Before you take your dog out for his next walk in wintry weather, here’s something that should give you pause: the health and safety of his paws.
Your well-intentioned neighbors may have covered their sidewalks, driveways and pathways with rock salt to prevent anyone from suffering painful slips and falls on ice. While it’s certainly welcome to have the safety of tip-top traction as you stroll through the snow, there’s a bad side: all of that salt isn’t doing your dog any favors. The tiny granules can irritate the pads of his feet, or cause harmful mouth and stomach issues if ingested.
A season of doggy discontent
Even without piles of salt scattered all over the place, winter’s frigid weather is already tough on your dog. Exposure to cold, dry air or prolonged contact with ice and snow can leave his paws dry, cracked, itchy and peeling. Coming back inside provides much-needed warmth but the artificially-heated air is still extremely dry, meaning his skin will continue to suffer.
Depending on the condition of your dog’s feet, walking across rock salt can be anywhere from unpleasant to downright excruciating. Granules can become stuck in his paws, causing soreness with every single step. Check to make sure he’s not limping at any time when you’re out walking in the winter. If his skin is cracked and broken, the agony will be even worse because he’s literally having salt rubbed into his wounds.
Treat his feet
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help avoid your dog avoid pain and injury. First off, consider treating his paws by rubbing them with a thin coat of balm or petroleum jelly before you go out. Some pet stores also sell wax-based moisturizers that are specifically designed to protect his paws.
Buy him some booties
Dog booties are a great way to keep his paws warm and shield them from salt, snow and ice. These slip-on shoes usually have a velcro strap to keep them in place – just be sure not to make them too tight. Some dog booties also have tread surfaces on the soles to give him extra traction in slippery conditions. Your dog will need a little while to get used to walking in his new shoes, so let him wear them around the house for short periods before he goes outside in them for the first time. Make sure to give him plenty of praise as he makes the adjustment.
Pick a new path
If possible, alter your walking route in winter to steer clear of sidewalks and other places where rock salt has been used. Try to find a park or field where all you and your dog will encounter is pure, soft snow.
Wash off while walking, and again as soon you’re home
It’s a good idea to carry a towel along during winter walks so you can wipe snow, ice and salt off your dog’s paws and belly anytime it’s necessary.
If your dog comes home with salt stuck to his paws, he’ll be tempted to lick it off. This is a problem because most ice melters contain chemicals that can cause drooling, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Excessive intake can lead to liver damage, seizures, and even death.
Help your dog avoid serious stomach woes by washing his paws as soon as you return home. A small tub of warm water and a soft towel will get the job done, but there are also specialized canine footbaths available if you’re looking for something to help reduce spills and mess in your entranceway. Even if you can’t see any salt, it may still be there, so be sure to bathe his paws each time.
Just as you don’t want your dog ingesting salt by licking it off his paws, you also don’t want him eating it off the ground. Prevent him from drinking out of salty puddles and keep him away from any piles of salt you encounter while out for your daily walks.
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Give him more to eat and drink
It takes extra energy for your dog to stay warm during winter, meaning he can easily end up dehydrated. Give more to eat if it is appropriate and in line with your veterinary recommended diet.
Find him an indoor haven
If you want your dog to be safely exercised and entertained while you’re not around during winter months, consider placing him at an indoor doggy daycare like Dogtopia. Try to find a facility with a climate-controlled playroom featuring a safe, sanitary rubberized floor surface – it’s the best way to treat his feet and joints just right during hours of fun and frolic with his canine chums.