As a general rule, dogs have very robust paws. But in the winter months, ice, snow, road salt and grit can be a challenge for their paws. Avoiding dry, cracked pads and possibly inflammation is particularly important at this time of year. You can help your furry friend with proactive care during the cold season.
Dogs are what are known as digitigrade animals. Unlike us humans, dogs do not put their heel bone on the ground when moving. It always stays in the air. This allows them to both run fast and have good endurance, with optimal spring in their joints. In addition, their toes are well padded with a plump layer of fatty tissue. On the underside of the pad, a rough horny layer provides the animal with support and protection.
The horny layer is not quite as pronounced in some dogs. Their pink pads are a bit more sensitive than the black pads of their relatives. In principle, however, dog paws are “work tools” and are accordingly resistant. However, in wintry weather it is a good idea to pay a little bit more attention to their paws and their health.
Road salt can get onto the paws and dry out the skin on the pads. This can cause the skin to crack, which in turn can lead to the salt – or other foreign bodies – getting into the paws and causing inflammation. To prevent this, clean the paws thoroughly after a walk along a salty path. Wash your dog's paws with lukewarm water. Then dry them thoroughly and apply a thin layer of paw balm. The balm helps the skin to stay supple and prevents dehydration.
Applying balm to the paws as a precaution before going for a walk is also recommended. Let the paw balm soak in for a few minutes before taking your pet out onto the street. After all, it is meant to act as protection, not act as a magnet for more things to stick to their paws. Checking the paws several times a day is the number one requirement for detecting any problems in good time. Don’t forget the spaces between the toes. Grit that has got into that area can also cause pressure sores and inflammation. If your dog is suddenly in pain and you discover injuries on their paws or even open wounds, please seek veterinary advice.
Our dogs attach great importance to personal hygiene. However, licking road salt off their paws and fur can have nasty consequences for their gastrointestinal tract. The salt attacks their stomach lining and can cause diarrhoea. This is why rinsing their paws after a walk is so important. If you suspect that your pet has nevertheless had an overdose of salt, please contact your trusted vet.
In some dogs, the claws naturally wear down to the optimal length. Others need regular help with claw clippers. Whether your pet belongs to one group or the other, in winter you should check whether their claws are too long a little more often than usual. Snow and slushy soft ground reduce the amount of natural wear. Claws that are too long provide poor grip and restrict the dog's natural movement.
The same applies to the fur between their toes. Some dogs have pronounced fur growth on their paws. This can lead to lumps of snow or ice forming on their paws, especially in snowy conditions. If this does happen and your pet suddenly starts to limp on these frozen lumps during a walk, try to melt the ice with the warmth of your own hand. Just pulling them out could cause more pain.
In winter, it’s best to trim the paw fur to a length where as little as possible can stick to it. You can carefully trim the coat yourself with small scissors or a suitable trimmer. If you need help cutting the paw fur or claws, a visit to your nearest dog salon is a good idea
The answer to the question of whether your dog needs shoes in winter is similar to the answer to the question of whether dogs need to wear a coat. If it is necessary, then yes. This means that shoes can be solution if you live in an area where long walks over salt cannot be avoided or if your pet is particularly sensitive or has a health condition.
When buying the shoes, pay attention to the measurements on the manufacturer's page. Good dog shoes should be neither too big nor too small in order to avoid pressure and chafing points. Give your furry friend enough time to get used to the shoes. If the shoes are intended for winter, ideally you should start getting your dog used to them as early as autumn. Don't forget to be patent and have lots of treats ready!
You can find more on this topic in our article Dogs in winter – Cold weather dos and don'ts.