Dog and woman walking in the snow
The snow and ice we’ve been getting from the latest monster winter storms make this question especially timely. It’s been a season of blizzard warnings and potentially historic snowfalls. But even normal winter weather can put your dog’s paws at risk if they’re not properly cared for.

Anatomically, paws are extremities, because they are the most remote parts of the legs, fully exposed to the environment. When they come in contact with snow and ice, the hair on them can form ice balls as well as soak up the often toxic deicing agents or salts spread on streets and sidewalks. 

That’s why it’s so important to clean your dog’s paws when he has been outdoors during winter. Pets who lick their paws to clean them can ingest harmful chemicals. Wiping your dog’s paws removes toxic substances.

Winter-proofing Paws

Here are some simple ways to keep your pooch’s paws clean and cared for during winter weather.

Prepare the paws before your dog goes outside. Trim the hair between the toes to reduce the formation of ice balls, but leave a little hair for insulation and traction. This hair can also help to protect paw pads from hot sidewalks in summer.

Apply paw wax, such as Musher’s Secret, before your dog goes outdoors if he’ll be traversing slick surfaces, or invest in dog booties that provide extra traction.

Keep towels and a spray bottle of water in your entryway or mudroom so you can clean paws immediately after walks and outings. Mist your dog’s paws with the water, then dry thoroughly, including between the toes. You can also purchase pet wipes or simply use a damp paper towel. We keep a bowl of water by the backdoor and dip our dogs’ paws in it to rinse them before drying. You can also purchase a product called The PawPlunger that works in a similar fashion.

As you dry your pet’s paws, check the paw pads for cracks or redness that indicate chapping. Apply a little petroleum jelly to moisturize and soothe them. Take your dog to the veterinarian if the paws are so cracked and dry that they’re bleeding. Deeply fissured or cracked pads can require pain medication. If your pet cuts his paw on sharp ice, apply a little pressure to stop the bleeding, then clean the injury with warm water and mild soap. A deep cut may need stitches. Booties are a good way to protect the paws and help keep them clean and safe — if your dog will wear them. Be sure to find booties that fit properly; this increases the chance that your dog will leave them on during outings.

Finally, if you use deicers on your driveway or sidewalk, choose a brand that is safe for pets. And check with your city to see what type of product it uses so you know what you and your dog may be walking on.

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