eat snow until he gives himself a brain freeze and loves to root around under the surface for a tennis ball or stick. Winter does, however, bring a new set of challenges for our furry adventure partners. Walking and running on snow brings a different stress to dog paws than normal hiking or walking does, especially right around the base of the nail and between the toes.
In summer, your dogs paws get conditioned to rough surfaces like sidewalks and hiking trails, by gradually building up like calluses do. They need the same conditioning in winter. For very active dogs, such as ones who like to run on snow, their toes must spread wider and demand more use of the nail for turns and stopping, which stresses the webbing of the paws and base of the nail. As a result, many owners observe their dog licking their paws excessively after an adventure, as the dog is trying to soothe these stressed areas. This is especially true when the snow has iced over or when your dog walks on salt or ice melt. Ice breaks down these sensitive areas quicker and ice melt products can make them sting! So what to do? First, allow your dog to recondition their feet to snowy conditions. Reduce the amount of time you are out and slowly build back up, especially if you notice your dog limping or favoring a paw after running for a while.
Secondly, a pad moisturizer and ice deterrent can help keep pads soft and supple while also preventing snow and ice from building up between toes (this is SUPER important in curly and long hair dogs who are prone to snow balling in their feet - OUCH!). We sell Mushers Secret for this purpose - a high quality wax that was designed specifically for musher teams to keep active paws happy in the snow. Applying a pad moisturizer once a week (more if you are very active) all year round, can keep your dogs paws more tolerant to changing conditions.
Third, if you are out walking on ice or snow melt, be sure to rinse your dogs feet off thoroughly with warm water when you get home. Not only does this reduce the sting, but it prevents them from licking off and ingesting excess salt or other chemicals. You can also purchase pet friendly snow melt at many stores now.
Lastly, you can consider boots. Nearly any dog will tolerate them with a little training as long as they are well fitting. There is a huge selection of dog boots out there and you can even purchase socks to go with them. Just remember that if your dog uses boots and you chose to suddenly stop using them, your dogs feet will be far more sensitive and will again require conditioning. We suggest boots for those curly hair dogs (poodles) who have big issues with snowballing. Visit your local, reputable retailer to get help picking the right boot for your dog's needs as well as getting good sizing (did we mention that size is important?). Check dog boots often to be sure they are not rubbing, all four are still there, and snow hasn't built up inside.
If you enjoy skiing (downhill or cross country) with your K9 adventure buddy, be cautious about the sharp edges of your skis. A dog paw or leg getting lacerated by a ski is an extremely common injury in winter. High boots can help prevent these injuries, but perhaps better is teaching your dog to give you a good amount of space when skiing. If this happens to your dog, it will mostly likely require stitches and pain management. So control any serious bleeding, apply a bandage and get to the vet.
We hope you enjoyed this article (feel free to share it) and if you have any questions about winter dog adventures, please reach out to us!