Protecting Your Dog’s Paws in Winter: 5 Tips & Tricks

Feb 18, 2024 | Comfort & Pain Relief

Rain or shine, sun or snow: our dogs need exercise. Even in the dead of winter, most of our furry friends won’t appreciate being cooped up inside for too long. And there’s no need for them to! Most healthy dogs can spend time outdoors just fine even when it’s cold. You just have to remember to protect the part of them that’s most exposed to the harsh elements: their paws.

Below, find out our 5 top tips for protecting your dog’s paws in winter, so your pooch can comfortably enjoy your walks in the snow.

Why do your dog’s paws need protection?

Why would a dog’s paws need to be protected anyway? Shouldn’t they be reasonably well-adapted to a bit of cold and snow?

If you own a sturdy “winterized” dog breed and only let it out in your own garden, then we agree that it’s unlikely to need much in the way of help keeping its paws in good condition. Things change, however, when you go out into the streets and with less winter-proof dog breeds.

Here are the two main reasons your dog’s paws may need a little extra protection:



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Road salt

First off, municipal sidewalks are usually covered in a layer of road salt mixed with different chemicals. These lower the freezing point of the water covering them, thereby preventing the formation of ice. Although this helps prevent accidents, chemicals such as magnesium chloride and calcium chloride can be caustic and irritating to your dog’s paws, while the salt can contribute to dried and cracked paw pads by wicking away moisture.

During your regular walk, the road salt can build up between your dog’s toes, causing even more irritation and exacerbating any existing cracks or painful spots. And, even worse, your dog may ingest it while trying to lick its paws clean! This can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and occasionally more serious issues.

Ice & snow build-up

Since most dogs weren’t bred to be winter-proof, their paws aren’t adapted to stomping around in snow and ice. It’s common for ice balls to build up between their toes on longer walks, especially if there’s plenty of hair there for it to freeze to. This can lead to irritation, chapped paws, and even frostbite.

Close-up of white dog paw in the snow with text above saying: Protecting your dog's paws in winter | 5 handy tips

Protecting your dog’s paws in winter: Our 5 top tips

Alright, so even sturdy dogs may need some foot protection during the cold months. Luckily, there’s quite a lot you can do to keep your furry friend comfortable without having to give up on daily walks!

Here are our five tricks for keeping dogs’ paws healthy:

1. Trim paw fur

As mentioned, dogs with longer fur between their toes are particularly susceptible to ice and snow build-up, which can lead to serious discomfort. In order to minimize this effect, many dog owners opt to keep this paw fur trimmed during winter.

While you’re at it, also trim your dog’s nails if they’re on the longer side. It improves stability and reduces the chances of slipping on the ice.

2. Paw balm

Sled dog drivers, better known as mushers, have long known the advantages of a protective layer of grease or wax for dogs’ paws, especially in the cold. It helps prevent ice from adhering, locks in moisture, and soothes existing dryness and chapped paws during winter.

Although a simple layer of petroleum jelly can already be very helpful, you’ll also find various paw balms at your local pet store that may be more effective—or you can even make your own. Brands like Musher’s Secret and others use ingredients such as beeswax, shea butter, coconut oil, nourishing Vitamin E oil, and more.

Unless the packaging states otherwise, paw balms are safe for your dog to ingest, so there’s no need to worry if you’ve got a paw licker on your hands.

3. Dog booties

Yes, we know they look a bit silly. And we also know that some dogs will just never get used to them. But paw protection in the form of dog boots or shoes is pretty much the most effective winter protection you can get. They eliminate the road salt and ice build-up issues entirely, and they’re also efficient in keeping frostbite at bay. Older and arthritic dogs might benefit from rubber-soled booties to give them more steady footing.

Find a brand that’s meant for winter use and make sure the booties are easy to put on and take off. We particularly like reflective materials and bright colors, which offer extra visibility and safety during night walks. Most brands have a handy size chart to help you figure out which size will fit your furry friend.

As for teaching your dog that its boots are not some kind of devilish device meant to inconvenience it, remember that food and praise go a long way. If they’re laden with treats and praise every time they let you put the booties on, your dog will soon learn footwear is not such a bad thing after all.

4. Post-walk wash

Unless you’ve opted for the above and bought your dog some stylish boots, it’s important to clean their paws when you get inside. This also applies if you used paw balm, as some particles will still stick to their paws.

A quick dip in a shallow dish of lukewarm water and a nice towel dry will help remove any ice, salt, and chemicals. After this, you can opt to apply another layer of paw balm for post-walk care, although it may be a good idea to put some socks on your dog’s paws until the wax has been absorbed by the skin. Otherwise, they may end up slipping and sliding all over the house!

5. Regular inspection

As with anything related to dog health and care, regular inspection is the best way to catch any problems early and ensure a happy pooch. When you wash their paws after your walks, take a quick look at the pads and between the toes. If the pads look chapped, it’s time for (more) paw balm!

If you spot more serious cracks, sores, or irritation, you really may have to consider using dog booties or keeping your furry friend indoors until their paws are in better condition.

Dog feet in winter

A comfy environment

Don’t forget that protecting your dog’s paws in winter isn’t the only precaution you should take! It’s just as important for them to have a comfortable place to come home to after a walk, and to have plenty of food and water available. A humidifier can help prevent dry skin, while a warm bed or a special (heated) blanket is ideal for those cold winter nights.

You can find more general winter tips and tricks in our full post on dog winter care.

Conclusion

There’s no reason to keep a healthy dog indoors during winter in most climates. Many love playing in the snow, and regular walks are important to prevent an excess of pent-up energy.

Although road salt, snow, ice, and frostbite can cause issues, protecting your dog’s paws in winter is not difficult with the help of some paw balm and other tried and tested tricks.

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