Walking a dog in winter can be quite fun. This is because most dogs love snow. It can be quite exciting watching your dog leaping, bounding and rolling in the snow. Even simply taking a stroll with the dog can be gratifying. Under normal circumstances, walking in snow is quite harmless to dogs.
The problem is with the ice-salt which is often sprinkled along streets and sidewalks. This salt is supposed to melt the snow so that cars don’t skid off the slippery streets and people don’t lose their footing on the sidewalks. Depending on where you live, the salt may be mixed with other chemicals to fast-track the snow melting.
The salt can hurt your dog’s paws.
There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, most salt de-icers are made of industrial grade rock salt. This has small, jagged, and hard crystals. The jagged crystals often have sharp edges. These can pierce or cut the soft pads on a dog’s paws. The effect is similar to you walking barefoot on small sharp rocks. They can cut your feet. The same thing can happen to a dog’s pads.
When the small crystals cut a dog’s pads deep enough, the pad can get wounded. And the salt will inevitably enter into the wound. This will cause excruciating pain to the dog. You can notice the dog whimper in pain and lick its paws.
Secondly, the salt crystals can get dislodged between the dog’s toes. This can cause irritation as the dog walks along. If the dog walks with a crystal between its toes for long, it can lead to an inflammation. If you check between the toes, you can see that it has turned red. This is quite painful for the dog.
Finally, the chemicals which are mixed with the de-icing salt can cause dryness, cracking, and even burns to the dog’s pads. This is not only a source of discomfort to the dog; the burns can also easily turn into sores and wounds.
As articulated from Paw Castle: Dog Everything, the chemicals in the salt can blister a dog’s paws. However, the actual danger occurs when the dog licks its paws.
The bottom line is that snow ice salt can hurt your dog’s paws.
In some cases, you can see the effect immediately during your walk e.g. a dog yelping in pain when a sharp crystal cuts its pads or limping because a crystal is lodged between its toes.
Even if you don’t see the effect during your walk, there are certain actions you can take to protect your dog from the potential harm by ice salt.
1. Check your dog’s paws every time you return from a walk in the snow. Look out for cracks, cuts, or bruises in its pads. Also look out for redness or inflammation between the toes. If you notice any cut, crack, bruise or inflammation contact your vet immediately.
2. Protect your dog’s paws every time you’re going for a walk in winter. You can use either dog booties or paw balm. Booties protect the paws in the same way as your winter shoes protect your feet. Paw balm – when smeared on the pads – can protect them against salt and chemicals.
3. Clean up your dog’s paws every time you return from a winter walk. One option is to wipe the paws with a towel. This will remove any residual salt, ice or chemicals which got attached to the paws during the walk. Another option is to wash the paws with warm, soapy water and then wipe it clean.
4. Minimize walking the dogs during winter. Do this especially if you know that your city or neighborhood uses de-icing salt, and your dog hates booties.
5. Remember the danger of ice salt and chemicals goes beyond the paws. If ingested, they can poison the dog. The symptoms of the poisoning include drooling, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting. If a dog begins manifesting these symptoms, get it to your vet ASAP.