Like any species over time, evolution and adaption creates a variation or genetic diversity in dogs. All canines have front dewclaws while others have dewclaws on both the front and back. Hunting and swimming dogs, such as a Labrador Retriever, have webbed paws which are a more all-terrain style. Working dogs like an Akita or Newfoundland have rounder paws called cat shape which allows the dog to bare more weight while increasing stability and endurance. A Whippet and Greyhound have longer middle toes referred to as hare shaped which is advantageous for speed. Due to mixed breeding, dogs can have more than one of these paw shapes.

A dog’s paws are a fascinating and very important piece of their overall anatomy, much like human’s hands and feet. The pads of the paw are basically like human skin, composed of keratin, collagen, and adipose. Paw pads are like springs or shock absorbers for dog’s leg and feet joints. Proper nail trimming by a professional is essential to prevent joint damage and early arthritis. Dogs walk on the front of their feet not the back; this is relatable to walking on your toes and the ball of your foot, not the heel. It is also common for dog to chew or lick their paws when they are stressed or experiencing allergies. Dog’s paws contain sweat glands which helps them cool off when they are hot.

Now that we have reviewed some doggy feet fundamentals it is clearer that paws are a complex and vital aspect to their wellbeing; requiring proper care and maintenance especially in the winter months. Most people know that dog’s feet can blister or burn in the summer from hot asphalt. However, the winter season poses as many threats to the welfare of those precious puppy paws. Fatty tissue (adipose) doesn’t freeze as easily as other tissue which allows their paws to be more tolerable in colder environments. This doesn’t mean your dog is immune to the cold, those little feet can freeze just like a person’s feet. Dogs are more prone to sore and cracked paws in the winter from ice balls forming in the hair between the pads and toes. To reduce this risk, keep inter-pad hair trimmed so it is short and neat in the winter time. This also reduces the amount of debris that the hair can collect creating a plethora of other issues for man’s (or woman’s) best friend.

The MAIN threat to your dogs paws this winter are the CHEMICALS used on sidewalks, driveways, and roads: salt, deicers, ice melt, etc.

These substances can cause chemical burns, blisters, sores, infections, and even death if ingested. There are a variety of ice melt brands on the market, even some claiming to be “pet safe”. The most prevalent ingredients in these deicers are potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, sodium chloride, calcium carbonate, and calcium magnesium acetate… sounds like autopsy results on the ID channel.

How do we keep Fido safe this winter? Whenever possible, walk your dog in the grass or snow and keep them off the salty sidewalk. Keep a towel and shallow bowl of water near the doorway so you can clean their paws and your boots before entering the house. Whatever salt remnants is on you or your dog will be spread throughout the house which will also mean that your dog will be in contact with the toxic chemicals again. Dog shoes and protective waxes can help limit exposure to cold, chemicals, and other hazards.

Be observant! If your dog is limping or walking strange ice melting products may be hurting his feet. Make sure your pup isn’t licking the salt whether it is from your boots, their paws, or outside.