Despite a record breaking mild winter so far, there has been a definite change in the temperature in the last few days and the weather forecasters are predicting that snow is on its way.
Every year, at Donaldson’s Vets, we see dozens of dogs with sore feet during periods of cold weather.
Dogs’ feet are incredibly well adapted to covering all sorts of terrain – with a thick horny pad to give protection over rough surfaces and claws which act like a set of crampons to grip on slippery surfaces. The hair that sits between the pads will give thermal insulation to the more sensitive skin.
But even dogs’ feet can become chapped and sensitised by extreme cold. The snow can form solid lumps of ice in the hair between the pads and can continue to chill the skin after the walk has ended if not dealt with properly.
In extreme cold, the body restricts blood flow to the peripheral areas to help to maintain the core body temperature. This useful short term mechanism can starve the periphery of oxygen and actually start to damage the feet if the temperature does not increase quickly. Effectively, your dog can get frostbite.
The cracked, inflamed skin between the pads is made much worse by the presence of rock salt which is highly irritant. The combination of cracked skin, salt irritation and then self trauma as your dog attempts to clean the area, can lead to painful paws and is a common cause of lameness at this time of the year.
What to do
If it is particularly cold and frosty or if there is snow on the ground, try to limit your dog’s exposure to the snow and ice. If you have been anywhere that rocksalt has been spread, bathe the feet thoroughly in some clean warm water. Check between the pads for any accumulation of ice or grit and dab the feet dry with a soft towel. Always avoid scrubbing the feet when drying them as this can make them more inflamed.
With a little extra care, both you and your dog can enjoy wonderful winter walks!