Winter Paw Maintenance

No matter how healthy your dog is, the winter months can be brutal on canine bodies.

Most of us are more sedentary during the colder season, meaning joints can get stiff and callouses might wear thin. Dry heated air can cause dehydration, frostbite and hypothermia are as dangerous for dogs as they are for people, and—maybe worst of all—sensitive paws are exposed to rain, snow, ice, and de-icing chemicals. Luckily, there are some simple ways to protect your pup’s paws this winter.

Double Down On Preventative Maintenance

Maintenance is essential for healthy winter feet, so pay a little extra attention to your dog’s paws as the winter months loom. If your dog has long fur, use a clipper (or beard trimmer with the shortest plastic guard) to keep the fur or hair between paw pads nice and short—you’re aiming to keep it even with the pad, but no longer. By making sure that none of your dog’s paw fur comes into contact with the ground, you’ll prevent ice balls from forming between and around the paws. Make sure you double-down on nail trimming, too—it’s important year-round, but especially important if your pooch will be walking on ice.

Consider Surfaces Carefully

When you’re planning winter walks, think carefully about what kinds of chemicals might be used on roads, sidewalks, and parking lots. Rock salt and gravel can irritate sensitive paws, and chemical de-icing compounds can potentially cause chemical burns. If you do come into contact with these potentially toxic substances, make sure you rinse your dog’s paws with warm water immediately so they don’t lick and ingest the chemicals. For your own property, look for organic solutions or check to labels to look for “pet-safe” or “non-toxic” options.

Invest in Booties

If you’ll be outside a lot during the winter, if you like to hike or ski, or if your dog has extra-sensitive paws, consider investing in a pair of dog booties. There are lots of options online or in local pet stores, and they’re available at a variety of price points, too. Look for models with a rubber “sole,” which provides extra grip and protection against the elements. Make sure the booties are snug but not too tight, then gradually help your dog adjust to them. Start by having your pup wear them for short periods of time inside, then—giving lots of praise and treats—ease into longer outdoor walks.

Use a Paw Balm

If your dog’s paws get chapped, cracked, or raw during the winter months, invest in a non-toxic paw balm. Just apply a thin, even layer before going out for a winter walk, then wipe afterward with a warm washcloth to remove snow, ice, and any other chemicals. Triple-check to make sure your balm is made specifically for dogs, who may lick or gnaw at anything on their paw pads.

Meet the Author: Charlotte Austin

Charlotte Austin is a Seattle-based writer and mountain guide. She has climbed, explored, and led expeditions in North and South America, Nepal, Europe, Alaska, and Patagonia. Her writing has been featured in Women's Adventure, Alpinist, Stay Wild, and other national and international publications. When she's not guiding in the Himalayas, she's exploring her hometown (Seattle, Washington), trying new recipes, and hanging out with Huckleberry, her giant black Great Dane-Lab mix. Read more about their adventures at www.charlotteaustin.com.

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